Title: The Sandlot
Year of Release: 1993
Date Viewed: September 23rd, 2011
MPAA Rating: PG
The Sandlot conjures up a lot of personal memories every time I watch it. Not all of them are good. Yet the film itself never seemed to become its own memory. The material just faded away for no apparent reason. It wasn't until the most recent viewing that I finally understood why. Scotty Smalls (Tom Guiry) is too much of a relatable character. He's not exactly like me. I never had to move into a new neighborhood and leave my friends behind. In fact, I've lived in my current home since I was four. Nor have I ever had a stepfather. What struck the nerve was Smalls' main wish of simply fitting in somewhere. Belonging to a crowd that appreciated his presence and missed him when absent. Take it from me, it's not easy being the sole introvert in a pack even if the bond is genuine. It's probably no longer necessary, but those memories had to be repressed at the time in order to mentally proceed to the future. Let me clear though. The Sandlot is no somber tale. It's a story of joy with an ultra joyous conclusion. And we get to see something that everyone in a social circle wishes for: a friendship that lasts a long time.
The second strongest parallel is Smalls' fondness for baseball. For me, it's been an on-again off-again interest. But like Smalls, it was the first sport I had hands-on experience with. I didn't have the best field awareness and some of the more technical rules baffled the brain. I was however lucky enough to make some fluke catches and knock a few balls out of the park. And by "out of the park" I mean ground balls that traveled far enough so that the outfielders didn't have enough time to throw them back to home plate.
Even the worst kids that showed up for those no-cut leagues were two categories ahead of Scotty Smalls. This poor kid was born without an athletic bone in his body and doesn't even know how to catch or throw anything. Living in the same neighborhood is Benny "The Jet" Rodriguez (Mike Vitar): Small's polar opposite. Rodriguez was born to be a baseball player. Major League bound. He has mastered all the field positions and can do everything from base stealing to home run swatting. He even has the ability to hit a ball at any specific point on the field at will. Instead of honing skills with an organized league, he prefers to spend the days at a local rundown sandlot with his gang of fellow misfits. The sandlot is their home away from home. Smalls' first day there is an understated disaster. But Rodriguez selflessly takes him under his wing anyway and actually manages to turn him into a competent ball player. With that, the Sandlot gang comes full circle and a memorable era begins.
I already began talking about memories without even realizing how crucial they are to the movie's heart. For anyone who valued fun in sports over competition, The Sandlot is a walk down memory lane. Even the narrative is point-of-view narration Wonder Years style; of Smalls looking back at a fun era from his youth. The Sandlot gang loves baseball but lives for each other.
It might also remind of a time when the term "political correctness" had no meaning. For a film released in 1993, it's surprising to see what the scriptwriters were able to get away with. Case in point the scene where the more privileged kids of the neighborhood pick a fight with the Sandlot gang. A few childish insults later and one of them suddenly drops a verbal bomb that instigates an unavoidable challenge.
"You play ball like a girl!", he screams.
Oh snap. You can criticize a guy's hitting ability, question his intelligence or imply poor personal hygiene. But never dare compare him to the opposite sex. That's going too far. Speaking of which, I wonder if that thought crossed any of the producers' minds upon realization that a scene called for the characters to experiment with chewing tobacco. (Don't worry, parents. The way it's depicted won't encourage your kids to try it out for themselves.)
In a condensed outline, The Sandlot is a series of random misadventures that occur over the course of a summer season. The final incident is the most dramatic. As a way of staving off the depricating teases from his mates, one of the kids blasts a home run over the outfield wall; a big no-no because beyond the outfield fence lies the The Beast: a demonic dog that swallows anyone and anything that's unfortunate enough to enter its lair. Therefore a home run ball instantly ends the game. Smalls makes the fateful mistake of replacing the game ball with one that belongs to his stepfather. His uneducated baseball mind doesn't realize that is was autographed by the legendary Babe Ruth until after that too enters the Beast's lair. Now with no choice but to retrieve the lost ball before it's permanently digested, the gang invents various gadgets and innovates plain objects into spy equipment in attempts to thwart the Beast and preserve the ball's irreplaceable value. Ever hear the saying that everything is bigger when you're a kid? The film uses that idea as a literal antagonist for the young heroes to battle with. In actuality, the Beast is only a slightly above-average sized English Mastiff that lives under the guardianship of a mild-mannered retiree. A far cry from the oversized monster living under an evil master as the Sandlot legend warned. (The montage behind that story is stand-out amusing.) But the film wisely refrains from insulting anyone's intelligence. Using just the right amount of camera tricks and digital manipulation, the illusion of the Beast's evil aura is kept alive until the crisis is averted. Children might feel some sensations of horror during this sequence while adults are bound to laugh it off and reminisce about how much fun it was being a kid. My only criticism is that the idea is played out a little longer than needed.
The Sandlot is about the childhood era that a person either wished for or once had but now longs to revisit. A liking for baseball certainly enhances enjoyment but is not required because just about any activity can be substituted in its place and the theme would stay equally strong. It's a film worth revisiting even if the initial memory doesn't last for whatever reason. I doubt I'll have that problem again because now there's a Sandlot memory trigger sitting in my room: a Willie Mays autographed baseball passed down from my grandfather. Mays' prime was long before my time yet he is still one of the most talked about players among those who follow the sport. Rather than speculate an explanation, I'll reference a quote from the scene where Rodriguez dreams of a conversation he's having with The Great Bambino.
"Heroes get remembered. But legends never die."