Baseball movies are as American as apple pie, and everyone has their favorites, from classic era films like THE PRIDE OF THE YANKEES and TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME to latter-day fare like THE NATURAL and FIELD OF DREAMS. There’s so much to choose from, comedies, dramas, and everything in-between. One of my all-time favorites is 1993’s coming of age classic, THE SANDLOT.
Like most baseball movies, THE SANDLOT is about more than just The Great American Pastime. Director David Mickey Evans’ script (co-written with Robert Gunter) takes us back to 1962, as young Scotty Smalls has moved to a brand new neighborhood in a brand new city. His dad died, and his mom (Karen Allen of NATIONAL LAMPOON’S ANIMAL HOUSE fame) has remarried preoccupied Bill (young comedian Denis Leary…. hmmm, I wonder what ever happened to him??), who tries to teach the nerdy kid how to play catch. “Keep your eye on the ball”, Bill tells Scotty, and he does – resulting in a shiner!
The kids on the block take an immediate dislike to goofus Smalls (“The kid’s an L-7… a weenie!”). Why, he doesn’t even know who The Great Bambino was!! Benny, the best ballplayer in the neighborhood, feels sorry for Smalls and takes him under his wing. They all warn him of The Legend of The Beast, a ferocious Great Mastiff junkyard dog who resides on the other side of the sandlot’s fence and eats any baseballs that come his way… and kids, too! One fine day, Benny literally “tears the cover off the ball”, so Smalls runs home to fetch a replacement – an autographed Babe Ruth ball from Bill’s trophy room! Needless to say, Smalls’ first home run winds up in The Beast’s possession, and a mad scramble is on to retrieve it before Bill comes home…
THE SANDLOT is an exercise in nostalgia, all about friendship and childhood dreams, and also happens to be uproariously funny! There’s so much to love about this film, and I especially love the scene at the community pool when ‘Squints’ has his big moment in the sun with neighborhood hottie Wendy Peffercorn, played by Marley Shelton, later of PLEASANTVILLE, SIN CITY, GRINDHOUSE (the Robert Rodriguez half PLANET TERROR) and GRAND THEFT PARSONS. Then there’s the kids learning a valuable lesson: carnival rides like the Tilt-A-Whirl and chewing tobacco don’t mix! The boys trading insults with a rival, well-heeled team about eating toejam and bobbing for apples in toilets ends with ‘Ham’ hurling the biggest insult of all: “You play like a girl!!” (Gasp!!!).
There’s a neat cameo at the end by James Earl Jones (who knew a thing or two about baseball flicks!) as junkyard owner Mr. Mertle, and like it’s spiritual predecessor AMERICAN GRAFFITI , the soundtrack’s loaded with classic rock tunes of the era by Booker T & The MG’s (“Green Onions”), Hank Ballard & The Midnighters (“Finger Poppin’ Time”), The Champs (“Tequila”), The Drifters (“There Goes My Baby”, “This Magic Moment”), The Surfaris (“Wipeout”) , and The Tokens (“The Lion Sleeps Tonight”). THE SANDLOT is a true summertime classic, one I could watch over and over again… in fact, I think I’ll go watch it now! As for the rest of you, since I’m still reelin’ and rockin’ from the John Fogerty concert I attended a few days ago, I’ll leave you with John’s classic ode to baseball from 1985, “Centerfield”:
“Let’s play two!” – Ernie Banks
“You’re killing me, Smalls!” – Ham Porter