Thursday, August 9, 2012

100 Movies That Make Me Love Film: 69. The Sandlot

I do not remember the first time I saw The Sandlot; in fact I don’t even have any specific memories related to The Sandlot short of just watching it A LOT throughout the summer. This has always struck me as ironic though, much like movies like Pagemaster and Never-ending story who are movies with the message that kids watch too many movies instead of reading. I always feel like this movie is supposed to create a feeling of nostalgia for summers with your friends… ironically most of my summer was filled with watching The Sandlot. It’s a vicious cycle.

The film is narrated by Scott Smalls as he reminisces about his first summer living in LA back in 1962. As he struggles to make friends he follows a group of neighborhood boys walk to a small field they call the Sandlot and play an improvised game never keeping score, just playing to play. Smalls is extremely reluctant to join in the game fearing his inexperience will only lead to embarrassment. After failing to catch or throw a ball, his fears are met and he leaves teary-eyed. However Smalls is pursued by Benny (the best player in the neighborhood) and he convinces Smalls that anyone can play baseball, even him! Through Benny, Smalls is able to gain the respect of the other players and becomes a part of the team.

Smalls soon learns that the group of kids avoids hitting homeruns based on a fear of the giant man-eating dog “The Beast” the lives just over the fence. One day, Benny hits the ball so hard it tears apart the seams causing the ball falls to pieces. Everyone complains that the game is over because they can’t afford a new ball, but Smalls suggests that they use his stepfather’s baseball. Smalls grabs his dad’s prized possession, a signed ball by Babe Ruth (not being familiar with who that is). Smalls immediately hits a home run and when he tells the boys who signed the ball they inform him that it’s irreplaceable. They quickly start trying to come up with ways to get the ball back.

After countless (5) failed attempts, Smalls prepares to accept his fate but at the same time Benny has an enlightening dream featuring Babe Ruth just telling him to go get the ball himself. Benny puts on his PF Flyers, jumps the fence, steals the ball and jumps back over the fence. However the Beast breaks his lease and starts to chase Benny all throughout the town. Benny avoids the dog but suddenly the fence falls on The Beast. Smalls feels responsible for the dog’s injuries and helps lift the fence of the Beast (who is not a large man-eating dog but instead just a big dog named Hercules) and takes the dog to its owner Mr. Mertle (James Earl Jones) a blind former Yankee and friend of Babe Ruth. When he hears about the Babe Ruth ball he offers his help and gives Smalls a ball signed by Murderer’s Row (some of the best Yankee hitters in the late 1920s) as long as Smalls and Benny come and talk baseball with him once a week.

Smalls’ stepfather while mad at Smalls, loves the new ball and eventually they get over their differences. The films jumps to the future where Smalls is a radio commentator for the LA Dodgers and Benny is not the team’s star player. Benny steals home and gives a thumbs-up to his friend in the press box.

I was being a little fictitious in the beginning about me spending my whole summer indoors watching The Sandlot. I did go out occasionally, it was rarely to play baseball though. We’d mostly play games like kick the can, Volleyball and an occasional home run derby. Those summer games are what make this movie reliable. Regardless of what sports you played or things you did, everyone had that group of neighborhood friends that your friendship was based almost entirely around these games. The people who I played Kicked the Can with, that was as far as our friendship ever extended. We only contacted each other to play that game and never did anything else.

Beyond that, in the beginning of the movie after Smalls fails to properly through a baseball, the boys all begin to laugh at him. He walks away with tears in his eyes and says “My life is over”. I think everyone can relate to that feeling of rejection. 

Relatability is key to this movie. Much like Stand by Me this movie depicts the childhood innocence so incredibly well that this movie has a place in most kid’s hearts. The brilliance of the movies innocence can be found in the little things like the children’s legend of The Beast or the actual size of the dog vs. the boy’s perspective of it. The most interesting element is when the dog (towering taller than a house) jumps up and eats a ball in one bite. 

I do have a distinct memory of a specific moment in The Sandlot. Every year of college I went to an event at Penn State called “THON”. THON was a 48 hour event in which different Penn State students pledge to stay awake and standing in the school Gymnasium throughout the entire weekend to raise money for kids with cancer. Throughout the event bands perform, there’s a DJ, they do live skits and they play inspirational movie clips throughout the weekend. My first year there I remember getting a teary-eyed when they played the Babe Ruth speech from The Sandlot. So I’ll leave you with this:

“Remember Kid, there’s heroes & there’s legends. Heroes get remembered but legends never die. Follow your heart kid, and you’ll never go wrong.”

Matt Kelly can also be found hosting The Saint Mort Show, Co-hosting the Reddit Horror Club Podcast, Writing for Geekscape,Tweeting and running Dollar Monday Promotions.

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