If you’re going to crib from Stephen King’s “Stand By Me,” then you’d better do a good job of re-tooling it. Thankfully, and miraculously, David M. Evans directs one of the best coming of age dramedies in cinematic history. “The Sandlot” is a film that takes the “Stand By Me” premise and adds a baseball-centric theme to the story that becomes the crux of everything the film is built on. It’s the reason characters are able to connect, it saves characters from immediate danger, and it’s the macguffin for the entire movie. “The Sandlot” thankfully doesn’t shove the baseball Americana themes down the audiences throat, but instead focuses on the characters featured in the film as actual characters with complexities and flaws that decide whether they succeed or not.
In a moment of desperation to continue playing with his newfound friends, protagonist Scott tries to atone for launching the group’s only ball over a fence by stealing his stepdad’s beloved autographed baseball of Babe Ruth. Oblivious to the importance of the ball, it’s launched over the fence in to the dreaded yard of the mythical dog known as “The Beast.” In absolute horror, Scott and his friends spend the week trying to re-claim the ball before his stepdad gets back from a business trip, ad hilarity. “The Sandlot” could easily become a gimmicky film, but instead sets its sights on the perils and wonders of growing up. The ending features a great lesson on learning not to judge a book by its cover. There are also wonderful moments of self-discovery, including the carnival sequence where the Sandlot team tries chaw for the first time, and the famous pool scene where the geeky “Squints” tries for his first kiss with the angelic lifeguard Wendy.
It also garners some interesting foresight in featuring a latino as arguably the best character of the film who helps fuel the love for baseball from main character Scotty Smalls. Scott is a new kid in town who is trying to adjust with the living situation with his mom and new stepdad. Trying to integrate himself in town, Scotty meets Benny Rodriguez, a brilliant baseball player who invites Scott to play ball with him and his friends at the local Sandlot, an abandoned lot where kids retreat to escape for a day of baseball and assorted antics. Though the players Benny hangs out with are all considered rejects thanks to their assorted shapes and sizes that would pose disadvantages in little league, it’s their heart that makes them incredible players.
This is proven in one of the best moments of the film where the Sandlot team take on a professional little league team, and defeat them relentlessly. Though set in the sixties, director Evans never quite brings up issues or race or gender, and instead lets the love for the sport come through. The Sandlot team are generally considered misfits for their knack of befriending an African American boy, the portly and incredibly hilarious “Ham” Porter, and of course Benny, who is miles ahead in terms of sports ability from his group, and still chooses to side with them when the chips are down.
Benny is one of the most fascinating heroes of the nineties. He’s a very charming and empathic protagonist who befriends Scott, in spite of Scott’s inadequacies, and chooses to bring out the athlete in his new friend, rather than focus on his faults on the field. Benny is void of any real stereotype of ethnic cliche, and is mostly just the prime American baseball hero, whose goals are mostly noble and courageous, leading a group of guys to do the right thing in the end. “The Sandlot” works on many levels, not just as a kids movie, but as a genuine sports lovers’ film.
It’s a movie about the love for the game, and the bonding that can ensue, regardless of shape, size, skin color, or age. It hosts a slew of small iconic moments, as well as large scenes that many audiences will look back on fondly. Especially nineties kids. Twenty years later, “The Sandlot” is a film that still sucks me in and hasn’t aged a bit, unlike other nineties films aimed at kids. It’s a mature and very entertaining coming of age dramedy that treats its cast as individuals with genuine heart and passion and never talks down to its intended audience. It’s a bonafide masterpiece that warrants admiration, even two decades after its release.