In the pantheon of baseball movies, there are many far better known than THE SANDLOT. FIELD OF DREAMS, A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN, THE NATURAL, kid-centered movies ROOKIE OF THE YEAR and LITTLE BIG LEAGUE, classics like THE PRIDE OF THE YANKEES, musicals such as DAMN YANKEES and TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALLGAME, or excellent recent fare like MONEYBALL and the inspiring 42 are all worth a family’s while.
But when it comes to capturing and holding the attention of elementary school and tween boys, as well as any girls who play and love the game, THE SANDLOT is the baseball movie with which to begin. That’s because it’s almost entirely about the kids. The adults are practically an afterthought in this love letter to an endless summer of sandlot baseball games, set in a time when kids could go out to play unsupervised in the company of their peers, and not return home, ravenous, sweaty, dirty and happy, until dinner. Kids love to watch other kids in situations where they are independent of adults for long stretches: it feeds their desire for independence, and acts as wish fulfillment. They can experience that independence vicariously and safely via the movie. The kids of THE SANDLOT are on their own a lot, and that is a big part of what makes kids love it.
The hero of THE SANDLOT is Scotty Smalls (Tom Guiry), a kid who’s moved to an unspecified new city over the summer (it was filmed in Glendale, next door to Los Angeles, as well as in Utah) and doesn’t yet have any friends. His mom (Karen Allen) is anxious for him to bond with his new stepdad (Denis Leary), a baseball lover. But Scotty’s only got a flimsy toy mitt, and his first game of catch with his stepdad ends with the inexperienced and uncoordinated Scotty getting hit with a ball to the nose. Thankfully, Scotty is befriended by Benny Rodriguez (Mike Vitar), the kid down the street who just happens to be the best sandlot baseball player in the neighborhood. The kids are the underdog rivals to the well-funded local little league team: the sandlot gang have no uniforms and play on an undeveloped, abandoned lot rather than a real ball field. Benny knows one more player will make a full team and sees Scotty as a welcome addition to his sandlot gang, but the other players — a bunch of memorable characters including, among others, Yeah-Yeah (who says Yeah-Yeah to everything), brothers Timmy and Tommy (the latter also known as “Repeat,” as he always repeats what his brother says), the portly Ham, and near-sighted Squints — aren’t keen on having a newbie. They’re especially unwelcoming when it seems Scotty lacks any demonstrable baseball skills.
But under Benny’s tutelage, rookie Scotty soon gets good, and he’s accepted as one of the gang. A crisis arises when the guys run out of baseballs and Scotty supplies his stepdad’s autographed Babe Ruth ball, which is then inevitably hit over the sandlot fence into the forbidding, junk-piled yard where an alleged man-eating dog dwells. Scotty’s determined to get that ball back before his stepdad discovers it missing — a relatable predicament for anyone who’s ever borrowed something without asking from a grown-up, damaged or lost it, and fears equally the potential punishment and emotional fall-out. Recovering that ball unites Scotty and his pals in a funny, inventive, and nerve-wracking mission that brings an unexpected outcome (and a great cameo appearance by a certain famously deep-voiced actor, but I won’t spoil it for the adults by revealing who it is — you’ll just have to watch).
The surprise of watching The SANDLOT with my family was that although it was about boys, it enthralled my daughter as much as my son. Maybe that was inevitable, given that baseball is a sort of second religion in my household. My daughter has played on the same co-ed team as my son, we take family outings to major league games, and we play ball together at the park frequently. But even without all that, I suspect she would have been drawn to the kids-without-adults moments. Both kids responded well to the humor that’s geared toward elementary-age kids (a memorable scene at an amusement park involves barfing — it’s not for the faint of heart, but quite funny to kids of a certain age, when gross-out humor reaches the peak of its appeal).
The greatest endorsement of THE SANDLOT I can give is this: I watched it with my kids while their dad was away at his college reunion, and as soon as dad arrived home, the kids insisted on watching it again immediately, with him. We made popcorn, cuddled up on the couch, and had a perfect family movie night. It may not be the classic cinematic home run that is, say, FIELD OF DREAMS, but for us, it was even better than a day at the ballpark.
NOTE: Though I’ve listed this as appropriate for 3rd graders and up, because there’s a pool scene involving a kid lusting after a teenage girl lifeguard, and there’s use of chewing tobacco, I had no problem showing this to second-graders. Others might have stricter standards.
The Sandlot (1993) Directed by David Mickey Evans, written By David Mickey Evans and Robert Gunter, with Tom Guiry, Mike Vitar, Dennis Leary, Karen Allen