Americana Movie Month: "The Sandlot" Review

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Scotty Smalls moves to a new neighborhood with his mom and stepdad, and wants to learn to play baseball. The neighborhood baseball guru Rodriquez takes Smalls under his wing, and soon he's part of the local baseball buddies. They fall into adventures involving baseball, treehouse sleep-ins, the desirous lifeguard at the local pool, the snooty rival ball team, and the travelling fair. Beyond the fence at the back of the sandlot menaces a legendary ball-eating dog called The Beast, and the kids inevitably must deal with him.
3.5

Americana Movie Month: "The Sandlot" Review

-- Rating: PG (some violence, kids chewing tobacco)
Length: 101 minutes
Release Date: Apr 7, 1993
Directed by: David M. Evans
Genre: Comedy/Drama/Family

"The Sandlot" may look like a movie about baseball, but it has so much more to it than just sports. It is a rich coming-of-age tale about friendship that uses baseball to bring main character Scotty Smalls (Tom Guiry) into the fold of a group of kids in his new neighborhood. Poor Scotty doesn't know anyone on his block, so he feigns knowing how to play baseball so that he can join a ragtag group who play all summer on the titular sandlot. The group includes Benjamin Rodriquez (Mike Vitar), who takes Scotty under his wing to try and teach him the basics of the sport after it becomes evident that Scotty is awkward, uncoordinated, and can't play a lick of baseball. Luckily, the team needs a ninth player to play a proper game, so Scotty is invited to join the group despite his numerous athletic shortcomings.

Ben, who has an almost preternatural talent for the game, teaches Scotty what his well-meaning stepfather Bill (Denis Leary) hasn't had the time to teach him. He learns how to throw, catch, and take a big swing at the ball. Though some of the team members like Ham (Patrick Renna) get exasperated, Ben never loses patience. The boys play all day through one hot summer day after another until catastrophe strikes. The only ball the boys have gets hit over the home run fence and into a yard containing Beast, a fierce, storied dog who the entire neighborhood fears. Beast's owner, Mr. Mertle (James Earl Jones), is just as feared, so they can't simply go knock on his door to ask him for the ball.

Scotty runs home and takes a baseball from Bill's desk, unaware how much value it has since it has Babe Ruth's signature on it. When that one goes sailing over the fence too, the group has to come up with a plan to get the ball back before Bill realizes it's gone. When one harebrained scheme after another goes awry, they are forced to face their fears and either jump the fence and confront Beast or finally pay a visit to Mr. Mertle. The decision they make will change the course of their entire summer and impart some valuable lessons about facing fears.

The script by director David M. Evans and Robert Gunter does a lot of things right, including telling the story from the point of view of Scotty. The way he waxes nostalgic about the summer he spent in the sandlot is endearing and makes the audience want to root for the gawky boy. The story could have been told from Ben's point of view and still been good, but Evans and Gunter clearly made the right choice. Audiences love an underdog, and Scotty might just be the epitome of an underdog when he first joins the group. Watching his progression from shy, gangly outsider to confident insider and a capable ball player is a true joy.

The casting is a big strength of the film, especially some of the supporting roles. Leary has never been more likable as Bill, who really wants to connect with young Scotty but doesn't know how. Though she is in only a few scenes, Karen Allen makes a sweet mother to Scotty, which gives the audience some insight into why Scotty is the way he is. Some of the best lines are uttered by Renna as Ham, the chubby heart of the group who has impeccable comic timing. Perhaps the best casting of all, though, is Evans himself, who serves as the voiceover narrator of the film. He gives the film a dose of poignancy with his voiceovers, especially at the very end, when he recaps what happened to each of the boys.

The film has a whole lot of nostalgic scenes in it, which will make it appeal to parents and grandparents. Normally, a film filled with nostalgia will only appeal to those groups, and likely won't find a foothold with the younger set. That is simply not the case with "The Sandlot," which manages to connect with children, teens, and just about every age group. This is the rare movie that really does have something to offer everyone who watches it. Even women and girls, who only have small, supporting roles, will appreciate the movie. There is something universal about lazy summers, friendship, and the fear of growing up that will strike a chord in almost any heart. This is why "The Sandlot" not only embraces the game of baseball but transcends it as well.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars