There aren’t a lot of movies that can accurately capture what it feels like to be a kid. A Christmas Story does it pretty well. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory does it too, but The Sandlot really excels at it. It’s a story told entirely in flashback, from the perspective of a guy who has grown up to be a sportscaster. He is reminiscing about the greatest summer he ever had, during which he learned to play baseball and met some of the best friends of his life. Just as stories of childhood become exaggerated and mythologized with memory, this movie harnesses the intangible feeling of neighborhood legend.
The Sandlot is actually a very carefully-constructed ensemble drama. The guys on the team all have their unique roles. Benjamin Rodriguez (Mike Vitar) is the leader of the group. He’s simultaneously the most forgiving and the best at baseball, which makes him a role model in both respects. Scotty Smalls (Tom Guiry) is the new-kid-on-the-block who nobody wants on the team. “Ham” Porter (Patrick Renna) is the loudmouthed show-off, “Squints” Palledorous (Chauncey Leopardi) is the geeky hotshot, “Yeah Yeah” McClennan (Marty York) is the contentious know-it-all, etc. All of them have nicknames for each other, and they spend their summer playing one long, continuous game of baseball.
Most of the strength of the movie comes from the screenplay by David Mickey Evans and Robert Gunter. It’s an affectionately-remembered coming-of-age story, as nostalgic as it is poignant. Movies like this are hard to come by. The Sandlot sees childhood through the eyes of a child and the story comes full-circle with an ending that is both inspiring and melancholic. Not only is it touching, it also deviates from traditional sports movie formulas. Its climactic moment is not a baseball game, as one might expect, because The Sandlot isn’t really about baseball – it’s about growing up. The climax instead comes when the boys realize that the terrible, neighborhood “beast” that they have feared the whole movie is not what they always thought it would be.
The Sandlot is about as heartfelt as they come and remains one of my favorite live-action kids movies. I can’t tell you how glad I am that, when I first saw it, I was the same age as the characters.