The Sandlot: An Ode to Childhood

With spring quickly approaching and the baseball season upon us, many fans are gearing up for their yearly rewatch of the cinematic classic The Sandlot, myself included.

If you haven't seen the film, I would first like to know the address for the rock you've been living under to mail you a copy. But in case you haven't or need a rehash, allow me to provide some more context.

The Sandlot follows Scott Smalls, whose family moves to a Los Angeles suburb in 1962. Generally reserved, Smalls struggles to connect with his step-father and his new home.

In an attempt to make friends, Smalls follows a group of neighborhood boys to the local sandlot. After embarrassing himself with his lack of skill, group leader Benny "The Jet" Rodriguez takes Smalls under his wing to teach him the game.

With Smalls in the fold, the group experiences the thrills that come from the freedom of summer. They play ball almost every day, enjoy the local pool when it's too hot, and have sleepovers in their treehouse at the sandlot.

Everything is perfect until Smalls, ignorant of baseball history, steals his step-father's baseball autographed by Babe Ruth- the baseball legend and not the candy bar, of course.

Inevitably, Smalls hits the ball into the neighboring yard, a graveyard for baseballs of sorts guarded by the mythic Beast, a large and aggressive dog kept locked up by the reclusive Mr. Mertle. While the rest of the group celebrates his first home run, Smalls looks on in a horrified manner, realizing his mistake.

What follows is a parade of ingenious attempts to retrieve the ball that, ultimately, leads the group to confront the Beast face to face in a moment that will forever change their lives.

At the time of its release in 1993, The Sandlot was a flop, receiving mixed critical reviews. Yet over the last 28 years, the film has grown a cult following.

Part of this is the immense quotability of the movie. Even if you haven't seen The Sandlot, you have almost certainly heard some yell, "you play ball like a girl" or "you're killin' me smalls."

I believe, though, that the growth in popularity is because the film resonates on a deeper level, especially for those who grew up watching it.

The truth is, The Sandlot doesn't match the quality of The Natural, Bull Durham, or Major League in terms of textbook filmmaking. But, The Sandlot has a way of connecting us back to a simpler time when all that mattered was the crack of a ball and a bat connecting in the thick summer air.

The Sandlot romanticizes the innocence of baseball in a way that few films can. It strums the string of nostalgia on the violin of life, reminding the viewer of childhood. I never grow tired of that tune, no matter how many times its sweet notes grace my eardrums.

If you listen carefully to the song, you will pick up some important life lessons, too. For example, I have never kissed a girl without fake drowning first, I never chew tobacco before getting on a carnival ride, and I always want s'more.

I say these in jest, of course. Still, the movie was a source of numerous learnings for me as I entered young adulthood and began realizing the immensity of the world around me.

Simply put, The Sandlot is about so much more than just baseball.

At various times, The Sandlot gang had to face their fears, follow their hearts, and challenge themselves to push beyond the boundaries of comfort. As I continue to mature, I find myself, more times than not, in a constant state of discomfort from leaning into these very struggles. But isn't this how we grow as people?

More importantly, The Sandlot reminds us of the value of friendship. We only have a finite number of moments in this life that truly define us. I often find that it's the people around us in those moments that impact us more than the actual moment itself.

Wasn't that true for the boy of The Sandlot? Late in the film, an older Smalls looks back at that summer and says, "we all lived in the neighborhood for a couple of more years - mostly through junior high school - and every summer was great. But none of them ever came close to that first one."

For Smalls, Benny, and the rest of the group, that summer of hijinks forged a bond of brotherhood that forever changed their lives. It wasn't the baseball that mattered, even though it is a movie about baseball. No, what mattered the most is that they played the game together.

And, in the end, it's not what you do, but who you do it with that you will carry on with you for the rest of your life.

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