With the World Series getting underway, I’ve got my favorite baseball movie on my mind. In fact, it’s my favorite sports movie, period. That movie is the 1993 family film The Sandlot.
A warm-hearted, nostalgic movie that follows young Scott Smalls (Tom Guiry) through one magical childhood summer, The Sandlot is a funny recounting of Smalls’ misadventures with his friends. At the same time, the movie is a deceptively deep tale of young people facing their fears and learning to trust.
The movie opens with Smalls moving into a new home as the school year is ending, meaning there’s no chance for him to make friends before summer starts. At the direction of his mother (Karen Allen), Scott follows a group of boys led by Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez (Mike Vitar) to their makeshift baseball diamond on an old sandlot.
Scott’s anxiety and fear of looking dumb lead him to avoid approaching Benny and his friends at first. When he works up the courage to approach the sandlot gang, he embarrasses himself with his inability to catch and throw a baseball. On his very first attempt, Scott’s fear of looking like a dork is confirmed.
Scott’s fears are not limited to the baseball diamond. He’s intimidated by his stepfather, Bill (Denis Leary), awkwardly interacting with him, not wanting to inconvenience him by getting him to teach him to play catch. When Mom pressures Bill into teaching Scott to play ball, it results in Scotty taking a ball to the face and getting a black eye. Once again, Scott’s fear of looking awkward and incompetent is confirmed.
But the world begins to turn around for Scott when Benny approaches him and offers to take him out to play ball. This is the decision upon which the whole story hinges. If Scott refuses to go with Benny, he’ll miss his chance to make friends and maybe he withdraws into his shell and becomes a depressed loner.
Instead, Scott trusts Benny and goes to the sandlot with him. He endures a ton of ribbing and mockery from Benny’s teammates and he once again embarrasses himself with his lack of baseball competency. Again, it ends in mortification as Scott still doesn’t know how to throw a ball.
Benny doesn’t let him off the hook. He instructs Scott to throw the ball like he’d throw a newspaper. When asked how to catch the ball, Benny tells Scott to put his mitt up in the air and trust him. Scott trusts Benny and does as he was instructed and, as it turns out, Scott can actually catch and throw pretty well.
Because Scott trusted Benny, he finds a spot-on Benny’s team as well as a whole group of friends. He faced his fears and made the move to approach Benny and his friends. As a result, Scott has an unforgettable summer and forms bonds he’ll cherish for the rest of his life.
However, Scott isn’t the only Sandlot character facing his fears. Benny has his own arc that involves tackling the same issue.
After Scott hits a baseball over a fence and into the clutches of a giant kaiju-like junkyard dog called “The Beast,” the team tries to get the ball back using all kinds of technological means. They use vacuums, suspend one of their buddies from ropes and even build a catapult car out of Erector Set toys. None of that works.
Terrified by “The Beast” and what might happen if the boys have to confront the monster, Benny is searching for an answer. Babe Ruth (Art LaFleur) appears to him in a dream and tells him basically that if he wants to get the ball back, he’s going to have to face his fears and confront “The Beast.”
Benny isn’t convinced that plan will work but he trusts The Babe and agrees to try to grab the ball and outrun “The Beast” on foot. Through doing so, Benny, Scott and their buddies learn that “The Beast” is just a regular dog whose reputation has been inflated to mythic proportions. Through Benny confronting “The Beast,” not only do the boys get the ball back, but they gain a new canine friend in “The Beast”, aka Hercules.
The Sandlot isn’t my favorite sports movie because it’s a riveting portrayal of how baseball is played or because it depicts baseball as more important to life than it really is. I love The Sandlot because it’s not about sports. It’s about warm childhood memories and the friendships we forge that influence our lives over the long haul.
More than that, The Sandlot shows us the benefits of trusting our friends and facing our fears. Through battling obstacles like fear and anxiety, we come out with relationships and experiences that steer us for the rest of our lives. If Scott, Benny and the gang can dig deep enough to face “The Beast,” maybe you can ask that girl or guy out on a date or apply for that job you want. And maybe, the whole course of your life will change.