October 24 , 2003  
Volume 97, Issue 31  

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Once upon a time...
The Sandlot

By David Lee
Gazette Staff

"You gotta stop thinking, man. This is baseball. Just have fun." That bit of wisdom is one of many that can be gleaned from the 1993 classic The Sandlot. In an age when pressure on child-athletes is mounting, where crazed parents fight in the stands and where coaches routinely scream at their players, The Sandlot still offers a refreshing take on kids in sports.

Starring Tom Guiry as Scotty Smalls and Mike Vitar as Benny "The Jet" Rodriguez, the movie almost entirely forgoes the role of any parents. Instead, the plot centres around Smalls, the proverbial new kid on the block and his motley crew of friends as they play baseball and have wacky adventures.

After an initial awkwardness, Smalls is invited to play in the ongoing neighbourhood game of baseball by Benny. In doing so, Smalls is introduced to the real stars of any childhood movie: the various off-the-wall characters audiences can relate to in their own lives.

All the stereotypical neighbourhood kids are represented. The nerdy, lanky kid who will no doubt fade to obscurity, the milquetoast boy and his annoying brother and the child so fat his coronary-filled future has already been written (The Sandlot's version of Chunk is appropriately nicknamed Ham). Finally, the role of the bespectacled pervert is filled by the character of Mike "Squints" Palledorous, who gets to kiss lifeguard bombshell Wendy Peffercorn by faking his own drowning.

In a nice touch, the film also features brief appearances by Denis Leary and James Earl Jones, the former as Smalls' father and the latter as Mr. Mergel, the man whose backyard acted as the black hole for many of the boys' baseballs.

The plot revolves around the ongoing neighbourhood baseball game. After stealing a ball signed by Babe Ruth from his dad's shelf to use in the game, Smalls proceeds to homer into Mergel's backyard. The movie turns into scheme after scheme of retrieving the prized ball from the clutches of Mergel's dog Hercules.

While the story is full of humour and motivation, the real beauty of The Sandlot is it reminds us what sports are really all about: having fun. Granted, the theme is present in most children's sports movies, but The Sandlot pulls it off without causing a gag reflex in its audience. There's no coach telling the boys they have to have fun in order to win -there isn't even a coach to begin with. The boys are simply playing for the love of the game.

Not to ruin it for anyone, but the movie ends with Smalls in the broadcast booth at a baseball game. Rodriguez is playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers and (somewhat inexplicably) enters the game as a pinch runner for someone that has just hit a triple. Not to nit-pick, but someone that hits a triple doesn't usually require a pinch runner. Nevertheless, as Smalls mentions that "The Jet" may have slowed since his youth, Rodriguez breaks for the plate. The Dodgers win as Rodriguez steals home. In a classy move, Rodriguez points to his lifelong friend in the booth. Instantly, the audience is reminded of the bonds of childhood friendship and how they can sometimes last a lifetime. It just doesn't get much sweeter than that.





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