THE UNDERRATED – THE SPORTS EDITION: THE SANDLOT
A few weeks back I asked our friend Jarv if I could glom onto his excellent Underrated idea and being the gracious gentlemen that he is, Jarv allowed me to use the title “The Underrated”. Thank you, sir, for your generosity. I will try to not besmirch the fine name of The Underrated too much.
I am taking a different tact than Jarv with the movies I am choosing to review and focusing exclusively on sports themed movies which are, frankly, a genre that is wildly uneven. For every Rocky, original Bad News Bears (one of my top 3 favorite movies ever), Raging Bull and The Damned United we get like two Juwanna Mann, Angels in the Outfield, The Bad News Bears remake and The Babe. It’s damn frustrating if you ask me because sports movies have universal themes that should be easily translated to the screen yet on many occasions writers and directors fail miserably at doing so. Good “sports” movies should be about sacrifice, a second chance, being an underdog and the desire to be the best. Somehow the bad movies of this genre miss those basic concepts entirely. So with that in mind let’s take a look at the first movie in the series and a personal favorite of mine, the underrated 1993 classic The Sandlot.
The Sandlot, set in the summer of 1962, is about Scotty Smalls, an undersized, uncoordinated and lonely kid that moves into a Las Angeles neighborhood where all the kids know each other and play baseball everyday in an empty lot next to a creepy house with a big scary dog. Smalls follows the other kids around and spies on them and finally asks if he can play and then promptly fails. In normal kid fashion, Smalls is made the butt of jokes except by one kid, Benny Rodriquez, the uncontested leader of the group by virtue of being the best athlete by far and for being a very decent kid. Benny takes Scotty under his wing, helps him learn how to play and after many adventures and hijinks, Smalls is accepted by the the rest of the kids who remain life long friends. It turns out to be an amazing life for Benny and Scotty, they end up working at the same place and what a place it is. The evil Las Angeles Dodgers where Scotty is a broadcaster and Benny “The Jet” is a star player.
The story is pretty standard stuff except for the ending, which is fantastic in my opinion, and while the story is well executed, it’s not really what I want to talk about. Instead I am going to talk about the ideas behind the story and why, excuse the pun, the movie is a home run in my opinion.
First, the story is pure nostalgia but not in that schmaltzy, diabetic sugar coma, teeth pain inducing manner. It is a vision of a time gone by but still has elements of things we all can recognize and remember from our own adolescences. We have a diverse group of people that hang around WOTM. We have male and female readers. We have Americans, Australians, English, Australians living in England and perhaps the most elusive group of all, and seldom seen outside their snow encrusted lands where the flannel and back bacon roam free and where the maple syrup flows unchecked over the land, the Canadians. Even though we all come from a common heritage we all could not be more different yet we all share one universal trait in common, we played some sort of sport as kids with our friends.
Again, it is a disparate group here but I don’t care if you played cricket or curled or played hockey, baseball, footie, rugby, American/Australian rules football or basketball, we all played something. Some of the best times I had as a kid were hanging out with my buddies playing a game and talking trash. I would wager everybody here, at least on the male side, has some great memories of that time. I am specifically targeting that “tweener’ age of being like 10-13 years old when hanging out was magical and having some sort of sport to play was the doorway to the magic.
The Sandlot perfectly captured these memories for me because after the age of 10, I was always the new guy and playing some sort of game was always my “in” at the new places I lived.
The next idea the movie got right were the kids. Hollywood movies tend to have a vastly unrealistic vision of children. The Sandlot on the other hand got the kids right. They aren’t small adults or some sort of unnaturally aware child. No, instead the movie’s kids are recognizable as kids with both the good and the bad that comes with being a pre-teen. The boasting, the talking about things you don’t know anything about (usually girls which for most men is a life long failure) and the pummeling the weaker kids sometimes take, both mentally and physically, are all present in The Sandlot. I salute the writers and directors for showing the good along with the bad.
I have spent a majority of my adult life (speaking chronologically – I know I am immature) in some god awful places like the slums of Rio and Columbia, both Congos, Iraq, Afghanistan (which I actually like), Pakistan (which should be flushed from the earth) and the two worst most evil disgusting pig sty slums in the world, Las Angeles and Washington DC. All those places have one thing in common, they have kids.
If you take out a ball in those places, solemn faced children will break out in beautiful smiles and just become kids at play even though you know some of those alleged children are stone cold life takers. Somehow while playing footie or basketball they can be kids again for a little bit. The Sandlot shows this idea in spades, the love kids have for playing a game just to be playing. It doesn’t matter much if you are good, bad or average at it, playing and your buddies are what matter.
Lastly, there is the character of Benny “The Jet” Rodriquez, the leader of the group. Among any group of children there is always that one kid that is better than all the others at sports no matter the game. He’s a step or two faster than everybody, he has the best hand eye coordination, throws the ball farther and on target, he’s stronger. This is another universal concept that spans the globe. I have seen this kid everywhere around the world and I was usually that kid growing up. I was NOT blessed with an overabundance of ANY artistic talent, musical talent, brains, looks, personality or much of anything except good hand eye coordination, a bit of strength and good wind. Because of that my place in the hierarchy of “kid world” was never in doubt and due to my job choice, my “adult” life also.
Benny is the most accessible character, at least for me, because not only is he a good athlete but also a very decent and caring person and looks out for his friends. The baseball retrieval episode and the aftermath are a perfect example of this. In modern times most athletes get slandered by the actions of a few bad operators but it is important to realize most athletes, like most other people, are usually decent types. Benny “The Jet” epitomizes this concept all the way from the sandlot to the evil LA Dodgers. For the record I am excluding politicians and lawyers from the human gene pool as they are all evil honor-less motherfuckers and quite inhuman. Further, I will stipulate that there are exactly four lawyers that are human beings and one of them reads this site occasionally.
So to sum this thing up, I really like The Sandlot which is a joyous paean to childhood and playing baseball. I wholeheartedly and unabashedly recommend The Sandlot, that is if you can take off the cynicism glasses that come with adulthood. If you can, you might just have a good time with the movie.