Growing up, I was obsessed, I mean OBSESSED with baseball and sports movies in general. If a sports movie was released anywhere from say 1992 to 1998, chances are I saw it (probably in the theater after forcing my dad to take me). And from time to time, I'll go back and revisit movies Rookie of the Year, Little Big League, The Mighty Ducks (aka, Charlie Wants a Daddy), and all the other kids movies from that era, but they just don't resonate like they used to. Well, except for The Sandlot (and The Mighty Ducks to a certain extent).
I can honestly say that I enjoy The Sandlot as much as a 32-year-old father of three as I did as a 5-year-old going to see a baseball movie with my dad back in the spring of 1993. And I don't think I'm alone. But what made the story of Scotty Smalls, Benny Rodriguez, and the rest of the gang withstand the test of time while so many other similar kids sports movies lost their charm over the years? Was it all those quotable lines, the realized characters, the charm, or something else? Well, let's find out.
The Sandlot Is Just As Much For Adults As It Is For Kids
The Sandlot wasn't the only kids baseball movie to come out in the early to mid 1990s, but it is the only one that you see adults (and not just those of us who were kids when it came out) talk about it in such high regard. And that's because the movie was made just as much for the parents in the theater as it was for the kids who dragged them there in the first place. While a movie like Rookie of the Year might get some cheap laughs with some immature humor and insane concept, The Sandlot is more grounded in its approach to storytelling (Beast isn't an actual beast, it's just the kids' imaginations).
My dad was in his mid-30s when he took me to see The Sandlot and a lot of what's featured in the movie from the soundtrack to setting in the early 1960s, is tailor-made for someone of his age. The movie found a way to stick its hook in the adults in the room with playing on their nostalgia after the kids in the theater took the bait of a baseball movie. And by effectively playing for two different age groups, the movie proved to be a success.
Baseball Is really Just The Trojan Horse For What The Movie Is Actually About
On the surface, The Sandlot looks like just another baseball movie from the 1990s, but when you look at the film's structure, you'll see that there isn't any baseball in the second half of the movie. This is unheard of in a genre that includes movies like Angels in the Outfield that has a three-act structure consisting of multiple baseball scenes throughout. This is because the movie isn't actually about baseball and the sport is just a Trojan horse.
Let's take a look at the first half of the movie where there are multiple baseball scenes, all of which are there to build up the characters and set up the operation to retrieve the Babe Ruth autographed baseball. We need to care about Smalls, Benny, Ham, Squints, Yeah-Yeah and the rest of the cast of characters for when there are some actual stakes, and what better way of doing that than building up the baseball team. They go through all their trials and tribulations as a team in those first 50 minutes, and once that's out of the way, the real magic starts.
The Movie Perfectly Captures The Magic Of Childhood
Another thing that makes The Sandlot so great is the way in which it perfectly captures the essence and magic of childhood. From the early goings of the movie where Scotty first makes friends with Benny to the baseball game under the glow of Fourth of July fireworks to stealing a pack of chewing tobacco and paying for it and then some, there's a lot going on here that takes us back to the carefree summers of our youth.
The most striking example of this is the entire storyline of Beast, the man-eating dog that lives just beyond the outfield fence. Instead of seeing the dog for themselves throughout the movie, the gang goes off rumors, speculation, and their own imagination which carries them away on a grand journey to retrieve that sacred relic of baseball's treasured history. It's this carried away imagination and spirit of childhood in film's second half that makes The Sandlot remembered so well 27 years later.
The Movie Is Presented In A Way That's Not Heavy-Handed
One of the best things about The Sandlot is the fact that it's not as heavy-handed as something like Little Big League which is a high-concept mess about a boy who becomes the coach of the Minnesota Twins after his grandfather leaves him the team in his will. Unlike that movie, and many others released around the same time, The Sandlot is full of developed characters who undergo drastic changes and actually grow up over the course of a single summer.
Sure, there are some childish elements (like the contraptions used to retrieve the ball), but the movie is very much a coming of age story about young boys starting their respective paths to young adulthood. You have Benny proving to himself that he can overcome his fears, you have Smalls going out on a limb and making friends (and finding a calling in life), and even have Squints going out for Wendy Peffercorn.
It's Never Really About Winning The Game
Unlike essentially every other kids sports movie, The Sandlot doesn't end with the gang overcoming a massive deficit to win the championship game (or lose it in the case of so many other sports movies), and that's because the movie is never really about winning the game, it's about playing it and the lessons you learn on the lot (or in life as is the case in the end of the story). This whole idea is alluded to throughout the movie in the way that the gang never keeps score, never keeps track of stats, and the game never stops, you just keep playing.
And that's what makes The Sandlot such a great movie, one that I enjoy today just as much as I did the first time I saw it at the old theater that has since been turned into a church. And just like at the end of the movie where an older Smalls tells the audience where the guys ended up later in life, we all grow up and grow apart, but the Sandlot is always there, reminding us of those carefree summer days of our youth.