McGinnis: Sandlot at Fifth Third FieldWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
It doesn’t feel like it’s been 20 years since the coming-of-age baseball movie “The Sandlot” first played in theaters. Certainly not for David Mickey Evans, the film’s writer, director and narrator.
“In the intervening couple decades, I’ve made tons of films. And some of those feel, literally, like a lifetime ago. But ‘The Sandlot,’ it’s sort of my — it’s like my first kid. It’s just always right there with me mentally. Emotionally, certainly. Just this little piece of sort of filming historical fiction, and then it has had the legs it’s had, and become this evergreen classic,” Evans said.
“I encounter the film in some way or another every single day of my life. No, if I had to put a time on it, feels like, eh, a month ago.”
Part of what keeps the film alive for Evans is how pervasive it has remained in the public’s consciousness. Since its debut in 1993, the movie — a quasi-autobiographical tale of a group of friends who bond through both the game and a quest to retrieve a lost ball — has remained a favorite of the young and young at heart.
This summer, to celebrate the film’s 20th anniversary, Evans is taking part in a nationwide tour where “The Sandlot” is being exhibited at baseball parks nationwide — with his next stop being at Fifth Third Field on July 5, for a screening after that evening’s Mud Hens game. Evans has seen just how beloved his movie has become for generations of families by meeting fans.
“There was a man in Springdale, Ark., at Arvest Ballpark, home of the Naturals, where we did a screening. And he was a grandfather. Big man. And he bought 12 copies of the 20th anniversary DVD set. And he said, ‘Would you please sign these for me?’ And I said, ‘Sure.’
“And he sets one down, and he said, ‘Please sign that one to me. This one’s for my wife.’ Sets down some more and says, ‘Please sign these for my children.’ Then he set down a few more, and said, ‘These are for my grandchildren.’ Then he says, ‘And these are for my great-grandchildren.’”
Something about “The Sandlot” continues to resonate for audiences. It means something more than the dozens of rinky-dink sports movies that came out in the 1990s — a renaissance of disposable schlock where ragtag bunches of misfit kids banded together to become champions and win the big game. Almost all of those have been forgotten, but“The Sandlot” endures.
“They’re not about anything, really,” Evans said, reflecting on those films. “What’s it about? What’s the story? Well, A-B-C-D-E-F-G, big game. That’s not essentially a story, that’s a structure. So my question about all those things is, ‘What is it about?’ And they aren’t about anything. ‘The Sandlot’ is about something, it’s about friendship. It’s not about baseball.”
But there’s also something in the film that captures that timeless nostalgia most Americans have toward the national pastime. It’s a game most everyone has played at some point. It’s an integral part of our childhood. “The Sandlot,” more than most films on the game, taps into a collective fondness we have toward the sport.
“Baseball’s elegant,” Evans said. “And it is perhaps — no, not perhaps — it is the only sport on Earth, the sport on Earth that directly reflects human experience. Human life. And it can be summed up in a single word — this is what [‘Bull Durham’ director Ron] Shelton said. He said, the word
is hope. You live without hope, you’re not living. What’s the point?”
The metaphor goes deeper than that, though, Evans said.
“You plant your farm fields, and in the spring, everything comes up. Well, that’s when baseball starts, right? Spring training, we get it together; we get on playing through the summer. Those are the great active months. The game itself is static, to a greater degree, like life. You go along, doing what you’re supposed to do, and then suddenly, something happens — good, bad or indifferent, you’ve got to react to it, and take care of it. Like baseball. And, of course, the great cliché, what I really like is, it’s the only game on earth where the object is to get home.”
It’s that collective emotion that “The Sandlot” continues to play to, and will for generations to come. And for Evans, the public’s endearing fondness for the film means that no matter where he goes, he will always have friends that he’s never met before — like a woman who spoke to him early on in this tour.
“‘Mr. Evans, you don’t understand.’ I said, ‘OK … what do I not understand?’ She said, ‘It’s not just that we love this movie. It’s not just that we wore out 10 VHS tapes, and then bought I don’t know how many DVDs,’” he said. “Then she says, ‘It’s what the movie means to me, and my husband, and his parents, and our kids.’ She says, ‘It’s as if Scotty and Benny, and those kids in that movie are — they grew up with my kids, and my kids grew up with them. And it’s like they’re brothers.’ And so, that was a big lump in the throat, right there.”
Jeff McGinnis is pop culture editor of Toledo Free Press and Toledo Free Press Star. Email him at PopGoesJeff@gmail.com.