In the roster of Little League baseball movies, “The Sandlot” stands as a sweeter, gentler counterpoint to the caustic and grumpy comedy of “The Bad News Bears.” Each movie lugs around a big old lump of nostalgia for gawky adolescence, rough-hewn buddyhood and long, lazy summer days spent learning life’s enduring rules of play on dusty baseball diamonds.
Though the two movies were made 17 years apart – “Bears” in 1976 and “Sandlot” in 1993 – they share a similar affection for a game that’s mythic, magical and life-changing, especially from the perspective of impressionable young boys.
“The Sandlot,” directed by David Mickey Evans (“Radio Flyer”) with an unabashed air of nostalgia and boyish, off-kilter whimsy, now gets a polished Blu-ray reissue on the 20th anniversary of its release, and it turns out that this quirky little boys’ adventure still wears its modest charms with unassuming ease.
Set in a small town during the 1960s, the story focuses on young Scotty Smalls (Tom Guiry), an awkward new kid who is desperate to befriend a ragtag gaggle of guys who play pickup baseball at the neighborhood sandlot.
Trouble is, gangly Scotty doesn’t know the first thing about baseball – he thinks Babe Ruth is a girl’s name. He tries to get his blue-collar stepdad Bill (Denis Leary) to teach him a thing or two about the game, but the first time he’s stationed in the outfield and a fly ball speeds his way, Scotty’s ineptitude is betrayed to one and all.
The other kids – an Our Gang band of chubby, freckle-faced, bespectacled, geeky, wiseguy types – ride Scotty hard, but the group’s best player, Mike (Benjamin Franklyn Rodriguez), a tall, gracefully athletic natural in an LA Dodgers cap, takes pity and takes Scotty under his wing to school him in the game.
As is the way with most baseball movies, baseball is only the pretext for other, larger, life-changing events in Scotty’s life, and the movie plays out as a loose series of vignettes and adventures that form a formative summer for this thoughtful kid. These include on teammate’s devious scheme to steal a kiss at the park swimming pool from a pretty lifeguard in a red bathing suit, and the boys’ efforts to retrieve a prized, Babe Ruth-signed baseball from a nearby backyard that’s occupied by a slobbering, growling mongrel dog they call The Beast.
It’s all lighthearted and occasionally heavy-handed (with the adult Scotty narrating the important life lessons with wizened voice over). But for anyone who loves baseball and has ever felt the joy of being on the team, win or lose, there’s a winning quality to “The Sandlot” that still feels timeless.
The 20th Anniversary Blu-ray edition comes with a few extras, including a set of baseball cards, a behind-the-scenes featurette, the original theatrical trailer and several TV commercials.
- Dennis King