Who doesn’t remember Mr. Myrtle as the “meanest man who ever lived” or the Ham’s unforgivable insult, “You play ball like a girl!” These are just a few of the unforgettable moments in the adventure of a lifetime for a group of childhood friends that centered around the neighborhood baseball field. In celebration of The Sandlot’s 20th Anniversary, writer and filmmaker David M. Evans and Fox Home Entertainment has launched a tour of the film which will screen at baseball fields across the country (last weekend at The Ballpark in Arlington). I sat down with Evans and one of the stars of the film, Patrick Renna who played Ham, during their stop in Dallas last week.
Who came up with the idea to mark the twenty-year anniversary of the film with a baseball park tour?
David Evans: I did. I called up my friends at Fox Home Entertainment and asked what they had going for the 20th anniversary. They said they were going to make this DVD and put a couple of bonuses it. So, I suggested they get in touch with PF Flyers, who are celebrating their 75th anniversary this year, see if we could take this thing on tour to baseball stadiums and screen it for fans, and they thought it was a great idea. So, we tested it a couple of times last year, once in Omaha and once in Memphis, at their AAA parks and with just two small morning radio interviews the day of the event, 3,500 people showed up and the same thing in Memphis. At that point, it was obvious that if FOX put the marketing machine behind it, we could have a big deal. It’s astounding how much people love this movie and how much it means to them, and to give them the chance to come out to a baseball field and watch it is irresistible. It’s more than just going to the movies.
What inspired you twenty-years ago when you sat down and wrote The Sandlot? Was it in any way related to your own childhood?
DE: A little bit. The inciting incident stemmed from when I was a kid. My little brother and I lived in this neighborhood, and we were very poor. It was the north eastern section of San Fernando Valley in southern California, and the kids on the block used to beat us up, and they hated us. We always wanted to play ball, but they wouldn’t let us. One day, they hit a baseball over a block wall at the end of the street. Behind that wall was actually a vicious dog named Hercules. I mean really vicious. Well, I wasn’t around one day, and they said to my little brother, “If you go get the ball, you can play ball with us.” So, he said okay and went to get the ball. The dog charged him, broke the chain and ripped up his leg pretty bad; so, that’s the inciting sort of thing. Years later, this just occurred to me in an ‘aha’ moment. The story would be a bunch of kids that played ball in the street, it wasn’t a sandlot at the time, and they would hit the ball over the fence, but it’s a valuable ball, and they have to do a 1000 different things to get it back, and everything else just flowed.
Tell us about the casting process for this film because in the end it’s the chemistry between those kids that made The Sandlot such a timeless classic.
DE: First of all, I hate casting. I hate it because I know how difficult it is for an actor. I empathize because I want to give everybody the role, but you can only give it to one person. I had originally had [these characters] as 9 and 10 year olds, and I cast a bunch of kids that age, and they seemed okay individually, but when I put them together as an ensemble, I was like these are just a bunch of babies; so, I decided that wasn’t going to work. So the casting agent and I, decided to make them 12 and 13, and we went back and started looking for boys that age. What I was looking for was honest, authentic, not precocious, personal, gregarious kind of kids, young men, who weren’t fearful of “hey, let’s do some improv”; so, that’s how I went about it. The first kid I looked at was Mike Vitar (Benny), and I said we have to get him, and my casting director Shari Rhodes was like well we have to look at all these kids, and we did, and at the end, I said go get Mike. So, he was the first kid I saw, the last kid I saw was this guy (motioning to Patrick Renna), and he can tell you how that went.
How’d that go?
PR: Well, there were eight other kids already cast. They were probably a week or two out from shooting when I auditioned. When I got the call back they said that I hadn’t booked the role, but they wanted me to go to this mini baseball camp they had set up. They wanted to make sure we would integrate well before the final castings. I met the other guys, and we hit it off. I think everyone was cautious on saying you booked the job; so, we were just told you’re gonna play baseball. I think that’s a good way to do it instead of telling us that we booked the role only to have it taken away if the chemistry wasn’t there. They were really considerate of our feelings throughout the process.
At 13, did you know that you wanted to be an actor or did you just think it was a cool thing you were going to get to do this one time and that would be it?
PR: I definitely wanted to act. I’m originally from Boston, and I had done a lot of plays in school, and I knew that I wanted to be an actor. I don’t think I fully knew what it meant though at the time. I loved movies, and I moved out to LA with my mom, who had some job things she was coming out for, but she only accepted them because she knew I wanted to act. Sandlot was basically my first audition and job, and it was like my acting class too.
My ten year old nephew loves this movie. Why do you think it has stood the test of time all these years later?
DE: I think it’s a number of things. First of all, it’s a period piece. It’s never going to get old. Make a movie today, and put somebody on a cell phone, next year that movie is old, but 1962 is 1962. It was the last year of the Eisenhower post war years before ’63 here in this town when America went over the top, and that world was over. It was that sort of much more innocent time. Clearly this cast of young actors knocked it literally out of the park. The movie feels like those old slides you put in a carousel projector when you watch it. I told the director of photography that I wanted that look for this film. I wanted it to feel and look like a memory. So, those were all very thought out things that I wanted the film to look like. There are as many reasons for its enduring as there are people who love the film.
What’s the one message or take away from The Sandlot that you want to live on for the generations to come?
DE: There is a little league patch for the International Little League, and on it, there’s a baseball diamond that says character, courage and loyalty, and that’s what this movie’s about. It’s not about baseball, that’s a part of it, but its’ about having the character not to exclude some kid or anybody because he’s not as good or for any reason. You include them because it takes courage to do that, and then when he’s in deep you-know-what being loyal enough to take a bullet for him. I think those, if not the most important things, they’re darn close to it; so, that I am very grateful for. It pleases me that those things, although they may not be voiced, I think people recognize that and that gives me hope.
The Sandlot is available in stores everywhere! You can pick up a little piece of nostalgic movie magic tonight.