The sun burst through the clouds beating back the last belligerent end of a storm that wouldn't quit Saturday at George M. Steinbrenner field. A bottom of the first grand-slam blast from catcher, Peter O'Brien, had put the Tampa Yankees up 4 to 1 against the Brevard County Manatees, but the umpires called the players off the field during the fifth because of rain. The delay lasted a little over an hour and the game never resumed leading to a Yankees victory, but that’s not all we were there to see.
We were there to see Squints slip Wendy Peffercorn some tongue, to see Benny “the Jet” Rodriguez lace up his PF Flyers and haul ass from the child devouring , baseball shredding dog known as, the Beast. We were there to watch The Sandlot.
Released in the Spring of 1993, The Sandlot, written and directed by David M. Evans, has had an enduring legacy with a generation of adults seemingly hell-bent on nostalgia. Toys, shows and movies from the late '80s to early '90s are being rereleased and rebooted with frenzy.
To mark the 20th anniversary of the film and its recent Blu-Ray release, Evans has been touring the country holding screenings of the film, like this past weekend’s in Tampa.
As the remaining crowd of a few hundred, mostly families with young kids, took their seats again, Evans introduced himself to the crowd and played some trivia, giving away shirts emblazoned with the now classic line, you’re killin’ me Smalls, that he had been selling and signing at the game. A gaggle of children followed behind Evans like snakes to St. Patrick, eagerly jumping and raising their hands to answer questions and demonstrate their knowledge as he traversed the stadium from end to end.
“What year did the movie take place?” Evans asked one shy young girl who covered her face with a towel. “I’ll give you a hint. It happened between 1961 and 1963.”
“1962?” she quizzically responded after he assuaged some of her embarrassment.
Evans, who also wrote 1992’s, Radio Flyer, is clearly proud of his film. He has good reason; its influence has bled in to a generation. Pop-punk band Four Year Strong put out a song called "Heroes Get Remembered, Legends Never Die," based on a line from the film, there is an up and coming act called Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez, after the a popular character from the film, and "You’re killing me, Smalls" has become a catchphrase used by people who don’t even know its origin.
But the film doesn't just captivate adults, who first saw the movie 20 years ago. Kids, none of whom were older than 10, rabidly sought to answer Evans’ questions. Tony Trester, 31, first saw the film when he was 10 years old. He brought his son Alex Trester, 5, who himself has already seen the film 10 times to the screening. Tony Trester, who was wearing a the Beast T-shirt, says he wanted to share the experience of viewing the film with his son. It was an important film to him— about more than just baseball.
The plot centers on a group of misfit pre-teens playing baseball on a dirt lot in the summer of 1962. Neighborhood new comer, Scotty Smalls, is reluctantly added to the team to complete a nine-man roster at the insistence of de facto leader, Benny Rodriguez.
What follows is a nostalgically laced tale of friendship, bravery and overcoming odds. Stories of pining over the lust-worthy lifeguard during to trips to the local pool, late-night tree house sleepovers, which revived the wonder of the s’more, and a Babe Ruth-signed baseball lost in the yard of a legendarily monstrous mastiff all weave together in a film that unforgivably reminds adults of childhood summers and strikes a familiar chord generation after generation.
The scene at Steinbrenner was inspiring. In a generation marred by obesity, X-Boxes replacing playgrounds and the avoidance of competition, it was refreshing to see groups of children laying down their caps and bags to simulate bases as they ran plays during the rain delay. There was the sense of a love for baseball more present in one refreshingly outdoor game (as the sport was meant to be) than most games at Tropicana Field, which seem to have become more social outings than anything to do with sport. The crowd made up of families offered a reminder of why baseball is still considered America’s pastime.
As the post-game fireworks display concluded, the field lights dimmed and the remaining fans and families lay across dugouts or took new seats closer to the scoreboard screen, the impact and influence of a single film was palpable.
As I settled in to my own seat, also closer than the one initially purchased, I couldn't help but smile as I felt the thrill of catching my first ball right along with Smalls, the excitement and nerve of a first kiss and remembered what is was like to feel, no matter how alienated you once were, to be a part of the Sandlot.