The Timeless Game: On the 30th Anniversary of The Sandlot | Features
I don’t know anything about baseball. Thanks to Benny’s antics in the framing story of “The Sandlot,” I am convinced that stealing home is probably the most exciting thing that a player could possibly do, even though Google tells me it’s actually not a very smart play, numbers-wise. But the movie, surprisingly, has very little to do with baseball. Unlike many of the other kids’ sports movies of the 1990s, there is no central narrative about the scrappy underdogs overcoming adversity to win big in the most important game of the season. We know that the kids who play baseball in the sandlot aren’t as wealthy and privileged as some of their classmates, as evinced by their crude rivalry with a local team, who ride up on brand new bikes wearing spotless uniforms to challenge them to a game at their well-maintained baseball diamond. But aside from their exchange of insults, there’s very little real conflict here—the sandlot kids win handily when they play each other, and it’s treated as an opportunity for our heroes to show off more than anything else.
The film constantly reminds us that it’s not about the game. When they play together on the sandlot, they frequently rotate positions and don’t even bother keeping score. Some of the greatest set pieces—their trip to the community swimming pool, their disastrous attempt to go on a carnival ride after swallowing a bunch of chewing tobacco—don’t even take place at the sandlot. As the adult Scotty mentions as he narrates the epilogue, after that summer they never bothered to replace any of the players on the team when they moved away. It’s certainly not about baseball for Scotty; when he first meets Benny, he can barely hold a baseball and has to keep a notebook full of facts to remember about the sport in order to fit in. He’s drawn to the kids playing in the nearby sandlot not because he actually cares about sports, but because he longs for the camaraderie they share. A quiet loner, he seems resigned to playing inside with his Erector sets all summer until his mother literally begs him to go outside and make some friends. When he watches the boys playing baseball, trying to work up the nerve to figure out a way to join them, he is captivated by them for the exact same reason that the film’s young audiences were in the 1990s: Because they represent a childhood we didn’t have.
When my mom was a kid in the 1960s, she was unleashed on her neighborhood with her four brothers and sisters, only beckoned to come home once the street lights in their small town turned on. From what I’m told, they were a pack of unholy terrors, free to get into unending trouble without any adult supervision. By the time I was around in the 1990s, the world seemed to be smaller for kids. In a cultural landscape of Stranger Danger and DARE, we were taught that the world was a hostile and threatening place. We were told to keep an eye out for strange cars we didn’t recognize on our street, adults passing along their own anxieties to us, along with the burden of keeping ourselves safe from other adults who were apparently all out to prey on us. If strangers didn’t want to abduct us for their own nefarious purposes, they definitely wanted to get us addicted to drugs, which DARE helpfully taught us we could die from even if it was our first time partaking in an illicit substance.