Life Lessons Learned From “The Sandlot”

There were movies that came out when I was growing up that for some reason I thought I wasn’t allowed to watch (but totally was allowed to watch because, hello, they were PG-rated Disney films). I blame miscommunication: for a few months my Mom literally thought the PG rating system meant a parent had to watch, say, Richie Rich with their child. And I just assumed she never learned despite me going on to watch The Simpsons religiously as a wee lass. So yes, I was wrong. And yes, The Sandlot was among the list ‘o movies I deemed unwatchable.

That is, until I saw it in class one day in grade four — dun, dun, dun. Technically (I thought to myself), a teacher counted as a “parent” (in that they’re in charge of you), so watching a movie about kids playing baseball couldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

CORRECT, nine-year-old me: it was the best.

Truth be told, I haven’t seen The Sandlot since that grey day in ’94 when we counted our blessings our class had saved up enough pop tabs to justify a pizza day/movie combo. But do you know what? I learned something. I know that. I learned at least 10 things. And here they are.

1) Baseball is the greatest of all sports

Can you guys sense a theme, here? Obviously (us OLMN-ers) are in the midst of full-blown sports fanaticism, but baseball still wins in my heart. Why? It’s graceful, it’s smart, and it’s beautiful to watch. “But Anne!” you argue. “It’s boring!” No, YOU’RE out of order! Also: not correct. (I LOVE YOU.) It’s subtle! You have to literally gaze upon everything, take it all in, and then think to yourself, “Oh my goodness, yes. Look at those casual glances from player to player that mean literally everything.” In that order. No violence, just hitting balls, catching balls, and running. Also, signs, looks, signals, and the wave, which I try and avoid at all cost. The wave is not for me, you guys. It’s not for any of us. And that is the biggest lesson I can pass on.

2) We are all Smalls

And we’re killing everyone. (GET IT?) (Of course you do, it’s right there.) But for real: Smalls is the underdog, and honestly, so are we. Which is perfect. Being the underdog is GREAT. Being the underdog is what makes things interesting the older we get and the more we succeed. You never want to be the person who’s all, “Oh I knew it! From the moment they were born, they were DESTINED for success!” I personally like a little, “Wow, Anne for a while we were concerned you were destined for the opposite of success!” Why? BECAUSE I WANT TO OVERCOME.

3) People who laugh at you will laugh WITH YOU (or just . . . own a mini mall I guess)

I mean, if you want to own a mini mall, cool. But all I’m saying is that Smalls gets completely laughed at because he missed a play, and GUESS WHO HAS THE LAST LAUGH? Probably Benny because he ends up in the MLB. But also Smalls because he has a huge salary, I bet. “Trying laughing at me now!” I would say, while throwing dollar bills in the air like in that episode of Broad City. Or, “Tune in to hear me on TSN where I am a famous person.” Either or would work. I’m likely going to say the former if I ever run into anyone who picked on me in high school. Why? Because I don’t work in broadcasting. Also, because I’m sure if I started saving now, I’d have as much money as Smalls does at the end of the movie in, like, 144 years.

4) Smalls’ trajectory and storyline is huge in terms of gender norms 

Let the record state how much I hate “you play like a girl.” What, tough and awesome? YOU BET I DO. But on top of that: Smalls is a kid who doesn’t fit with the myth of male masculinity. He’s small, he’s bad at sports, and he’s laughed at for not falling in line with what’s acceptable. And who do we cheer for in this movie? Smalls! Meaning that this many people could relate to Smalls’ differentiation from the norm — even back in 1993. Like, that’s huge. Think about how many kids were rooting for Smalls, all while too young to know about gender conventions and the patriarchy. This is why The Sandlot is so important. It made somebody like Smalls a hero when in other movies, he might not be. And it taught such a big lesson: playing sports well does not a man (or worthwhile human) make.

PS. I totally got a black eye the way Smalls did when I was in grade six. WHAT UP, PLAYERS.

5) The story of The Beast and James Earl Jones is even more heartbreaking the older you get

Because as kids, you watch and think about how scary the dog is, or how terrifying the myth of James Earl Jones might be. But then as adults and even teens, you think about the technicalities; how isolating it must have been for James Earl Jones (no I will not use his character name, I’m sorry, he is and always will be James Earl Jones), and how scary it must have been to go blind in 1960-something when there were ZERO answers, and how heartbreaking it is that once upon a time he was a great baseball player — and now sits next to a field where kids play. Are you guys crying yet? Can I be real? I . . . could. I COULD cry, if I wasn’t writing this in public.

6) Adulthood is getting angry with Smalls for taking Bill’s ball

And I’m not saying that any overreaction is necessary, but as a kid, you think “Oh no, Smalls! You’re going to get in trouble!” And then as an adult, you think, “What the hell, Smalls?!” That is a signed by Babe Ruth. That is invaluable. I know it’s just a thing but it is also A SIGNED BALL BY BABE RUTH. What’s the equivalent of that today? Does it exist? Probably our phones. It’d be like taking our phones and throwing them away. Can you imagine? (I kid, I kid.)

7) The Sandlot is a movie about the importance of communication

First, Bill should have communicated to Smalls who Babe Ruth was, and that stealing a ball signed by Babe Ruth is a horrible mistake to make. Second, the town should have communicated the myth surrounding James Earl Jones a.k.a there is no myth, he is a disabled person who they should be checking in on. Third, Squints should have communicated to Wendy that he liked her before sticking his tongue in her mouth. Fourth, Smalls should have communicated more about . . . I think a lot of things. Specifically his desire to play and his inability to play and his hope to be included within the team. And the team should have communicated back.

But seriously, the Babe Ruth thing. I mean, I didn’t know much about baseball when The Sandlot came out but even at age nine I thought, “DUDE NOT THE BABE RUTH BASEBALL COME ON.”

8) Wendy Peffercorn probably smiles at Squints because she is plotting his demise

And I know this now, as an adult woman. Yes, even though they end up together. But hear me out: As kids, we watched the scene where Squints kisses Wendy when she is trying to do her job (aka performing CPR), and then we watch as adults and think, “Squints honestly should’ve been sued.” (Or if it was me, I would’ve verbally assaulted him to the point of earning The Sandlot a solid 18-A rating.) Seriously, though! Who is this kid? Like, smooth move with the harassment-meets-assault there, pal. And AGAIN yes I know they end up together, but still. I hope he apologized consistently. And that’s how they started dating. I will accept no other storylines.

9) Every movie should do a sum-up at the end of where the characters went

I can’t even tell you how important this is to me. I need to know that Squints married Wendy and that Smalls is a sportscaster and that Benny is an MLB-er and that Yeah-Yeah develops bungee jumping. THIS IS IMPORTANT INFORMATION. In my head, I need to picture it. I need to know, while going to sleep, that everyone in this pretend world is safe and happy. Every movie should have this. EVERY SINGLE ONE. Even if it’s a tragedy. But hey — even Titanic had one. We know Billy Zane died, and we know . . . well, that’s what we know. But wasn’t that great to be aware of? I liked knowing that! But The Sandlot did it best. If you’re not going to show us, Now & Then-styles, then we’re at least entitled to a verbal sum-up. Every movie director, take note: We accept the endings we think we deserve.

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