“You’re killing me, Smalls!”
What I wouldn’t give for our world today to be as innocent and pure as it was in The Sandlot. It’s a perfect slice of 1960s Americana, when neighborhood kids rode their bikes to the pool, had treehouse sleepovers and played baseball all summer simply for the love of the game. I would love to live in a time when I could feel completely at ease if my son poked his head inside the screen door to yell, “I’m going to play ball, Mom!” and not worry about him until dark.
We introduced The Sandlot to our sons recently, and they really loved it. It held their attention the entire time, and they have asked to see it again and again. I keep saying yes. I won’t bore them with all of the life lessons that can be gleaned from watching it, but I hope these epic lessons from the movie are soaking in:
1. Show up and try. After quick eye contact and a polite nod from neighbor Benny Rodriguez, self-described “egghead” Scotty Smalls takes a leap of faith and grabs his plastic toy mitt to join the other neighborhood boys in a baseball game at the sandlot. He had never played before, so it took tremendous courage for him to take a chance and show up anyway.
2. Invite the new kid to play. Smalls ran away when the other kids made fun of his baseball skills. Benny came to his house the next day and invited him to come back and play with them. “If it wasn’t for Benny, I never would have made a single friend that summer,” is a line from Smalls that really stands out to me. It can be a relief to new people to be invited along or included, and they will remember your kindness forever.
3. Don’t overthink it and keep trying. Benny told Smalls he was thinking too much and that was why he couldn’t catch or throw. He kept at it and was quickly accepted as a peer player by the other guys on the team after he relaxed and made a great catch. Keep trying! Even if you start out as an L-7 weenie.
4. Believe you are worthy of a dream mate. Oh, Squints, you large-spectacled, toothy lovestruck kid. I would never condone a fake drowning to get the attention of the lifeguard woman of your dreams, but in the long run it did work. He was much too young for her at the time, but he believed and dreamed it was possible. He grew up later on and pursued it and did marry the lotioning and oiling Wendy Peffercorn.
5. Go above and beyond for your friends. These boys worked tirelessly to try and save Smalls’s hide when he confessed about taking the baseball “signed by that lady Baby Ruth” from his stepdad’s trophy room. They fought valiantly to get the ball back from the neighbor’s yard without having to provoke The Beast on the other side of the fence. That’s true friendship.
6. Use your imagination. Kids often have limited resources, but in the movie they came up with a bevy of homemade baseball-fetching devices and worked together with things like cereal-box periscopes and broom handles and saucepans taped together to retrieve it. They also rigged vacuum cleaners to try to suction the ball from the yard. It showed great teamwork and communication, regardless of how Ham pronounces “mallow.”
7. Chaw makes you sick on fair rides. I’ve gotta say, I was really grateful for this illustration. Taking a big wad of chaw before getting on a big whirly fair ride makes you throw up. I hope that translates simply into “chaw makes you throw up” to my kids’ memories. Done. Sorry, Big Chief!
8. Confront your fears. Sometimes it takes a little push, like a dream from your hero Babe Ruth, to get you out of your comfort zone. But you should face what you’re afraid of, or at least try to outrun it. Benny was determined to get that ball back with his pumped up kicks, and if he hadn’t, the boys never would have seen The Beast for what he really was: a T-Rex-sized lap dog.
9. Things aren’t always what they seem. “So you’re the ones making all that racket?” The boys fearfully approached their neighbor to return his escaped dog and tell him they knocked down his fence. They assumed they would be chopped to bits, but instead, they gained a new friend that loved baseball as much as they did and found out all they had to do was knock on his door to get the ball back.
10. Own up to your mistakes. Smalls confessed to his dad about the ball from the trophy room. He did get in trouble for it, but his honesty scored a lot of points with his dad, as did the replacement ball signed by Murderers’ Row—a gift from their new friend with a slamming baseball collection and baseball career to support it. All in all, honesty was the right decision, as it always is.
11. You have to leave the house to make friends. Does it get any better than Smalls’s mom pushing him to get out and make friends and get into a little trouble? If she were content with him just staying in his room all summer being good and building robots, he would likely never had taken that plastic mitt to the field in the first place.
That’s a lesson for us all, kids and parents.
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