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Published: Friday, 7/5/2013

Play ball! ‘The Sandlot’ marks 20 years

BY KIRK BAIRD
BLADE ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT WRITER

Look at most top baseball movie lists and chances are The Sandlot is among them, often in the top 10.

Which is strange because the film’s writer-director David Evans doesn’t necessarily consider The Sandlot to be a baseball movie, at least in the tradition of The Natural, Major League, Eight Men Out, and Bull Durham, also perennial favorites of the genre.

“This is not essentially a baseball film, although it’s been called the greatest baseball movie ever made and all of these sorts of accolades, which are all very flattering,” he said. “But nonetheless, it’s a movie about friendship.”

Set in the summer of 1962 — a time Evans refers to as “America’s last great ‘innocent’ year, before Kennedy was [assassinated] in ’63 and the country pretty much went to hell in a hand basket” — The Sandlot is about a group of neighborhood teenage boys bonded by their love of baseball. They have nicknames like “Ham,” “Repeat,” and “Squints,” and their biggest obstacle is to reclaim a near-priceless baseball autographed by Babe Ruth now in the possession of a monstrous, fearsome dog named The Beast. The plot element involving the dog is loosely inspired by a real-life incident that happened to Evans’ younger brother when they were kids.

Released in 1993, The Sandlot grew into a word-of-mouth phenomenon, which studio 20th Century Fox is celebrating with a special 20th anniversary Blu-ray and DVD release. But Evans had a bigger idea to commemorate the milestone: take the film on the road to major and minor league ballparks throughout the United States, and sign autographs and pose for photos with the movie’s fans.

He initially tried his idea last year in two small parks, and with only minimum radio publicity thousands of people showed up. This year, with the full might of what he calls the Fox “publicity and marketing machine,” he’s greatly expanded the tour, playing the film in 25 or so baseball stadiums throughout the summer.

Tonight he visits Fifth Third Field, where he’ll host a screening of The Sandlot in the stadium immediately following the Mud Hens 7 p.m. game. For more information, call 419-725-4367.

Evans estimates that when his cross-country promotion is over, he will have traveled 30,000 miles in his Honda Pilot and met hundreds of thousands of The Sandlot fans.

So what is it about his movie that resonates with so many people all these years later?

“I think it’s honest and authentic,” he said. “That was one of the big deals when we were making it, it can’t be phoney. I can name 10 phoney kids movies now. They might be moderately popular … and then they go away forever. And this thing sells millions of DVDs worldwide every year ... it just keeps growing and growing. That’s not because new people are discovering it — although that’s true — it’s because the people who have loved it for 20 years keep buying copies of it to give to future generations.”

One elderly man from Iowa, in fact, bought a dozen Sandlot DVDs for him to autograph.

“He said please sign this for me, please sign this for my wife, please sign these for my kids, please sign these for my grandkids, and these three are for my great-grandkids. So he wins. Whatever contest it is, he wins.”

At one point in his film career, Evans was a struggling screenwriter. His script for 1992’s Radio Flyer that changed that, and made him a millionaire. The popularity of The Sandlot a year later “meant that I never had to work again,” he said.

But he never expected that kind of success for his film — especially 20 years later.

“You have a sense that you’re doing it right and things are generally working, but is anyone going to like it? There’s no way to know that,” he said. “The odds ... that it stands the test of time and then becomes a classic, evergreen film, those are astronomical odds. All I can say is that I’m extremely grateful that it has become that kind of film.”

Contact Kirk Baird at kbaird@theblade.com or 419-724-6734.



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