Legends never die: Twenty years later, the cast and crew of 'The Sandlot' reminisce on making one of the most iconic baseball films of all time
The 20th anniversary tour of The Sandlot wrapped up the only way it logically could have -- in Dodger Stadium. The film ends with a flash-forward to present day (1993), where sandlot wunderkind Benny "The Jet" Rodriguez is all grown up and playing for the Dodgers. Benny gives the home team a walk-off win by stealing home, delighting the adult version of Scotty Smalls, now a play-by-play announcer for Los Angeles. (Twenty years ago, it was hard to believe Vin Scully would still be calling the games at Chavez Ravine for television. And of course, no one could have predicted it would be Charlie Steiner on the radio side.)
On Sept. 1, The Dodgers hosted the Padres, with an on-field screening of the movie to follow. In addition to the Sandlot celebration, it also happened to be Adoptee Day and Cuban Heritage Day. The "Millionaire Matchmaker" Patti Stanger and Andy Garcia (resplendent in loose white slacks) each threw out one of the first pitches (there are several these days). The monthly "Viva Los Doyers" fan fair was set up in the parking lot, where the cast members of The Sandlot sat under a tent, signing autographs on baseballs and softball-style T-shirts emblazoned with the movie's logo and the words YOU'RE KILLIN' ME, SMALLS. The shirts went fast and were all gone before the game even began.
It was nearly 100 degrees in the grandstand, Chavez Ravine baking in the middle of a several-week-long heat wave. By the sixth inning, Vin Scully was on television calling attention to the hats that attendees had fashioned out of scorecards, magazines and cardboard cup holders normally meant for carrying a couple of Dodger Dogs and a beer back to your seat. While watching the game from a luxury box, the people who helped make The Sandlot happen spoke about what it was like to make the film, as well as what the long life of the movie means to them.
Grant Gelt ("Bertram"), Victor DiMattia ("Timmy Timmons"), Marty York ("Yeah-Yeah"), Chauncey Leopardi ("Squints"), David Mickey Evans (director)
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Marty York played "Yeah-Yeah" McClennan in the film, so named for his response to any given question. In 2013, he's an actor and personal trainer, barely recognizable as the scrawny kid from the 1993 film. He's packed on a ton of muscle and is working on developing a line of pre-workout supplements, which he hopes to call "Beast Juice" as a nod to the ferocious dog the kids have to outsmart in the third act of The Sandlot.
Victor DiMattia played Timmy Timmons in the film and is also looking remarkably in-shape, trim and muscular in a Dead Kennedys T-shirt. He's into CrossFit, but his max deadlift of 235 pounds pales in comparison to York's 400, although York claims he almost threw his back out the only time he ever managed to pull that weight. "I wont ever do that again," he says.
The striking thing about York and DiMattia -- the thing that really shouldn't be striking at all -- is that they're adults now. Adults who have lived 20 years of their lives while everyone else was re-watching The Sandlot again and again and again. That's the curse of the child star: They're suspended forever in our minds as being a child and we can't reconcile any other version of our image of them. It's the main reason we freak out when they do something a kid wouldn't do. It's why the Internet went crazy when actor Tom Guiry, who played Smalls, was arrested in August for headbutting a cop. It's not fair, but it's the way things go. York and DiMattia understand this.
"It's amazing just how much people still love this movie after all these years."
DiMattia and York, who played Timmy Timmons and Yeah-Yeah.
"I know just as much about [the Guiry arrest] as [everyone else]," says DiMattia. "I was shocked."
"I've been down that road before, being in trouble with the police and stuff like that," says York. "I just wish him the best. It's just something you've got to move past. Everybody gets in trouble in life. The [difference] is that when [actors] do it, it gets televised or put on TMZ or something like that."
Despite the scrutiny that they've been subject to over their lives, they both claim that their favorite thing about the entire experience has been the fans they've met.
"The reaction from the fans has been overwhelming," says DiMattia. "It's amazing just how much people still love this movie after all these years."
"Seeing people ranging from age 5 years old, all the way up to 70 years old ... I just think that it's something that will never go away," says York. "I know that people will pass the movie down from generation to generation to generation and I hope that when I have kids one day, my kids will watch The Sandlot and I can take them to the sandlot. I think that will be really cool."
When asked what makes people love the movie so much after all these years, both York and DiMattia think that the friendships and characters depicted in the film really speak to everyone. "I think there's a kid out there that's like each one of our characters," says York. Which includes the annoying kid, the crass kid, the kid that's a bit of a creep. We all knew someone like each of these kids growing up. And somewhat atypical for a sports film, the main character is bad at sports. More than that, York believes the friendships captured in the film are genuine, which goes a long way. "I consider all these guys my best friends and I have their back no matter what."
When the final scene of The Sandlot was filmed -- the one with the grown-up Benny "The Jet" stealing home -- the whole cast of the film was present.
Twenty years later, they're back, getting tours of the stadium, holding a pregame press conference and signing, doing an on-field Q&A with the guests of honor, rubbing elbows with the players in the dugout. "We were on the field with the 1993 Dodgers and now we're on the field with the 2013 Dodgers," says York. "It's amazing."
Later, York was holding a plate with a large slice of salted caramel corn cheesecake on it. "Dude, I've eaten so much crap today," he said, preparing to take a bite. "It's OK; I'll work it off at the gym tomorrow."
There was also s'mores cake on offer, which was delicious, but it appeared no one fully appreciated the irony.
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One of the most iconic scenes in the film -- along with the most quoted -- is the fantasy/flashback sequence that tells the origin story of "The Beast," a junkyard dog that terrorizes the group of friends who play at the sandlot. The sequence ends with a police chief telling the dog's owner that the Beast must remain chained up "forever. For-ev-VER. For-ev-VER. For-ev-VER." The line is actually delivered by the character "Squints," who is telling the story, but is mouthed by the actor playing the police chief, Daniel Zacapa:
Zacapa -- who in The Sandlot was credited as Garret Pearson -- has had a fascinating career, acting in everything from the short-lived sitcom The Charmings, to films like Se7en and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, to the Showtime series Resurrection Blvd. He's had possibly the most prolific career of anyone who appeared in The Sandlot, and yet Zacapa says that people "absolutely" recognize him more from this movie than from any of his other approximately 100 acting roles ... and this is without a speaking part.
But the story of how Zacapa ended up playing the part in the first place is just as unlikely as his place in the movie-quote hall of fame.
"It came along [because] I was hired as the baseball technical advisor behind the camera. I was responsible for making these kids look like a team. My girlfriend at the time was working as an account executive on the film and I wrote a letter to Bill Gilmore, who was one of the producers, about being a technical advisor on the film. I told them I'd taken several classes on child psychology when I was in college. I have an innate ability ... or natural gift ... in that I'm able to talk with children and not to or at children, which is a big difference.
"So about a month before we went to Utah to shoot the film, we were practicing on a Little League field in Reseda, California. And I actually made the decision of where all these characters were going to play, except Ham, the character played by Patrick Renna, the catcher. Every other position, including Benny The Jet, I decided. The character Squints, I saw that he was going to be wearing a New York Giants cap, so I decided to put him in center field and I taught him the basket catch. So all those things, I was responsible for."
As for how he got the role that he would become known for, Zacapa had a hand in that himself. "We had a wardrobe fitting, because I was just going to be one of three cops. We were headed back to dailies and I said [to director David Mickey Evans], 'You know how when you're a kid and your relatives show up in your dreams? What if I was maybe the chief of police and maybe [it was Squints' relative]?' The next day, they sent overnight a pair of glasses, the Squints glasses. David rewrote that scene to make it so I was his grandfather and it was amazing."
And why is the man who was credited as Garret Pearson in The Sandlot now known as Daniel Zacapa? "I was born Garret Pearson. Almost 18 years ago, a former agent of mine said 'I don't like his name. He doesn't look like a Garret Pearson to me,' and was trying to explain why I wasn't getting work. I said, 'What?' She said, 'Yeah, [with] a name like Garret Pearson, [you] should be six feet tall, have blond hair ... ' She had a point! But 18 years ago, if you were a Latino actor -- like myself -- if you were gonna work, you were gonna be the drug dealer, the gangbanger or the gardener. That was it. Now, as a Latino, you can play anything. 'Zacapa' is my mother's maiden name. 'Garret Zacapa' sounded like a made-up name, so after I went through about 20 first names ... Daniel Boone was my favorite character when I was a kid, so that's where the 'Daniel' came from. And interestingly enough, after I changed my name to Daniel Zacapa, I wasn't pigeonholed like I thought I was going to be."
Zacapa was having a blast being at the Dodger Stadium screening, but true to his roots (fandom dies hard even among movie stars), he wore an orange undershirt and a "World Series Champions" San Francisco Giants hat.
Tommy Lasorda with Daniel Zacapa.
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Chauncey Leopardi, the actor who played Michael "Squints" Palledorous, is just as unrecognizable as Marty York, if not more so. He doesn't wear glasses, he's heavily tattooed -- including a large forearm piece that flaunts the cap logo of the Dodgers in negative space. He's traded in his backwards baseball cap for a flat-brim number.
Perhaps because of all of this, Leopardi says he hardly ever gets recognized as one of the most prominent characters in an iconic sports film. "Everybody mad-dogs me everywhere I go. They know me from somewhere, but they don't know where, they can't place it." He's thankful that he's no longer recognizable. But he's experienced what it's like for someone who does get recognized.
"They know me from somewhere, but they don't know where, they can't place it."
Leopardi, who played Squints.
"Patrick Renna, who played Ham, the catcher? We were in Minnesota and I felt terrible for him. We would be outside of the hotel, smoking a cigarette and people would drive by, stopping, screaming out the window, 'AAAAHH! AAAAAHH! SANDLOT!' And I was like, 'Ugh, bro, remind me not to ever to go anywhere with you again.' I felt bad for the kid. It's like he literally can't go anywhere, ever. He's like the most easily-recognizable guy ever."
Squints' most famous scene in the film is when he risks drowning to get to kiss lifeguard Wendy Peffercorn, who is played in the film by Marley Shelton. He says the scene was his favorite to shoot, but he hasn't run into Shelton since. I asked whether she was invited to the reunion screenings, but Leopardi wasn't sure. "I've never seen her at all. Not since we shot. [Maybe] one day."
Regarding Guiry's arrest, he said it was unfortunate. "Shit happens. What are you gonna say about it? We all make mistakes." He added, "It was a hell of a mugshot."
Leopardi was the only actor from the first film to appear in the direct-to-video third Sandlot film, The Sandlot: Heading Home, which came out in 2007. What does he think of that film now? "It was a free trip to Vancouver!" Laughing, he clarified, "They were like, 'Hey, we want you to go to Vancouver and shoot this movie and we're gonna pay you,' and I was like, 'All right!' All I heard was 'Vancouver' and 'summertime' and that was it. I've never seen [the movie]."
Leopardi says he doesn't really watch the things he acts in anymore, although he's seen The Sandlot "a million times." His little brothers used to have Sandlot marathons. They're not the only kids who did.
Leopardi's daughter came by and asked him to hold her Squints glasses. "They're falling apart," she explained, before heading to the dessert cart. No word on whether she got the s'mores cake.
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Art LaFleur is one of the most gregarious individuals you're ever likely to meet. When he was one of the first people into the luxury box (filled mostly with press at the time), he strode right up to the reporters, stuck out his hand, flashed a huge smile and said, "Hi! I'm Art." He played Babe Ruth (or as the credits indicate, just "The Babe") in a dream sequence in The Sandlot and he tells anyone who recognizes him from it that it was the best one-day job he's ever had:
He's been in Mr. Baseball and Field of Dreams in addition to The Sandlot, which is a trifecta of baseball films that may never be equaled. Although he's had a long and notable career and only appeared in one scene, he says he gets recognized for being in The Sandlot more than any other role. Other roles he gets recognized for? The Tooth Fairy, Field of Dreams and believe it or not, Air America. You remember: the 1990 Mel Gibson/Robert Downey, Jr. buddy-pilot picture.
Even though his role was just a "one-day job," LaFleur did his research before going to the audition. "I had read a biography of Babe Ruth [by Robert W. Creamer]. So when I went in to audition, I went in kind of as Babe Ruth. I used some of the slang terms that he used from the book and some of the phrases. Like he would say, 'Hey keed' -- like K-E-E-D, instead of 'Hey, kid.' I had already been set up with David [Mickey Evans, the director] before I went in, so I think I would have had to really step on myself to not get the job."
Babe Ruth, of course, halfheartedly attempted a second career in acting after retiring as a baseball player. LaFleur -- who is perhaps most famous for playing the Babe -- has seen some of the films that Ruth acted in. Does he have a critique, from one Babe to another? "I think that he was much better playing baseball," said LaFleur, smiling. "But he was OK. He's Babe Ruth!"
In the bottom of the sixth inning -- on Cuban Heritage Day -- Cuban rookie sensation Yasiel Puig launched a no-doubter solo home run to left field, snapping a 1-1 tie with what would prove to be the winning run. Dodger Stadium got as loud as I've ever heard it. Rushing in from the hall, Art -- who heard the crowd -- looked to the closest person and excitedly asked, "What happened? Did they hit it out?" He was quickly informed that Puig had belted a round-tripper. The Babe approved.
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Evans (director), "Timmy Timmons", "Bertram", "Squints", "Tommy Timmons" (Shane Obedinksi), "Police Chief", Cathleen Summers (producer), "Yeah-Yeah", "The Babe"
David Mickey Evans wrote and directed The Sandlot. Today, this dyed-in-the-wool Dodgers fan was back at Dodger Stadium, soaking up cheers before and after the game, throwing out the final ceremonial first pitch. It's hard to imagine someone as content as Evans looked. What else would you expect from a man who has a prominent tattoo of the movie's title in its trademark font? He got the tattoo in 2004, when he was contacted to make the first sequel, The Sandlot 2. Evans referred to the 20th anniversary tour as a "victory lap." He said it was hard to think of a better ending to the whole ordeal. "The sandlot grew up to be Dodger Stadium. The end of The Sandlot; the end of the tour."
While the day was all about The Sandlot, it was easy for Evans to get wrapped up in just talking baseball. It comes easily to all baseball fans. The director spoke at length about how much he loves Dodger Stadium, saying there's no better place in the world to watch a baseball game (although, when chided by Zacapa, he did admit that AT&T Park is a pretty all right baseball stadium). It's easy to see how much he cares about the team, as he spoke in reverent tones about the team he grew up with; the team of Garvey, Lopes, Cey, Tommy, et al.
Evans talked about how worried he was during the Frank McCourt era (he muttered "McCourt" under his breath, as though we were in Hogwarts and he didn't want to be caught saying "Voldemort"). He talked about the Jeffery Loria situation in Miami and wondered whether Bud Selig would have stepped in to relieve Loria of his duties if he were in charge of a team as prominent as the Dodgers, rather than the expansion Marlins. "There are only two teams that probably the entire team [recognizes]. It's Yankees, Dodgers, man. That would have been a hell of a call. I'm glad that didn't happen."
He also said he has a beef with frontrunners and bandwagon fans who call themselves Dodgers fans, when last year they were nowhere to be seen. He talks the talk, all right; Evans is 100 percent an actual baseball fan. Perhaps that's why he thinks so highly of his own film. The Sandlot came out around the same time as a glut of other family-targeted baseball movies: Rookie of the Year, Little Big League, Angels in the Outfield and others. What is it about The Sandlot that inspires such love and devotion, even 20 years later?
"It's an honest film. Everything from the writing, to the acting, the editing, it's all honest."
David Mickey Evans' "The Sandlot" tattoo (photo by Bill Hanstock).
"I'm not here to denigrate anybody's filmmaking, but none of those are good movies, OK? That's number one. Number two, they're inauthentic little Hollywood-y story pieces. [The Sandlot] is not like that and the intention was never to make it like those movies. It's an authentic movie. You can always make a movie that has the authenticity of [the] time when it's supposed to be taking place, by being honest. It's an honest film. Everything from the writing, to the acting, the editing, it's all honest. And then, of course, it'll never become anachronistic. Those [other] films were anachronistic two days after they were released. This one's a little piece of immortal, fictional history stuck in time."
The nostalgia of the film is deliberate. The film takes place in the year before John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Even in 1993, the sandlot and the idea of remaining as kids who staying out until the sun goes down was a portion of the American Dream that was already beginning to slip away. Most of The Sandlot alumni in attendance talked about how the movie evokes a more innocent time -- a time that, of course, the main actors in the film never experienced for themselves. Whether the Rockwellian portrait of Cold War America is completely authentic or not, it's never wise to discount the powerful allure of nostalgia.
Evans says he never had pressure from the studio to stray from his vision or his script and that they left him alone to make the film he wanted to make. Although, at one point, he says, "One [executive] did actually say, 'Go with me here. What if Scotty was a girl?' Swear to god." (It is perhaps worth noting that the film does not pass the Bechdel Test.)
He is quick to point out that although he made the first two Sandlot films, he had nothing to do with the third, calling it "unfortunate." He says that he personally had plans for six movies in the franchise. "The first one takes place in '62, the second one that I made is '72. My other four were [taking place in] '82, '92, 2002, 2012. It could probably [still] be done, because no one's seen the third one and nobody cares." Not even Chauncey Leopardi.
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After the game, the late afternoon finally cooled things off a bit. Fans settled onto the grass of the outfield or in the box seats behind the first- and third-base lines to view The Sandlot on the two brand-new high-definition screens that have been outfitted in the stadium's distinctive Art Deco trapezoidal scoreboards. Fans of the film, young and old, watched the movie for the first time or the 30th time. In David Mickey Evans' own words, "As a physical institution, the sandlot is probably extinct, but the idea will never die." As such, it doesn't matter how many times they've seen it or how many times they will; it's always there for the people who love it and it's always the same.
And it will always end at Dodger Stadium.
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