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The Sandlot: What a 25 Year Old Movie About a Baseball Has in Common with Stranger Things

Looking back on how this classic baseball movie was about so much more than just the sport.

If you asked the average kid what they think “America’s pastime” is, what kind of answer do you think you would get? Maybe they would talk about the Super Bowl and how they love gathering up their friends and family on the biggest day for sports of the year. Maybe they would talk about basketball and which players had been heard talking smack in the locker room that week, retweeting favorite blurbs to their followers.

Maybe they would even talk about eSports, and how loading up their favorite Fortnite streamer to keep them company as they finish their homework is more appealing these days than a hot dog in one hand, and their toes in the other during the 7th inning stretch.

While the line between pastime and what’s trending seems closer to blurring than ever, one facet that has remained consistent across all walks of life are the friendships we’re passing the time with. This is a sentiment that shows like Stranger Things, or movies like Stand By Me and E.T. have been able to tap into. Adventures that are looked upon so fondly not necessarily because of the stories they tell, but because of the memorable bonds of friendships between their characters.

The Sandlot: What a 25 Year Old Movie About a Baseball Has in Common with Stranger Things

However, despite fervent advocates holding out like myself, I’d argue we’ll have a tough time in 25 years finding someone who associates their childhood with our actual national pastime–baseball.

It may not be the quintessential pastime for kids today as it was for me, but there’s an aspect of it that I think one movie in particular managed to capture more than any other. That movie is The Sandlot, and that even 25 years later, it proves that there’s hardly anything more symbolic of pastime than a lazy summer day with your friends, and nothing better to do than trying to reclaim the ball you hit over your neighbor’s fence.

For those of us who did play, The Sandlot and its cast of characters were able to hone in on why a lot of us still have fond (and maybe, not so fond) memories of playing baseball growing up. It’s one of the few sports you can be completely incompetent at in some regards, but borderline artful in others.

For example, I wasn’t the biggest kid in the batter’s box, so I could barely hit the ball out of the infield, but I sure could scoop grounders or read a fly ball. There were kids who had no coordination whatsoever, but at 10 years old were already an intimidating 130-ish pounds whose fastballs gave you nightmares. There were kids akin to Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez, batting at the top of the order who could do everything, and of course, on one team or another, we all had the equivalent of a Hamilton “Ham” Porter who wouldn’t let more than a moment go by without slinging profanity laced jabs at the pitcher.

25 years later, The Sandlot proves that there’s hardly anything more symbolic of pastime than a lazy summer day with your friends. Meanwhile, even if your coach stuck you in right field and had you batting last, there were worse ways to spend a Sunday morning than sitting in the dugout with your teammates, spitting out sunflower seeds as you flipped your hat inside-out making it rally-ready, or boasted about your impossibly high score on the Warehouse level in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. Those were the kids like Scotty Smalls from the movie, who when he wasn’t busy constantly “killing” Ham, had his own interests outside of baseball tinkering with high-powered vacuums and catapults made out of erector sets, who despite not being able to keep his eye on the ball, was able to simply enjoy being there with his friends.

On, and off the field, everyone had a role to play–everyone was a character–even if you were the worst player on the team.

While I have fond memories of chewing three pieces of Bubblicious at once or losing my one-size-fits-all helmet sliding into second base, not all of us played Baseball when we were kids. However, like the best movies about growing up, The Sandlot was about more than that. It was about learning to fit in, it was about the desperation of scrounging together every loose coin in your house to buy something, it was about Fourth of July fireworks, it was about older girls, rich kids, confronting your neighborhood’s local urban legend, feeling gullible after believing that one guy who claimed it had eaten somebody, having some more s’mores, lying to your friends so they wouldn’t think you’re square.There’s a reason stories like The Sandlot, Stand By Me, E.T., or Stranger Things resonate with so many people, young or old–they remind us of what it was like to be a kid.

While the conflicts in all of these stories add purpose for their characters, it doesn’t matter if they’re getting into pickles with The Beast, running from a train tracking down dead bodies, harboring intergalactic Reese’s Pieces enthusiasts from the government, or fighting the upside down with slingshots.

Conflict is not the heart of these stories. While one could certainly make the argument that the thought of missing the first time Goku goes Super Saiyan because grocery shopping took forever isn’t exactly on the same plane of pain as being the Demogorgon’s dinner, that doesn’t mean we weren’t experiencing our own connection to the shared theme between all of these worlds–a theme that The Sandlot in particular expressed better than most: at the end of the day, it’s never been about what you’re doing, it’s the friends you’re doing it with. At the end of the day, The Sandlot proves that it’s never been about what you’re doing, it’s the friends you’re doing it with.

We don’t associate Stranger Things with the Demogorgon, we associate it with Mike, Dustin, and Lucas playing Dungeons and Dragons. Hopper and Eleven eating Eggos. Steve Harrington and his hair.

We don’t associate Stand By Me with the dead body, we associate it with Gordie getting a laugh out of the group after hearing his story about the pie eating contest. The looks on their faces when they find leeches all over their bodies. The final line in the movie about the friends we had when we were 12.

And while The Beast was certainly a presence in The Sandlot, we don’t associate it with that, we associate it with the little moments like Benny giving Smalls his hat. Squints not being able to take it anymore and kissing Wendy Peffercorn. We enjoy these adventures and The Sandlot because of the stories they tell, but we remember them because their characters ring true with our childhoods–the people we knew and were back then.

There are a handful of mental keepsakes I have stored away that I know I’ll end up sharing with my kids some day.

Harry Potter is in there, Calvin and Hobbes, Hey Arnold!, Avatar: The Last Airbender, inevitable soon-to-be classic rock like early Weezer or The Strokes. Even more of them will be movies (quite a few by Disney, although I never did end up seeing Bambi because I’d heard it was just about some wimpy deer) but most of those will come when they’re a little older, as there’s one movie that will teach them not only to get excited about baseball, which became such a huge part of my life, but to be excited about finding that one group of friends and a patch of dirt to call their own. The Sandlot will teach them to be a kid.

Will teach them to be scared of monsters. Teach them to run as fast as they can. Teach them how to bond through a love of Baseball.

Teach them to be terrible at Baseball, but bond through it anyway.

Teach them that the lengths at which they’ll go with their friends to get a ball back from over a fence can stretch just as far as endless Oregon train tracks on the way to a dead body, soar just as high into a moonlit sky on bicycles, or sink just as deep as the darkest depths of the upside down where the Demogorgon dwells.

Will teach them, even 25 years later, that heroes get remembered, but legends like The Sandlot never die.

Nick Sherman played second base, left field, and once lost a Sonic the Hedgehog ball over a fence when he was five that he still thinks about to this day. Follow him on Twitter here!

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