It’s been thirty years since we first saw Scotty Smalls awkwardly introduce himself to eight new friends on a makeshift baseball diamond in The Sandlot, a heartwarming, nostalgia-laced film that was inspired by real childhood events of the movie’s co-writer, David Mickey Evans.
Now 61-years-old, Evans has directed plenty of projects since – but none that have endured and endeared him as much to legions of fans and followers.
As the story goes, it’s 1962, and Scotty Smalls, played by Tom Guiry, has just moved into a new neighborhood. Concerned that he has no friends, Scotty’s mother encourages him to get out of the house and meet some kids his age. He finds his new group playing baseball, and his worst summer suddenly becomes his best.
Almost anyone who grew up in that era is drawn to the charm of the suburban storyline, which brings us back to a time when most parents felt it was safe to let kids roam the streets on their bikes or by foot, playing ball, going swimming, hanging out in tree and clubhouses.
The best stories are either true or contain threads of it, and such is the case with the basic plot of The Sandlot. When David Mickey Evans sat down to write the script, he pulled from his own childhood. He and his brother had been the new kids on the block in a Los Angeles suburb, and they did find other children their age playing baseball in a weedy lot between homes.
A major focal point in The Sandlot is a monstrous dog named Hercules, whom the boys both fear and loathe because the beast absconds with all the baseballs that clear the field’s fence – leaving the kids without a ball or ability to keep playing. In Evans’ life, there was a ferocious dog who ate baseballs – and who once took a chunk out of his brother Scott’s leg.
The Sandlot is beloved for many reasons, but especially because it’s a pleasant and humorous storyline that leaves viewers happy and hopeful. We’ve all felt like an outsider at times or been the new kid. Few things are more enjoyable than being accepted or forging good friendships in life, especially in childhood.
But the intriguing backstory surrounding David Mickey Evans’ inspiration for a major theme of the script wasn’t friends or friendship. It was bullies.
It’s true that Evans found kids to play baseball with that summer – but they bullied him mercilessly while doing so. He said he was harassed in the neighborhood, in school in the classroom and on playground – and on the baseball diamond.
But when sitting down to write the screenplay, he said he sought to forgive them. “I turned all the bullies of my childhood into heroes.” In doing so, Evans called the process “very cathartic for me” because all those kids, even years later, “were taking up a lot of space in my head.”
The Sandlot creator even took the forgiveness factor a step further. In real life, David Mickey Evans grew up in an almost exclusively Mexican neighborhood, and so the bullies were Chicanos. In The Sandlot, Scotty Small’s defender – and the movie’s hero – is Benjamin Franklin “Benny the Jet” Rodriguez, the one Chicano of the eight players and friends.
Even casual fans of the movie will remember one of the most iconic lines of the film still repeated today – “You’re killin’ me Smalls!” – a barb uttered by the chubby catcher, Hamilton “Ham” Porter.
For Evans, bad memories and deep hurt from decades earlier were burdening and killing his spirit – until he let them go and forgave the kids whose actions had enslaved him all those years.
Pastor and popular author Max Lucado once said, “Forgiveness is unlocking the door to set someone free and realizing you were the prisoner!”
David Mickey Evans can well relate.
Photo from Disney