It is a tale of childhood insecurities and friendships forged on the diamond of America’s pastime, clubhouse sleepovers and crushing on the community-pool lifeguard, a backyard beast and a neighborhood hero — and it’s all set in a time when the worst insult a kid could give or take was, “You play ball like a girl.”
“The Sandlot,” since its premiere in 1993, has become iconic for its characters — like Scotty Smalls, Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez, Hamilton “Ham” Porter and Michael “Squints” Palledorous — and lines of dialog — such as “Heroes get remembered, but legends never die” and “You’re killin’ me, Smalls” — but less recognized than this film that has now reached three generations of movie lovers is its writer and director, Wilkes-Barre native David Mickey Evans.
Evans will visit PNC Field in Moosic on July 28, dubbed “Sandlot Night,” as he and actor Patrick Renna, who portrayed “Ham” Porter, will attend the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders home game as part of a nationwide tour celebrating the 25th anniversary of the film’s release. As part of the promotion, 2,500 “Ham” Porter bobbleheads will be given away to fans.
When Evans was about 5 years old, his mother moved him and his little brother from Wilkes-Barre to California, where some of his experiences in the San Fernando Valley of the 1970s became the impetus for “The Sandlot.”
“It wasn’t the way my childhood was,” Evans said. “It was the way I wish my childhood was, the way it should have been.”
The real story that inspired the script, Evans said, involves neighborhood bullies who sent his younger brother over a wall to get a baseball and an abused dog named Hercules who bit the boy.
Years later, Evans would channel his aggression toward those villains into his writing.
“I turned them into heroes,” he said. “It was cathartic.”
Evans points to Mark Twain’s preface to “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” — “Most of the adventures recorded in this book really occurred; one or two were experiences of my own, the rest those of boys who were schoolmates of mine. Huck Finn is drawn from life; Tom Sawyer also, but not from an individual — he is a combination of the characteristics of three boys whom I knew, and therefore belongs to the composite order of architecture.” — as an explanation of his own character creation.
“That’s about 99 percent accurate of ‘The Sandlot,’” Evans said. “I made these guys up.”
And the popularity and relatability of these characters is not lost on their creator.
“When I write a movie, I write it for myself,” he said. “It turns out, luckily for me, when I write for myself and I like it, other people like it as well. I used to question it; I don’t anymore. The minute you start getting arrogant about it, you’re dead.
“They will always be, the characters themselves … caught in time, because the picture took place in 1962. It is essentially timeless because of that and will never become anachronistic. There are no cell phones … it’s just pure, boys out on a dirt lot, playing.”
Evans, who has resume points that extend far beyond one movie — he wrote and co-directed 1992’s “Radio Flyer” and has writer and director credits on more than a dozen films — realizes the gravity of having his work reach so many people and be so celebrated.
“You can go an entire career, a lifetime of being a writer and never get anything that even remotely approaches that,” Evans said. “I remain intensely grateful to fans who have embraced and continue to embrace it and keep passing it on to the next generation.”
Throughout the summer, Evans will continue to tour with all of the actors, now in their 30s, who played the boys in “The Sandlot,” and the gang will make appearances at screenings and Major League ballparks across the country.
Reach Matt Mattei at 570-991-6651 or on Twitter @RMatthewMattei.