Quick Answer: The Sandlot is a baseball movie, but it is more specifically a coming-of-age story showcasing the perils and insecurities of growing up and fitting in. Baseball is the framework on which the story is told, but isn't the point of the film. The film captures what it is like to be an awkward child struggling to make friends and build relationships during the most confusing time of life.
For many, The Sandlot (1993) ranks among the top baseball films of all time. Its title conjures images of baseball diamonds set behind small-town American communities, and a carefree era where kids could roam about town, get into trouble, and throw a baseball around for an hour or two without worry. It’s a comical film where kids aren’t afraid to swear and make jokes. It’s a story about the game as it was revered decades ago, where Babe Ruth was a legend whose name every living person knew, and when not knowing how to play baseball was enough to make a kid an alien among the neighborhood crew. And more importantly, it’s about growing up and figuring out who you are.
Tom Guiry as Scotty Smalls
Roger Ebert referred to The Sandlot as a type of warm-weather version of A Christmas Story (1983); a coming-of-age tale that isn’t really a baseball film, but a story about growing up set against the backdrop of America’s game. It’s about being an outsider and trying to fit in. And it’s about a young man building relationships with others as a means to discover himself.
Scotty Smalls (Tom Guiry) is a scrawny, nervous kid. He is displaced from his former life and plopped into a new town, complete with his mom (Karen Allen) and new step-dad, Bill (Dennis Leary). He’s not terribly good at anything and has a shy personality, so when local baseball legend Benny (Mike Vitar) suggests he come join a game at the sandlot to make some friends, Smalls reluctantly accepts. He's never played catch. He doesn't own a glove. He doesn't even own a hat. Asking his father for a baseball lesson results in a black eye, as Smalls even finds it difficult to fit into his new home life. The Sandlot knows that making friends is tough, families are complicated, and the pulse of the film can be felt in the youthful history of every American child.
Smalls tries to learn how to play catch
The Sandlot isn’t about becoming a professional pitcher for the Cleveland Indians or summoning Shoeless Joe Jackson to a cornfield in Iowa. It’s not a Disney sports movie where a ragtag group of athletic misfits has to band together and defy the odds to defeat the Best Team in the Big Game. The Sandlot doesn’t even have a Big Game -- the only game they actually play against another team is a blowout in their favor. The sandlot kids, clad in their whatever-shorts and dirty t-shirts, take out a snobbish team of well-dressed and pressed baseball players with ease. That's because the lesson here isn't about being a good player, it's that friendship is what matters above all.
No, the villain of The Sandlot isn’t another baseball team or the threat of a championship game, but the urban legends of The Beast, the big man-eating dog who lives on the other side of the boys’ outfield fence, a “giant gorilla-dog thing” who “ate one kid already,” who was locked up “for-ev-er” after scaring the townsfolk, who eats the bones of his victims, and who is owned by Mr. Mertle (James Earl Jones), a mean old man just as ruthless as the beast chained in his backyard. It’s the fantastic stuff of childhood that mirrors the fears confused kids feel about the world, the unknown, and themselves.
The moments that stand out in memory from The Sandlot aren’t so much the baseball scenes, but the ones showcasing the adventures of youth. The scenes that echo the joys, awkwardness, and innocence of our own childhoods; Squints (Chauncey Leopardi) ogling the gorgeous lifeguard Wendy Peffercorn (Marley Shelton) and tricking her into a kiss; the boys taking a dip of chew before riding a carnival ride, only to puke all over themselves; scheming with Erector Sets and grunt-level scientific contraptions to recover Smalls’ Babe Ruth baseball from the confines of The Beast; and the boys’ discovery that the dangerous Mr. Mertle and The Beast are little more than a blind old baseball fanatic and his beloved pup.
Marley Shelton as Wendy Peffercorn
While The Sandlot certainly has a load of baseball scenes and sports talk, the game itself is a framing device to what the film is really about. The more important story here is friendship. Everyone has been Scotty Smalls at some point in their life. Everyone idolized a Benny, someone apt beyond their years. And most of us knew a Squints and a Ham (Patrick Renna), too. In the film’s closing moments, we learn of the significance of these childhood connections. Many of the boys drifted apart as they aged, but Smalls and Benny remained friends, Benny a pro ball player and Smalls the team’s commentator. Smalls not only found friendship and acceptance as a kid in the sandlot, he figured out his purpose in life -- something he’d keep with him forever.