Patrick Renna played Hamilton Porter on The Sandlot, the 1993 masterpiece consistently making a strong case for best youth-focused sports movie of all time. He recently spearheaded a 45-minute special called The Sandlot Cast Reunites for Charity. Savvy detectives should be able to figure out what that's all about. It debuts Wednesday on You're Killing Me With Patrick Renna, the actor's YouTube channel and is hosted by Justin Turner.
Proceeds from the special will benefit the Justin Turner Foundation, which supports homeless veterans, children (and their families) battling life-altering illnesses and diseases, as well as various youth baseball organizations. In addition to the ol' sandlot gang, current and former Major Leaguers are featured, including Andre Ethier, Dee Gordon, Mike Moustakas, and Enrique Hernandez.
Renna spoke to The Big Lead about reconnecting with the cast, shared some behind-the-scenes stories from filming, and reflecting on the ever-evolving legacy of the movie.
Kyle Koster: How did this all come together?
Patrick Renna: I've been seeing all these reunions going on. I saw them and thought it'd be great to do with the guys. Since the 25th anniversary, we've had a group chat. We're more in touch than we used to be. I texted them and they were into it.
Over the years I've gotten to know Justin Turner a little bit. He used to dress up as Hamilton Porter for Halloween, Ham Porter was his alias at hotels on the road. I think I've told every news outlet that, though, so he can't do that anymore. I've ruined it for him. But it was worth it.
I reached out to his team to see if he wanted to host it and he did. He has the Justin Turner Foundation. I learned about it by going to one of his golf tournaments a few years back. It's really great what they do helping kids and their families get through that.
I thought it would be a good way to get the boys back together and do it for a good cause.
KK: How close have you all stayed through the years?
PR: Well, they all joke that they've all been hanging out since the movie, they just never invited me. You can see how things are in the friendship. I'm still the Ham to this day, they won't let me forget it. The 20th anniversary brought some of us together and the 25th brought us all together. It's been great. We were best buds while filming the movie and that's something that the director took into account before casting any of us.
He brought us on set and made sure we got along. Once we did, he would hire us. That was one of the reasons why it was so successful -- our friendship on and off the screen. We've fallen right back into that brotherhood in the past couple years. It's reminded me of why we got along so well. We give each other a hard time just like brothers do.
KK: Okay, I'm not sure you're prepared for what you're getting into here. My kid is in the other room spying because The Sandlot is his favorite movie and I have a bunch of really inside-baseball questions. The first goes to what you just brought up and that's the casting. What was your actual relationship with baseball at the time and the skill level you had to show to even be considered?
PR: You can watch on my YouTube channel my interview with Chauncey (Squints) and we go into that. We talk about who was good and Chauncey calls the rest of them trash. Now, the rest of the guys have definitely taken offense to that. I don't really think he was being fair.
But there were varying degrees of talent when we first started. Mike Vitar, who played Benny, was definitely the best. He actually could have played college ball. He went on to be a firefighter but he could have had a big future. Brandon Adams (DeNunez) was pretty good and I was a Little League player. I'm like Rudy, for my body type I like to think I'm pretty solid.
They also gave us a baseball coach for two weeks before we started filming. A lot of the guys had a rigorous process. A lot of callbacks and then they would get together and meet. Whether it sounds harsh or not there were young actors who were let go because they didn't mesh with the group and what the director was looking for. I think he was thinking it was going to be a three- or four-month process so people had to get along.
I was the last guy cast. My audition process was totally different. I remember I had an audition. Then I met the director. Then the next day they brought me out to meet the rest of the guys. They very specifically said 'you don't have this job yet, we want to see how you interact'. Back then I was bigger than everyone else so I made them get along with me.
Then we were whisked off to baseball camp for a few weeks to make sure everyone looked decent. On-set we also had a baseball coach. He plays Squints' grandfather in the flashback. That guy was our actual baseball coach.
I had never played catcher. That was an adjustment for me. It's a much different position than infield or outfield.
KK: There are so many reasons the movie is timeless. There's a Peter Pan element. What's it like to have a version of yourself frozen in amber at that age? I look back mentally at my time in Little League and have my memories, but I know they are so skewed. You have yours on film.
PR: Yeah, that's an interesting question. I've never thought of it like that. When I think about that age range of like 13-18, it was just a rush of a bunch of different movies and traveling for those five years. Thinking back to those formative years, you're right, it's all there for me.
You see those memories on screen but for me, it's also behind-the-scenes. I'll take a look at the insult scene and you see the back-and-forth. But what I remember is that the scene was originally written for Benny. The director and AD came to me in my trailer that morning and told me they'd changed it and I had to learn the lines.
When I was talking to the guys on my channel they reminded me of the van rides home and getting to the condos we were staying at. There was a pool where we'd hang out and play and just be kids.
KK: I'd imagine they're bringing up a lot of stuff that you'd completely forgotten about.
PR: That's what was great. It was a trip down memory lane. Obviously we have this reunion coming up on Wednesday but leading up to it I did these little 10-15 minute interviews of the guys. It's called Secrets of the Sandlot. For me, it was a trip to hear their views on filming. I couldn't remember it all. They sparked my memory on a lot.
KK: What's your relationship been like with Major Leaguers through the year? There have been multiple generations that have grown up watching The Sandlot. I feel as though I see you on the field occasionally at Dodger Stadium--
PR: Not enough though. Let's put our plug into the Dodgers. Not enough.
KK: Was there a time when people were in the Major Leagues who were older than you that loved the movie?
PR: What's more strange is being older than them. No matter their age ... think about LeBron James. He's five years younger than me. That's crazy. If I ever met him, I wouldn't say 'I got you by five years.' These guys are larger than life. They just are. No matter what sport they play.
Joc Pederson is in his early 20s but I watch him crushing home runs or playing in the World Series. To me, we're in awe of them. So when they come out and have this appreciation that you didn't know about, it's crazy. Like Justin Turner. I watched him for years as a redhead. My ginger brother. For him to tell me he used Ham Porter as his alias is wild. That same day Matt Kemp came out of the dugout and told us we were one of the reasons he got into baseball.
KK: History will prove you to be the world's biggest Elswenger fan. Can you give me a scouting report on this guy and where is he now?
PR: He could throw and he could catch unlike some people. Elswenger went on to do some great things. He's still around, has a family, got a pot belly. He is what he is. He's Elswenger.
KK: I'd imagine in slow-pitch softball he can still get you a bomb or two.
PR: Yeah, he crushes it.
KK: Go ahead and think of the weirdest thing anyone's ever said to you about the movie. I'm going to try to top it here.
KK: A few years ago I did some math and discovered Benny would have been 44-years-old during the final scene where he steals home. That simply does not seem like the most sound strategy in a game of that magnitude.
PR: But it's The Jet, man.
KK: How have I overlooked that?! There's probably a magical element there. I even think the announcer even alludes to that. Secondly, I went back and looked at the game against the Tigers and tried to decide if Smalls' foot comes off the bag.
PR: Well, it's a good thing there was no instant replay in 1962. You're a true fan.
KK: Probably some undiagnosed issues at play too but I'll take it.
PR: You know, this guy on Instagram did a post where he says Smalls plays catch with his step-dad, which means there was another baseball. Didn't need to grab the Babe Ruth one. Thanks for coming to my TED Talk.
PR: I replied: 'Deleted scene: I swiped that ball and went yard with it.'
KK: A serious one here that I should have asked first. Do you ever get sick of talking about The Sandlot?
PR: No, I don't. It means a lot to people. It's why I became an actor. To become something that has a lasting impact and that's what it's done.
KK: What do you think the legacy of the movie is in another 25 years, when it's hitting its 50th anniversary?
PR: Wow, I don't know. I'm curious to see what the 30th and 35th anniversaries are going to be like. It seems to resurface as one of those types of films.
KK: There has been an influx of nostalgia.
PR: Plus, we miss the days where we weren't stuck in computer screens as much. That's what Sandlot and those older movies represent. Like, for me, it's seeing kids ride their bikes, getting their knees dirty, being in the real world.
KK: Do you actually like Babe Ruth?
PR: Well, I'm from Boston so not like I did in the movie. Someone asked me who in history I wanted to play baseball with and I didn't say Babe Ruth and realized it later. I should have said that.
KK: Well there's Babe Ruth and the Idea of Babe Ruth. He's a legend and myth. Imagine how terrible it'd be to read that, through advanced analytics, we found he'd only be a .220 hitter with no power now. That would take the magic out of it.
PR: He is a myth and I can't think of another sport that has that where the players of old are as mythical.
KK: I think that's why he's in the movie.
PR: And in there the way he is.
KK: If you remade it now, he'd still be the guy, right?
PR: That's what I mean. Sure, Derek Jeter is amazing but he wouldn't be in the position. Or Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa or anyone else.