My young son’s last viewing of The Sandlot sent my life into a tailspin as I repeatedly watched a tag play on Scott Smalls sliding into second base. It was a tremendous waste of time and a satisfying answer was nowhere to be found. And just when I was ready to move on, the little guy insisted on another screening.
Forgetting to check critical thinking at the door, I noticed something else. The movie closes with a grown-up Smalls, now a Los Angeles Dodgers announcer, giving play-by-play of aging veteran Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez swiping home plate in “the clutch situation of the season.”
It’s a powerful testament to lasting friendship and aggressive baserunning. But then I wondered, “hey, just how old is Rodriguez here?”
The present-day scene in The Sandlot is presumably set in 1993, when the movie hit theaters. The flashback to the kids’ memorable summer is set in 1962, meaning 31 years have elapsed. David Mickey Evans, who wrote, directed and narrated the film, has said Smalls and the gang were meant to be 12 or 13 at the time.
“I had written these kids as 9- and 10-year-olds, which seemed right to me when I was working on the script. We casted at that age for a while, and it became obvious real fast the kids were much too young. So I said, ‘We’ve got to make them 12 or 13.’ We knew it was the right decision instantly, because the first kid that we interviewed was Mike Vitar [who played Benny Rodriguez].”
This means that present-day Rodriguez is either 43 or 44 and rapidly approaching the Julio Franco zone. This means the fictional Dodgers manager sent a pinch-runner over to third with everything on the line, rolled the dice, and hoped like hell Rodriguez could successfully steal home plate.
On its face, this is insane, low percentage strategy. Even Smalls, far from an impartial observer, notes that his friend has lost a few steps over the years. Sure, the left-handed pitcher improved the odds a bit, but still, we’re probably looking at a fireable offense if Benny gets thrown out.
In hindsight, of course, the gamble pays off and the film has a storybook ending. Perhaps Rodriguez talked his skipper into letting him go for it with the timeless “heroes get remembered, legends never die” logic. Perhaps pickling The Beast instilled a godlike confidence for life that was contagious.
Whatever the case, here’s to the real hero of The Sandlot: the unseen, uncredited, and never-casted Dodgers manager. A true inspiration for aging veterans and insane risk-takers everywhere.