Salt Lake Bees join in ‘Sandlot’ nostalgia
By Kyle Goon
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Jul 19 2013 10:31PM
For Patrick Renna, stepping back in time is as easy as slipping on a baseball jersey.
There’s no mistaking him: the curly rust-red locks, the stocky build, the piercing blue-green eyes.
With one look at the actor, a crowd of Salt Lake Bees players, veterans of years of pro baseball, were reduced to grinning fanboys, eager to shake hands and embrace Renna for a photo.
They didn’t see a 34-year-old man. They saw a teenager: Ham Porter, the trash-talking catcher from the film classic "The Sandlot."
Even after two decades of strangers calling out to Renna, "You’re killing me, Smalls!" — one of his seminal bits of dialogue — it still gives him a pang of pride.
"It’s an actor’s dream to have one of your lines in a movie be that quoted," he said. "You make other people laugh and give other people entertainment. That’s why you do it."
Renna and his fellow cast members gave a team of ballplayers a thrill when they stopped by batting practice at Spring Mobile Ballpark on Friday afternoon. It was just a short beat in a busy, nostalgia-fueled anniversary tour for the film.
"The Sandlot," filmed in Salt Lake City, is experiencing a regional renaissance 20 years since it was released. The cast reunited, signed autographs and threw out pitches at Friday night’s Bees game, and will revisit the original, restored movie set on Saturday.
The sand lot where the then-prepubescent actors once played ball for the cameras had become overgrown and forgotten in the intervening years before being rebuilt for the anniversary. But the film has always been vivid to the players who watched it growing up. The actors may as well have stepped out of a time capsule.
"I played street ball, and that was my ‘Sandlot’ kind of thing," first baseman Efren Navarro said. "We played with a ball and a stick, and we compared it to ‘The Sandlot.’ I’ve watched that movie countless times. It’s like a little kid’s dream come true."
The film resonates with would-be ballplayers and fans today: A line for autographs from six of the actors stretched to the end of the north concourse, stuffed with thousands of seekers.
But for Shane Obedzinski, who played Tommy "Repeat" Timmons, it was surreal to watch professional athletes chomping at the bit to get into pictures with him.
"It’s crazy, because I feel like it should be the other way around," said Obedzinski, who neither acted nor played baseball much after "The Sanlot." "But clearly it means a lot to them, so it means a lot to me."
Director David Mickey Evans knows the feeling well, and to him it’s hardly rare. Through years of press tours and "Sandlot" celebrations, hundreds of baseball players told him the movie spoke to them.
"They tell me to my face, ‘You and your movie are the reason I play professional baseball,’ " Evans said. "It’s almost locked in time, that little bit of history that people really associate with their childhoods."
On the field, the Sacramento River Cats dealt an 18-7 loss to the Bees, who became baseball players once again. They sprinted after fly balls and whipped throws across the diamond. They ground out at-bats, managing 12 hits despite an uneven result.
Luis Rodriguez slugged a grand slam in the third inning, offering some early hope for the Bees before the River Cats pulled the turf out from under them. In that moment, the game was tied, and players could feel that youthful joy and exuberance — the feelings so well-captured by "The Sandlot."
"That’s probably as close as we got to that tonight," Kole Calhoun said.