Courtesy 20th Century Fox Ham (Patrick Renna) calls his shot, in a scene from the 1993 baseball comedy "The Sandlot."

'The Sandlot' at 20: Made-in-Utah classic film revisited

Glendale » The “little baseball kingdom” rebuilt in Utah for a one-time anniversary celebration.


First Published Jul 19 2013 01:01 am
Last Updated Dec 07 2013 11:35 pm

Glendale » There’s this magical feeling, and David Mickey Evans has experienced it twice.

In 1992, he was a director making his second movie, this one based on his childhood in the San Fernando Valley, in the days when you played with one baseball until you knocked the cover off, best remedied by wrapping it in masking tape. The story gave Evans redemption against the neighborhood kids who wouldn’t let him and his little brother play and against the beast named Hercules on the other side of the fence who gnashed his brother’s leg when he tried to retrieve a ball.

"I’ll turn them all into heroes," Evans remembered thinking, "and make the ball worth $3 million."

The first time he felt it was days before he began shooting that long summer, when the set was finished and he walked through a hole in the fence and into a three-dimensional dreamland.

The second time was Thursday, when Evans returned to The Sandlot.

He walked up a driveway belonging to a young couple, around a brick fence and back into what he once called a "little baseball kingdom."

"Everything we’re standing near," he said, looking around the once-forgotten field in Salt Lake City’s Glendale neighborhood, "is exactly where it was. Just on the money."

For the 20th anniversary of "The Sandlot," the classic baseball movie filmed primarily in Utah, Evans has shown the movie in ballparks nationwide. Friday night, the movie will be shown at SpringMobile Ballpark after the Salt Lake Bees game, and on Saturday it will be screened on the original field after Bees players conduct a morning clinic for kids.

At The Sandlot, Evans pointed to the new backstop, a careful recreation of the original, designed and rebuilt by a Hollywood production designer.

He headed for the outfield.

"That junction," he said, pointing, "is where the fence went behind the Timmonses house and Mr. Mertle’s house. Then ... that’s where the big tree was."

Evans, an intense, lean man with sunglasses propped backward on his shaved head, shook with excitement. He was alone, gliding.

"Over here was the swing-set thing," he said, before changing course and cutting himself off. "And this is where the kid was standing when the thing with the Electrolux blew up."

Since the first tour stop in April, mothers have hugged him. One asked Evans to sign her baby. On this journey across America, Evans is beginning to understand the impact of the little movie he made on a million dollars and a barren field in Glendale.

Neighborhood transformed » For 69 years, Jay Ingleby has lived in Glendale. An avid baseball fan and collector, he has watched the neighborhood transform from one where returned soldiers bought two-bedroom starter homes to one commonly associated with gang violence and drugs.

For the past 14 of those 69 years, Ingleby has served on the Glendale Community Council. He’s the one who will remind you to water your lawn. He organizes district-wide trash pick-up days.

He remembers a different Glendale than the one he looks out on from his modest house two blocks from The Sandlot. "I can’t remember the exact year," he said, "but the shopping center was voted the best shopping center in the valley at the time."

Council chairman Randy Sorensen remembers, too.

"Big piece in the paper," he recalled, "said it was ‘the premier shopping plaza in Salt Lake City.’"

And near Glendale Plaza, which before it became the Dual Immersion Academy charter school served as the production offices and staging area for "The Sandlot," was a Jerry Lewis Cinema. When the theater opened, Ingleby said, Lewis himself rolled up in a big, black limousine to give a speech.

"It was a big hurrah," Ingleby said.

That was the first time the movies came to town.

By 1992, Ingleby had amassed a collection of baseball memorabilia. His basement is filled with autographed baseballs and bats and pennants. Name a star, he has him.

And when "The Sandlot" was filmed, he walked over and snagged an autograph from star James Earl Jones on an inside page of W.P. Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe, the book on which "Field of Dreams" was based.

As the 20th anniversary of "The Sandlot" approached, Ingleby wanted to do something that honored the movie, and also served Glendale.

"We get so many problems over here," he said, "drive-bys, stuff like that, I would like to do something so unbelievable that is good, and bring to light the fact that this movie was filmed in our community. Our people should be proud of that."

It’s a theme endorsed by Chris DeMuri, a production designer whose credentials include made-in-Utah productions "Touched By An Angel" and Academy Award-nominated "127 Hours."

"It’s not always a bad thing when a film crew comes into your neighborhood," said DeMuri, who oversaw the resurrection of The Sandlot. "Sometimes we build something that’s lasting."

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Marking the anniversary » Ingleby didn’t know a project was already under way.

In a small building next to the Capitol, Utah Film Commission Director Marshall Moore, who owns a Benny "The Jet" Rodriguez Dodgers jersey, had long daydreamed about an anniversary showing on the field.

One afternoon in May, he pulled out a binder in which he kept his clippings and planning materials. He flipped to a newspaper article from three years earlier that detailed his aspirations, including giving the field purpose again, and hosting cast members.

Looking up, he said, "It’s really happening."

A one-shot deal » The actors who played Tommy and Timmy Timmons will be there. So will those who played Squints, Ham and Yeah-Yeah. The Sandlot is a sandlot again, if only for a day.

"I don’t pretend to be an expert about movie publicity and stuff," Evans said, "but I’ve never even heard of anything like this. Twentieth anniversary tour, going back to the original place, rebuilding the stuff, community gets involved. What are the odds?"

Everyone realizes this is a one-shot deal. Devin and Melissa Barkers bought their house on Navajo Street in February and, while they have been good sports about hosting a projected 1,300 people in their backyard, they worry about future intrusions. They have hung "No Trespassing" signs and, once the backstop and dugout are torn down, they will plant a garden.

Late Thursday morning, Ingleby pulled into the driveway. A film crew was setting up, this one from a local news station.

Ingleby carried a DVD copy of "The Sandlot" and a pen and set out to find Evans. But the proud Glendale native earned this one. He was among volunteers who raked up The Sandlot, and loaded branches and trash into the back of Barkers’ pickup truck. On Wednesday, once base paths had been carved into the field, Ingleby sprinted around them.

He wore a white "Field of Dreams" T-shirt with the famous tagline, "If you build it, they will come." He put on an old glove and fielded grounders.

On one, he tripped and tumbled, then popped back up. Only when he got home did he realize he was sore. "You’re 69 again," he told himself. "You’re really 69 again."

But not at The Sandlot.

boram@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribjazz

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