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April 10, 2013

Pebble Hunting

An Oral History of the Sandlot from "The Sandlot"

by Sam Miller

Benny: The sandlot was in a rough part of the San Fernando Valley. It wasn’t a great place to live, but it wasn’t on fire or anything either.
Smalls: It’s the kind of place that your parents are proud to be able to move the family to, but that you’re real glad to move away from later on in life.
Timmy: Me and my brother Repeat found the sandlot. We lived in the house right up behind it.
Repeat: Our parents hated that field. It was always covered with trash and dirty underwear from the hobos.
Hobo: It was a real good sandlot for hoboing in.
Repeat:  But we never played much ball at first. Then one day we had to find something to do to keep busy for the day.
Squints: My dad drank a lot. And back then it was just basically accepted that adults would hit their kids.
Benny: Such a weird time.
Squints: Such a weird, weird time. Not idyllic like in the movies at all.
Repeat: So we needed a place where Squints could hang out until his dad drank himself to sleep.
Benny: There were only six of us at the time: me, Ham, Timmy, Repeat, Squints, and Bertram, and the others came later. We couldn’t decide what to do. Timmy and Repeat thought they had figured out how to go the speed of light.
Timmy: Mixing water and electricity.
Benny: So they wanted to run experiments in the bathtub with a bunch of curling irons and transistor radios.
Repeat: I didn’t want to do that, but I was locked into a bad cycle at the time of just repeating everything my brother said.
Ham: I wanted to shoot guns.
Benny: Everybody had guns back then. Kids just had guns. So weird, that time.
Bertram: We were going to get two BB rifles and then see if we could shoot two BBs into each other. Two guys facing each other and firing at the same time at each other.
Ham: And if the BBs hit they would smash up.
Repeat: I actually wanted to shoot guns, too. But, again, the repeating thing.
Benny: And Squints wanted to go to the library and pretend to have a seizure.
Squints: And when the librarian comes to resuscitate me I touch her on the boob.
Hobo: I just wanted to get a few quarters together and buy a drink.
Benny: And I wanted to play baseball.
Ham: And Benny always got what he wanted.


Benny: I’ll be honest. The only reason we let Smalls into the game was that when we saw his family unpacking a moving truck we spotted a baseball in with all the junk. Literally, the only reason is that we figured someday we might need another baseball.
Bertram: In retrospect, it’s amazing how little we knew about each other. Pretty much all of us had one detail that made us “quirky,” like Squints squinted, and Repeat repeated.
Benny: Ham was fat.
Bertram: Smalls was small.
Benny: Yeah-Yeah said “yeah, yeah” a lot.
Bertram: You feel like you’re building these real deep relationships with each other, but then at the end you realize you were just a collection of quirks and nicknames. We barely knew each other at all. Lot of one-dimensional friendships.
Benny: Smalls especially was a mystery. 
Smalls: I moved there two weeks before the end of fifth grade.
Squints: Nobody moves two weeks before the end of a school year. You normally wait until the summer starts. So we were real suspicious of Smalls.
Ham: Pretty sure he’d done something terrible, like killed a kid or something…
Smalls: Yeah, with a hammer.
Ham: … and had to get out of town in a hurry.
Smalls: But it was an accident.
Ham: And we never asked him about it.
Smalls: And my parents took away all my hammers after that, so I was just trying to fit in in a new town.


Squints: I think the day we knew the sandlot was turning into something really special was the Fourth of July of that year.
Ham: Benny always wanted to play baseball, 24/7, but of course at night we couldn’t play because it was dark. But he tells us to be at the sandlot on July 4th because we’d be able to play just with the light of the fireworks.
Smalls: We played our best then because, I guess, we all felt like the big leaguers, under the lights of some great stadium.
Yeah-Yeah: Except there wasn’t nearly enough light. I mean, it was absurd how dark it still was. There’d be the flash of fireworks and it would sort of light the field, but not really, and only for a flash. Can you even imagine what it would be like to play baseball lit only by freaking small-town fireworks?
Ham: I thought I was going to die by a baseball.
Benny: Yeah, it was a terrible idea.
Squints: And yet, even though it was obviously too dark to play, we all managed to hit the ball and catch the ball. It felt almost unrealistic that we could do that. Like, even as it was happening and we were basking in how glorious it was, it was still like, “oh c’mon, this could never happen.”
Repeat: I think that’s the night we realized that we were living in some sort of magical temporary world with no consequences at all.
Ham: So it freed us up to basically do whatever we wanted. The chaw at the amusement park. The crazy spring through the Founder’s Day party. The violent assault of Wendy Peffercorn. We would never have considered doing that stuff normally, but we could just sense that, for one summer, everything would be resolved with a few laughs and a clean wipe to a new day.
Squints: I think that’s a big part of what made the sandlot such a big part of our lives. Everybody wants to imagine that you’ll get one chance in your life to act exclusively on the id, and the world will not just let you get away with it—but reward you for it.


Smalls: There was that one time when “Babe Ruth” walked into Benny’s room.
Benny: I told everybody it was a dream, but it didn’t feel like a dream.
Kenny: Sometimes he said it was a dream, but sometimes he said it was real. I don’t know what to believe.
Benny: Honestly, he didn’t look that much like Babe Ruth, except for the uniform.
Repeat: I think it really happened, but I don’t think it was a dream and I don’t think it was Babe Ruth.
Benny: That Hank Aaron card he took is worth a lot of money now. It has occurred to me that a drifter might have burgled me.


Benny: At the time, we didn’t think the sandlot would matter to anybody but us. Objectively speaking, I’m still not sure why it has become such a big deal to so many other people.
Kenny: I remember telling my wife once that they should make a movie about our sandlot, and she looked at me like I was insane.
Benny: Bunch of kids play unorganized baseball for a summer, sexually attack a teenage girl, freak out over some pretty small-stakes dramas and, eventually, meet a ballplayer nobody has ever heard of. When you put it like that.
Smalls: But it was much more than that. It was a story about living the perfect delusion of youth. You look back now and go, well, sure, okay, it was an incredibly racist era. Kenny lived in our town because his mom had to leave her job in Alabama over systemic racial discrimination in the South. And there was a terrible war bubbling up for no practical reason. Nutjobs plotting to assassinate the president. Nuclear warheads in the Bay of Pigs, or whatever that thing was about. 
Benny: The casual sexism of the time is just incredible, in retrospect.
Ham: The things we said about girls make me so embarrassed to have been young.
Repeat: Basically, a terrible era populated by monsters. But to us it was bliss. And I think that’s what makes the story appealing to us all these years later.


Bertram: Looking back, what’s striking is how conveniently everything came together to form a perfect narrative in our lives.
Smalls: I remember once I was telling the entire story of the sandlot to a bunch of people, and I said something along the lines of this: “It was weird that Benny said Babe Ruth was like the Hercules of baseball, and The Beast's name ended up being Hercules. None of us could figure out what that meant.” And I still think it’s weird. It’s almost like somebody came up with that detail to add deeper significance to the whole situation. But what is the significance? What is the meaning? Did the person who “wrote” that detail into our lives have a plan for it?
Benny: You look at what happened to us all afterward, and I wonder whether we all took too much from our sandlot days. Look at the jobs we all did afterward.
Benny: Timmy and Repeat designed prefabricated treehouses, because during the sandlot summer we spent a bunch of time in a treehouse. Squints married that lifeguard he kissed and bought the drugstore that we used to hang out in. Ham became a wrestler and named himself after Babe Ruth.  Yeah-Yeah become a pioneering bungee jumper, because of that thing we tried to do to get the ball back. Me and Kenny became ballplayers. The only one of us who moved on at all was Bertram, and last we heard he got beat to death by a bunch of Hell’s Angels on Ken Kesey’s farm. Everybody else basically just froze in time in the summer of 1962.
Smalls: I don’t think I froze in time in the summer of 1962. Did Benny say that?
Benny: Smalls is the saddest of all. He became a broadcaster for the Dodgers, which sounds cool but I think he does it just so he can follow me around.
Smalls: I got to live my dream as an adult, describing the most beautiful sport in the world to millions of people.
Benny: It’s like he formed a childhood crush that he could never consummate, but he kept following it around for decades, way after he should have moved on.
Smalls: Benny said that? No, it’s not like that at all.
Benny: I remember him spying on us all on the sandlot before that first time we let him play with us. It seemed cute and innocent at the time. But now I wonder if he’s some kind of crazy stalker, and he’s been spying on me for 50 years because he’s mentally not right.
Smalls: Benny’s all wrong. I’m just a guy who was blessed to discover what really matters in life at a very young age, on that sandlot with those guys. I’m just a fella who loves baseball and loves his friends and loves his job. I’m just a nice guy who happened to be in the right place at the right time when Vin Scully had that horrible hammer accident. I’m just that kid from the sandlot.

Sam Miller is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Sam's other articles. You can contact Sam by clicking here

Related Content:  Oral History,  Sandlot,  The Sandlot

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