You get one shot at a second chance in Hollywood, writer-director David Mickey Evans told fans of his famous baseball movie, “The Sandlot,” at a special screening Saturday in Martinez.
“I wrote my second chance,” Evans said.
Evans, appearing at a fundraiser for the Martinez Sturgeon independent professional baseball team players, described how he found himself “in a pickle,” just like the beloved characters he would create. He’d just been fired from the helm of “Radio Flyer,” which he also had written.
Driving on traffic-laden I-405 after the firing, he recalled an incident involving his brother, who had been injured while fetching a baseball from a yard holding a large dog who escaped restraints during the episode.
“I thought it’d make a movie,” he said. By the time his three-hour trip was done, he’d composed most elements of the story except one key part, a baseball signed by Babe Ruth. He wrote the complete script in six weeks.
His characters resembled boys he knew growing up, with one exception: “I would turn these into heroes, not punks,” Evans said. “No one wants to see bullies.”
Neighborhood boys playing on a rough ball field, creating a ball game when they didn’t have enough players, encountering and accepting a new kid to their ongoing game and facing childhood adventures together struck a nerve with the movie’s audiences. “The Sandlot” often is ranked among the top five of baseball movies. But at the time, there was no guarantee Evans would succeed.
“If I’d botched it, I wouldn’t be here,” he said.
Good casting was essential. Mike Vitar quickly was chosen to play Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez; but casting Ham took much longer. Finally chosen for the role was Patrick Renna, who had flown out from Boston to audition for television roles.
As Ham, Renna is responsible for creating the movie’s iconic line, “You’re killing me, Smalls!”
“I wish I had the marketing rights to that,” Evans said. But he’d written it, “You kill me, Smalls.”
During the scene in which Ham teaches Scotty Smalls to assemble s’mores, Renna struggled with the dialog. When he spontaneously revised his line, Evans decided, “Yeah, it’s better,” and the script was promptly revised.
But Evans wrote other memorable lines, including Babe Ruth dream sequence dialog. “Everybody gets one chance to do something great,” the baseball legend counsels one of the boys. “There’s heroes and there’s legends. Heroes get remembered. Legends never die. Follow your heart; you’ll never go wrong.”
Originally, Arliss Howard, cast as an adult Smalls, was to do the narration. But his delivery didn’t work. “I brought a clarinet to this party,” Howard told Evans. “You need a trumpet.” Evans ended up doing the narration himself.
The director was guided by his own photograph slides and postcards from the era for the look he wanted for the film, which was shot in Salt Lake City and surrounding towns. “Vincent Drug Store is still there,” Evans told his audience.
A couple of coups scored along the way was casting James Earl Jones in one key role and spending a day filming at Dodger Stadium, okayed by Tommy Lasorda himself.
One key story element is Hercules, which the boys build up as a “The Beast,” a canine monster that devours any human who stepped into his yard. The boys need to retrieve a priceless ball they hit into The Beast’s territory.
Giant puppets were used to suggest the dog’s enormous size. Evans played on childhood memories that make things bigger than they are. Don’t believe it? “Go to your childhood home!” His audience laughed in concurrence.
Evans agreed to the appearance at the request of another writer, artist and director, Martinez resident Ken Mitchroney, who volunteers with the Martinez Sturgeon. The two have worked together on several projects, including Evans’s movies “Wilder Days” and “The Final Season, another baseball film.
Through their friendship, Evans has become a strong advocate for the Martinez Sturgeon, which is in its third season in the Pecos League.
“You guys have a great reputation east of the Mississippi!” Evans said after seeing the team, General Manager Eric Halverson and Field Manager Matthew Repplinger introduced to the fans.
Halverson said the appearance and theater screening at Contra Costa Stadium Cinemas was “exhilarating. It’s so cool to have Dave here and share his insight….Those who didn’t show – it’s their loss!”
Theater manager Joe Fitzpatrick said he was glad fans turned out to see movies the way they were meant to be shown. “It makes a difference.”
Evans had compliments for Martinez. “I’ve never been to Martinez before. You didn’t oversell it. I love a town you can walk. People here are friendly and polite.”
As for the screening itself, he also was pleased. “These things are a great love fest. People who are here want to be here. They love the movie,” he said. “Seeing the picture again on a movie screen projected correctly was a real treat. I haven’t seen it projected like that in 15 years.”
Those interested in the Martinez Sturgeon team and schedule may visit http://www.martinezsturgeon.com/ or the Facebook pages Martinez Sturgeon and Martinez Sturgeon Fans and Boosters.