"Come on buddy, come on," said a young dad to his four-year old boy in the Denver International Airport.
The man was carrying a couple of bags, and the boy, who was lagging behind because he was tired from lugging a backpack around, started complaining.
Just as David Mickey Evans walked by them, the man dropped his bags, turned toward his son and said, "You're killing me, Smalls" - one of most the most quotable lines from the The Sandlot which was co-written, directed and narrated by Evans.
Even though Evans overhears someone quoting a line from the movie at least once a week, he had to stop this time to let the man in on the secret. After doing so, Evans sent the father and son a signed copy of the DVD and a movie poster. They still keep in touch via email from time to time.
I had an opportunity to turn the tables on Evans recently during a phone interview, telling him about The Sandlot section here on this site. I told him it exists to capture the spirit of his movie.
"Oh, that's awesome," Evans said. "I'm deeply grateful. That's fantastic. I love it!"
"The Sandlot" was released in 1993 and it gained a cult following after it was released on VHS. Evans is currently winding down the 20th anniversary tour that has made stops at more than 20 major and minor league ballparks all across the country. He shows the movie on stadium video boards and signs copies of the 20th anniversary edition of the Blu-ray + DVD as well as posters and t-shirts.
Fans are turning out in droves to watch the movie at the various ballparks and to tell him how much the movie means to them, catching Evans off guard.
"Before the tour, I knew that the movie was popular and that it sold more copies every year than the year before, but I've learned that it has this familial meaning to people and I've heard that directly from the fans," Evans said.
"One that sort of summed it up was a woman who has six kids, four of whom were with her at one of the screenings. She approached me with her kids and she was very nervous. She said, ‘Mr. Evans, those kids in your movie are like my kids' brothers. They have taught them valuable lessons. They are immortal. They are stuck in time. And my kids grew up with them.'"
It is a sentiment he has heard over and over.
"I think there's a little Scotty Smalls in all of us," he said. "And there's also a little bit of every one of those other characters in us as well. It doesn't matter who you are or where you are from, you either knew kids like that, were kids like that or wanted to be kids like that."
Of course, Evans couldn't have known that the movie would become what it is today when he wrote it all those years ago. But writers, he says, have a time machine. He just happened to set his time machine to 1962 (the year the movie is set in) - a time when baseballs cost ninety-eight cents, every boy folded the cuffs of his jeans and parents didn't have to worry about their kids playing a game of pickup baseball at the local sandlot.
"It took place in the last great innocent year in American history, right before Kennedy was assassinated and everything went to hell in a hand basket," Evans said. "And I think all of us, no matter how old we are, we want that. We want that kind of freedom and adventure."
As we spoke, I was reminded of this type of spontaneous freedom and adventure he was talking about. Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha was torn down in recent years. The Omaha Zoo Foundation purchased the land and created a memorial I call "Little Rosenblatt." Officially, it is known as "Johnny Rosenblatt's Infield at the Zoo." Little Rosenblatt's infield is located where the original infield was, and during the 2013 College World Series, fans flocked to the site to shoot photos and reminisce (you can read more about it here).
Recently, fans have been gathering at Little Rosenblatt to play pickup Wiffle Ball games. They have even taken to Twitter to invite the public. One of their fliers says, "We'll play until the sun goes down." If you grew up playing sandlot baseball, reading that line does something to you inside.
"I'm glad you told me that because to most of the places I've been on this tour, the sandlot as a physical institution is kind of extinct," Evans said. "But what you are describing about the sandlot, I think that ideal will never die."
As such, Evans says thousands of people have visited the original sandlot from the movie that is located in Salt Lake City. He spoke to many of them recently on a tour stop. One family from New Jersey chose to travel to Utah for their summer vacation because their boy heard about the reunion and wanted to attend. Another couple drove all the way from Canada.
Fans gobbled up 1,300 tickets for the event in less than eleven minutes. Evans believes the original sandlot is two acres or less, making it difficult to fit more than 1,300 people on it. But the limited space didn't deter more than 3,000 people from showing up, making it shoulder-to-shoulder. The last person who waited in line to meet Evans so he could autograph his memorabilia was there for ten hours.
"There's no higher praise," Evans said. "If a piece of your work stands the test of time, continuing to hold meaning from one generation to the next and gets handed down like this as an heirloom, then keep your Oscar."
The magic of this movie and its subsequent 20th anniversary tour goes beyond feelings of nostalgia. It is much deeper than that.
Evans receives invitations from schools to speak to students about the value of friendship. In the movie, Benny Rodriguez, the best player on the sandlot, befriends Scotty Smalls, the new guy in the neighborhood who has never learned to play the game. The other guys on the team initially poke fun at Smalls, but Rodriguez's actions lead them to accept him as one of their own.
It's a message Evans probably wishes kids of his era and neighborhood would have heard and embraced. When he and his brother were growing up in the northeastern San Fernando Valley, they were bullied and beaten up routinely.
Fast forward many years to when Evans was an adult and driving by an old sandlot in the area that conjured up old, bad memories. On that particular day, the bullies had told his brother to climb a fence to get a baseball they hit over it, saying he could play with them if he did so.
"They never had any intention of letting him play, whether he got the ball or not, but he was willing to do it because he wanted to play so bad," Evans said. "There was a dog back there, this horrible abused animal named Hercules, and it bit him - tore his leg up really bad. As I sat there in traffic, it occurred to me that I would really like to get those guys back. Then it occurred to me, ‘You know what? They are winning. I can't let that happen.'
"So writing ‘The Sandlot' was this huge cathartic exercise in forgiveness for me. And how did I do that? I turned them all into heroes. None of these characters are based on any of those kids, but it was just the idea of punks like that. Everybody's got them, but you carry that stuff, you know?
"[Carl] Jung said, ‘I am not what has happened to me. I am what I choose to become,' but that is only half true. We are what has happened to us. So I decided that it wasn't going to rule my life. And that was my personal reason for writing the movie."
Even so, the movie has gone far beyond a personal time of healing for Evans. The movie is healing others, too.
The power of ‘The Sandlot' can be seen in renovated baseball fields across the country. The "Sandlot Baseball Field Program" is comprised of partnerships with major league baseball teams nationwide in connection with the FOX Sports Networks.
In June, an organization called Cardinal Care worked in conjunction with Fox Sports and TASK (team activities for special kids) for the screening of the movie in St. Louis, raising $50,000 to renovate a little league field in Fenton, Missouri, so children with special needs could play on it.
"The woman who was in charge of the event said, ‘Look, everybody needs a friend. When you're a special needs kid, you sometimes don't have a single friend. And now that we have this baseball field for our kids, not only do they all have friends, but they all get to participate on the team, which they've never been able to do before.'"
A boy who was maybe eight or ten years old who uses a walker attended the event. Evans says he was wobbly as he stood at the plate, especially when he let go of his walker to swing at a pitch. But he made contact and began to walk around the bases.
"It took him a long time to circle the bases and hit home plate, but he did it," Evans said. "You should have heard the cheers and seen the tears. It was just indescribable. You could see the sense of accomplishment and just pure joy in his face. A moment like that is what makes life worth living.
"With the definite exception of the birth of my children, and the possible exception of the summer I shot ‘The Sandlot,' this has been the best summer ever."