Peter Allen said, “Everything old is new again,” and nowhere is that more evident than today’s obsession with everything ‘90s. Twenty-five years ago, Jurassic Park changed the way we saw adventure movies—this summer, the newest sequel will roar into theaters. Twenty-five years ago, Roseanne was one of the most popular shows on TV—she’s back there once again today. Twenty-five years ago, lockers were full of folders and Trapper Keepers covered in technicolor Lisa Frank designs— today those same designs are available again on shirts and shoes at Hot Topic. Even Crystal Pepsi, the much lampooned 1993 attempt at reinventing a classic soda appeared on store shelves once again late last year.
It was also twenty-five years ago that a little movie about a group of boys playing baseball together in the sixties arrived in theaters. I was ten-years-old when The Sandlot was released and instantly, it became one of my favorites. I wasn’t alone. The Sandlot has become a touchstone for a generation, an emblem of the spirit of youth, and at the center of it all was Patrick Renna, the young actor who played the movie’s most memorable and quotable character, Ham. Now, Renna is celebrating a quarter-of-a-century of The Sandlot.
“I had just moved to LA and I knew I wanted to act,” Renna says. “The Sandlot was my first audition basically. I went in and read a scene that’s not even in the movie. It was full of references to the show The Honeymooners—I was shouting things like, ‘Pow! Right in the kisser!’ from behind home plate—and after I met the other eight guys, that was it. I was the last character cast for the film.”
To many, The Sandlot has always been about more than baseball. It’s been about brotherhood, the mentality of friends-as-family, and the freedom of youth. I tell Renna how the picture at the end of the movie reminds me so much of a picture I have of my friends from that same period of time in our lives. I’ve even always referred to it as my “Sandlot photo.”
“That’s awesome. I think that’s why [the film is] successful,” Renna said. “Luckily, as far as sports go, there’s something innately nostalgic about baseball. But on top of that, the movie isn’t really about that. In the big game in the movie, we crush them. There’s no drama of if we’re going to win at all, it’s a blowout. The movie is about comradery, it’s about going outside and playing. It’s about best buds growing up together.”
The film didn’t just resonate with kids either.
“When I filmed the movie, my dad said to me, ‘Just so you know, that outfit you wore in that scene was exactly what I wore at Catholic school and we had our sandlot too.’ That’s why this movie has such a legacy.”
That legacy today includes Renna’s (as his character Ham) catchphrases printed everywhere from t-shirts to mugs to greeting cards and to internet memes.
“I like to take all the credit for this movie. Every last drop of credit,” he joked. “But really, it’s cool that I get to be the deliverer of lines, especially the ones people remember.”
It’s been twenty-five years which means a whole lot of life has happened since Ham taught Smalls about the graham and the ‘mallow on screen. Renna’s performance in the film jumpstarted his career but I was curious, what sort of affect did being known as “the kid from The Sandlot” have on his career as he grew older?
“It’s opened more doors for me than it’s closed,” he says. “I’m sure there have been times when casting directors knew me from the movie so they either thought I was perfect for something or that I wasn’t right because of that connection, but it’s been only a good thing in my life. It’s a great conversation starter outside of acting too. When I’m doing everyday things, it’s a nice starting point for things. The silliest things too. The guy who does the waste management on my street loves The Sandlot. It starts conversations all the time.”
Renna said those conversations with fans of the film serve as reminders of the behind-the-scenes fun he and his cast mates had during filming.
“During the chase scene toward the end of the movie, I was lagging behind everyone else in the chase so there was a day when I went out with the B Unit and we did a bunch of running shots and grabbing food off tables and stuff. That was fun for me. But the most enjoyable scene was the trash talking scene during the big game. The director had a bullhorn and was calling out insults for me to say. He call out an insult, I’d giggle about it and then I’d say it.”
Since The Sandlot, Renna’s appeared in dozens of films and TV shows including another ‘90s film favorite, The Big Green, and TV’s best including Boy Meets World, Home Improvement, The X-Files, CSI and Bones. But it was during a recent shift to behind-the-camera that he learned something invaluable about his craft as an actor.
“I produced and acted in a movie called Bad Roomies with three close friends of mine,” Renna said. “It was the first time I really saw every aspect of filmmaking from the other side of the camera. It raised my appreciation for the writing and directing process. Sometimes, the instinct as an actor is to take the writing and do the best job we can in the purpose of making ourselves look the best we can. In making that movie, I really saw it as a team activity. It’s like in sports: You can score 50 points but if your team loses, you all lose. It challenged me to really take the writing and see how I can meld myself to the material as opposed to changing it to fit me. That mentality is only going to forward the entire purpose of the film or the show.”
Next up for Renna is an arch on another nostalgia-filled show, the hit Netflix series, Glow.
“You know, the writing on Glow is so fantastic and the character I got to play was someone I haven’t really played before so I immersed myself in it and I rolled with this character. Whenever you go onto a show that’s already a success, there’s always a challenge just to fit in because you’re on someone else’s turf but the all the ladies on this show are fantastic. And, they were all Sandlot fans. On day one, I wasn’t even filming but I had a wardrobe fitting. I ended up meeting all the girls and they were all excited I was there. What I thought would be a challenge turned into being one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. They made it such a welcoming environment for me.”
Twenty-five years from now, we will still be talking about The Sandlot and quoting Renna’s character Ham as he talks to Benny, Smalls and the gang. In his review of the movie when it released, Roger Ebert said:
“These days too many children’s movies are infected by the virus of Winning, as if kids are nothing more than underage pro athletes, and the values of Vince Lombardi prevail: It’s not how you play the game, but whether you win or lose. This is a movie that breaks with that tradition, that allows its kids to be kids, that shows them in the insular world of imagination and dreaming that children create entirely apart from adult domains and values. There was a moment in the film when Rodriguez hit a line drive directly at the pitcher’s mound, and I ducked and held up my mitt, and then I realized I didn’t have a mitt, and it was then I also realized how completely this movie had seduced me with its memories of what really matters when you are 12.” [full review]
That sense of nostalgia and the film’s ability to evoke such vivid memories within its audience have transformed it from a kid’s movie into a classic. It’s even inspired a line of the wildly popular Funko Pop figures that will hit shelves this summer. As for the Ham figurine, he’s got his baseball bat in one hand and his other is pointed at the outfield a la The Great Bambino, a pose instantly recognizable to Sandlot fans.
“I just saw that the other day and it cracked me up,” he said. “It’s the first piece of memorabilia of myself I’d be interested in having. I know there are shirts with ‘You’re Killing Me Smalls’ on them and that’s fine, but this Funko is really adorable. It’s awesome.”