In a word… it was AWESOME!
Once again, with only a few short promotional pieces on local Radio and TV, the fans came out in droves. Kids, parents, grandparents, young adults, adolescents, toddlers and babies, it just doesn’t seem to matter in the least how old anyone is, the overwhelming love for The Sandlot completely transcends age, and, apparently, time itself.
After an 800 mile drive from Florida to Memphis, with navigator Stacey and super-adventure-travel-partner-protector GSD, Maverick, we arrived at the Marriott residence Inn in downtown Memphis on Wednesday October 17th; gratefully just three blocks from AutoZone Park, home of the Memphis Red Birds.
My good friend, and partner for this special screening, Jim Walker, met us there and showed us the posters, mini-posters, t-shirts and bound copies of the original script he’d had made up for the event (the profits going to benefit The Palmer Home for Children, The Stax Music Academy and St. Jude’s Hospital for Children). I’ve posted pictures here – the stuff was just perfect!
I was encouraged, to say the least, that if in the event few people showed up, at least the fans that did would have a chance to take home some really top quality Sandlot memorabilia.
The next day, Thursday, I met up with local FOX 13 journalist Earle Farrell, a big teddy bear of a man originally from Texas, and one of the best local interest reporters ever. We talked in the stands of AutoZone Park and he interviewed me about The Sandlot and the upcoming screening. Here’s a link to the interview that aired locally that day and early Friday:
It was at the interview that I first got a look at the incredible JumboTron in the outfield at AutoZone Park. IT’S 60 FEET WIDE! I’ve seen The Sandlot a thousand times on some very big movie screens, but not THAT big! And get this; during the interview we tested the DVD to be sure it would play correctly. It did. In HD! Yes, the screening was going to take place, essentially, on a 60-foot wide HD flat screen TV. Incredible. Again I was encouraged that the screening itself would look great, but seriously began to worry if anyone was going to show up, because if they didn’t, they were gonna miss out on the best screening of The Sandlot ever.
After the TV spot, I met up with the Director of Marketing for Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, Christine Lewison, whom I had met via email and phone but never in person. This was a big deal for the both of us because the screening was partly a test to see if anyone would show up (or at least how many people), and, more importantly, a measuring stick for the size of their plans for next year’s 20th anniversary of The Sandlot.
Jim Walker had set up an appearance for me at a local school, Presbyterian Day School, to speak to a group of sixth grade young men about The Sandlot, because, serendipitously (there just is no such thing as a coincidence) their teacher, Braxton Brady (great name), I was told, had been employing The Sandlot as a part of their curriculum to teach about the importance and value of friendship, acceptance and the virtue of being a true friend, “Leave no man behind.”
They were an exceptionally well-behaved and polite group of young men. Jim Walker introduced me by asking them as a group, “How many of you have seen The Sandlot?” They all raised their hands. He then asked, “How many of you have seen The Sandlot more than once?” They all raised their hands again. He then asked, “How many of you has seen it more than ten or twenty times?” Once more, they all raised their hands! That was a great moment.
I recounted for them the real life events in my childhood that inspired the story, which, they were not a little surprised to learn, were not filled with fun and friendship like the movie is.
When I was a kid we lived in a lower middle class, very racially integrated section of the north eastern San Fernando Valley outside Los Angeles. None of the kids on the block liked us (me or my little brother). In fact they beat the crap out of us on a regular basis. Bullies all.
During whatever sports season was current (basketball, football, baseball) they would all play that sport down the block at the end of the street. There, on a corner, was a house with a six foot high brick wall, behind which lived a notoriously vicious dog named, believe it or not, “Hercules.” We were never invited to join in. Never asked to play. Never included, especially during baseball season – everyone’s favorite.
Jim Walker, who (amongst other pursuits) is the publisher of 4Memphis Magazine, wrote his publisher’s column about my inspiration for The Sandlot and the story I told the students at PDS. Here it is, reprinted by permission:
Forgiveness: A Tool To Rewriting History Or The Future?
I imagine we have all heard more than once someone making the statement: “I could never forgive that person.” Even if we have not said it, if we are truthful, we have thought it. Unfortunately many of us live our lives under the umbrella of anger because of some condition or memory of our past.
David Mickey Evans shared with the crowd his childhood, growing up in a poor, multicultural section of Los Angeles. It was a neighborhood where the kids on the street played baseball, football and basketball seasonally. The other game these neighborhood boys played was to bully the two boys that didn’t look like them. Evans and his brother lived daily with emotional harassment and occasionally physical abuse by the kids of the street. The fun of the neighborhood pick up game was not theirs to enjoy; it was something to be feared as their childhood tormentors were all gathered in one place.
The vicious dog in “The Sandlot,” Hercules, and the challenge to retrieve a ball from over the fence were real, but the conditions in which Evans' brother had to retrieve the ball were much different. Evans’ brother was offered the long-awaited opportunity to be a part of the street baseball game, if only he would retrieve the ball that had been knocked over the fence. In the end, Evans had to carry his brother home, having been badly bitten on the leg by Hercules as he attempted to get the ball.
Evans childhood and early adult life were filled with anger and hatred for the boys of his neighborhood. He was driven to be successful by his desire to seek revenge on the boys of his youth. Like many of us, Evans felt if he made enough money or had enough power he could somehow punish the boys of his neighborhood, even if that punishment was to only show them how wrong they had been for not being his friend. His anger and drive to be successful did not serve him well as an adult. He was only allowing the abuse that had destroyed his childhood to destroy his current life was well.
In his late twenties, Evans surrendered his anger and decided that he had to forgive the boys of his youth. He decided to go back in time and rewrite his childhood and in doing so he would forgive those who had hurt him and his brother. “The Sandlot” was born. He wrote the kids as friends and heroes, playing together and overcoming a great obstacle. He knows nothing of what happened to the boys of his youth. They didn’t ask for forgiveness. They never sought his friendship. However, in Evans' process of forgiveness, he allowed these bullies to become his friends, and this personal story he wrote for himself has become one the most loved and watched movies of all time.
He and I discussed in detail his personal journey, and he would tell you that although he would not wish his childhood on anyone, if he had the actual ability to go back in time to change it, he would not. It made him who he is and allowed him to give the world “The Sandlot.” Much like the Old Testament’s character of Joseph, who was sold into slavery by his brothers, Evans is able to declare, “What they meant for evil, God has used for good.”
Forgiveness, the key to Evans' and Joseph's success is also the key to success for the citizens of Memphis. Forgiveness didn’t really change Evans' past, it changed the way he dealt with the present, and that changed his future. The citizens of Memphis shouldn’t forget the past, but instead should work to forgive the wrongs of the past. Forgiveness will allow us to live in the present and build for the future.
Seek the Peace and Prosperity of Memphis
Well said, Jim. Thanks for the good words.
After we left PDS, I did a phone-in interview with a local sports radio program. A short piece, maybe 5 minutes, but it was fun and helped to get the word out about the screening a little more. Or so I hoped.
Later in the day, I met up with Jim Walker and Earle Farrell again at their local AM radio station. They graciously invited me to co-host with them and talk about The Sandlot and promote the screening for the next night.
Then it was off to St. Jude’s Research Hospital for Children. We were given a private tour of the facility, which is a city unto itself. I’ve spent my share of time in Children’s Hospitals in the past, but this place is almost beyond description – a place of endless hope and healing. I was very grateful the screening was going to in some small way support them.
After that we visited The Stax Music Academy - home of world famous Memphis R&B. In a word, it “rocked!” The students there are an intensely talented bunch.
About five o’clock we finally arrived at AutoZone Park and set up the merchandise in the breezeway and got ready for the screening. Christine was a bit worried; and with good reason – we had only pre-sold a hundred or so tickets, which was disappointing to say the least. As it got closer to screening time, people began to trickle in. Then more. Then more… and more and more and more!
By the time we were 30 minutes out from the screening several thousand fans had shown up! And all of them with very little promotion from only a day or two before hand. I started signing autographs and didn’t stop until I hosted a Sandlot trivia contest down on the field. With every question hundreds of hands shot up in the air hoping to be picked to answer the question. With good reason too, my friend at P.F. Flyer’s, Erin Norsen, had provided us with a stack of gift certificates, each for a free, authentic pair of P.F. Flyer sneakers. The winners were floating two feet off the ground when I handed them their certificates.
Finally the screening began, and I was signing posters, DVD’s, t-shirts and scripts during the entire time. I ducked away once to watch the audience “watching” the movie. It was with an overwhelming sense of satisfaction (and I have to admit, pride – but the good kind) that I saw them all as quiet as church mice and still as stone; intently watching and totally enjoying the film. Again, the effect of the timelessness of the story on audiences never ceases to amaze me.
I stayed around after the screening for several hours signing memorabilia and shaking hands with fans and posing for pictures with kids and families. It just doesn’t get any better than that.
I’ll let the pictures do the talking, these were all taken by Stacey McGillis:
When all was said and done, I noticed Christine in a sort of world of wonder; and she said (and I’m paraphrasing here) “This was incredible… I thought maybe a hundred people would show up.”
“I know, right?” I said, because I always have that thought as well before a screening. “If we screen it, they will come.” I said, then asked, “So, are we on for next year?”
“Oh, definitely.” She said.
Look for Fox to make an announcement sometime in December about their plans for the 20th anniversary of The Sandlot. I, for one, can’t wait.
Thanks to everyone in Memphis who helped out with the screening and especially Kellie Grabert at AutoZone Park, Jim Walker, Christine Lewison from Fox for making the event the great success it was.
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Best as always,