DAY OF THE SECOND SCREENING ON THE 20TH ANNIVERSARY SANDLOT TOUR AT ARVEST BALLPARK, HOME OF THE NORTHWEST ARKANSAS NATURALS - WHERE I MEET A 3 YEAR-OLD SANDLOT GENIUS, A SANDLOT SUPERFAN AND A MULTI-GENERATIONAL SANDLOT-FAN-PATRIARCH, MR. MIKE HEIDERSCHEIT, FROM NORWAY, IOWA, THE LOCATION OF ANOTHER MOVIE I MADE CALLED, "THE FINAL SEASON."
We, of course, wake up early and I make the go-juice in the french press. Dark. Strong. Heaven. We take The Captain for a morning tennis ball session on the great big grassy area behind the hotel, and upon returning find that what was a to-capacity crowd yesterday, has all but vanished. Nice. Quiet.
We get the Tour Truckster loaded with the newly sorted vac-bags of t-shirts and punch in the address for the ballpark on Rhonda The GPS Lady’s control panel. 11 minutes she tells us. Great. I love being early anywhere I go, but especially to these tour screenings because it gives us time to download the Truckster, scope out the stadium and get the general feel of the place and it’s game-goers.
The drive to the ballpark is short, and countryfied - the two lane road we take is farm and horse land on either side with absolutely no sign that there’ll be a baseball stadium appearing out of nowhere, anywhere. But that’s just exactly what happens.
|Panorama of Arvest Ballpark in Springdale, Arkansas|
|Parking lot is empty.|
|A great looking ballpark from every angle.|
|The entrance to Arvest Ballpark.|
We, literally, round a bend in the road and there on the left appears Arvest Ballpark. It’s 4 or 5 years new, architecturally well-suited to its setting - low, expansive, unobtrusive to the surrounding rolling farmland - and handsome. I’ve never yet met a AAA ballpark I didn’t like, and I like this place immediately. However, the parking lot is virtually empty as we arrive - which is a little unsettling because we’re about an hour from game time and it looks like you could get three or four thousand cars in here. If they all show up at once (presuming anyone shows up at all) there’s gonna grid-lock on that two-lane country road worse than downtown Fayetteville yesterday and the game won’t start till midnight and the screening will be at 3 AM!
We park the Tour Truckster near the sloping sidewalk to avoid any steps when downloading the Sandlot Merchandise, and I go to the ticket window to try and find the contact person for the ballpark. She appears momentarily and we’re on our way with a rolling handcart. They’ve got a couple long tables set up for us right in the breezeway directly in front of the main gates. Perfect.
I take a few minutes to check out the park and it’s as handsome on the inside as it is on the outside:
|I swear they all appeared in like 5 minutes!|
|The groundskeeper at Arvest Ballpark is some kind of genius.|
|Every ballplayer's dream - perfect.|
|A spring game under perfect conditions.|
As I complete the little 360 video, and turn back to face the front gates, there’s suddenly a crowd of fans spanning the entrance end to end may five or six people deep. Where did they all come from? And how did they get there so fast?! I have no idea. I check the parking lot and sure enough it’s about half filled with cars and more arriving every minute. So much for the grid-lock I predicated - how they all managed to get into the lot without mayhem on the little two lane road I will never know.
Local Allied publicity rockstars Cindi and Robin set up FOX’s DVD and swag table across from ours, inside the gates off to the left, leaving The Navigator and myself facing the oncoming fans as the gates open.
|Cindi and Robin, local Allied publicity rockstars.|
Sidebar: a little note about fame. I like that I am not a recognizable personality. In other words, I am not an actor, or a professional athlete, or a performer whose face everyone instantly recognizes. I have, and value very much, a sort of anonymity with which I can go anywhere I wish anytime I wish and not be “known.” I am, however, when people discover what I have written or directed, a little bit famous. And that’s fine. And people, fans of my work - especially The Sandlot - are always very flattering and pleasant and (so they tell me) grateful for (in particular) that film. However, when I’m hosting an event screening of The Sandlot, just because the local media may have said I am going to be there (unless they run a picture of me in the paper or on the net) that doesn’t mean anyone knows me on sight. Even if I am standing at a table of posters, t-shirts and scripts of The Sandlot doesn’t mean my presence bears any significance whatsoever to fans looking over the cool stuff. And it’s not as if I have a giant picture of myself behind me announcing I am the writer/director/voice The Sandlot. As I’ve blogged about before, unless I am asked, I don’t offer to tell anyone who I am or what I’ve done (the presumptuousness of such a thing is just reprehensible).
Here’s a link to a past blog post about just this subject:
And so, at first, this happened at Arvest Ballpark. And what I mean is, that if people had come to the screening in hopes of getting a poster or a t-shirt and having the writer/director sign it - well, then “Where the hell is the guy?!” It was that sort of thing.
|Posters. T-shirts. In high demand at every ballpark we go to.|
So, I have a quick chat with Robin the publicity person and she - after selling someone a DVD - points them in my direction telling them that I am, indeed, the writer/director and that I would be happy to sign it for them. And that’s all it took. In moments - stampede! With fans telling me over and over again:
“Thanks for making a great movie!”
“It’s my favorite movie of all time!”
“Can we get a picture with you and my kids?!”
And then, inevitably, a dialogue with a fan (usually a mom, but sometimes a mom and dad, and also grandparents, and fans that were about 10 years-old at the time of the films initial release in 1993, and who are now about 30) that goes something like this (I wrote about this in a previous post on the screening in Trenton, NJ, but it’s worth repeating):
“Mr. Evans, you don’t understand.” And love it every time someone says this to me.
“Ok. What do I not understand?”
“It isn’t just that we (I, us, all of us, our family) love your film. It’s not just that it is our favorite film of all time. It’s what The Sandlot means to us.”
The word “means” is the important part here. Then they usually continue:
“Benny and Scotty and Ham and all the kids in The Sandlot are not just characters in a film to us, they’re like my children’s siblings (or if it’s a fan who grew up on the film, “My brothers”) their best friends, who taught them the important lessons about friendship, character, courage, loyalty when they were growing up, and made them laugh a thousand times, and who always are and always will be just the way we remember them in the film. Forever.”
|Local elementary school students singing "Take Me Out To The Ball Game," and a couple other baseball standards.|
|The fans arriving. Merch table in the perfect position.|
|Fans singing along...|
|One of the Northwest Arkansas Natural's mascots - a Sasquatch named "Strike."|
|Sandlot swag for the fans!|
|Sandlot fans listening to a trivia question.|
And that The Sandlot holds such meaning, such an important place in their collective familial memory (because, after all, what are we when we leave this life but a collection of memories in the minds of the loved ones we leave behind?) is always a retrospectively startling life lesson for me in filmmaking responsibility. Listen, I was just trying to be funny, honest and authentic when I wrote it and directed it. The reminder that those efforts succeeded beyond my wildest dreams is something that just never (can’t) get old. I value that and I am humbled by it and deeply grateful for it.
I was soon, here at Arvest Ballpark, to receive two perfect examples of that from completely opposite end of the age-spectrum; from a 3 year-old Sandlot genius fan just now growing up with the film, and from a grandfather who’s children and now grandchildren, were brought up on, and being brought up with, The Sandlot.
But first, I got to throw out the first pitch. I get to do this at each ballpark we visit and I love it - haven’t shanked one yet. I met the two Naturals mascots (the main guy is a Sasquatch), met the GM Eric (the GM at Arm and Hammer Park in Trenton, NJ was named Eric too - if the next GM at the next ballpark is named Eric, I’m buying 100 lottery tickets), did a little time in the announcer’s booth for an interview in between pitches and plays, and tossed FOX swag (posters and t-shirts) to the fans from the top of the first base dugout. Fun stuff.
|DME on the mound.|
|DME on his way to the mound. I was ready to step in as a relief pitcher, but they already had a guy.|
|Waiting to throw out the first pitch.|
|Leading the crowd in a song.|
|Tossing Sandlot t-shirts as far into the stands as I could.|
|I brought the "first pitch" in around 95. Popped the guy's glove. I declined the offer to join the pitching staff.|
|First pitch ball. I love that I get to keep those.|
|The other Natural's Mascot - a dragon.|
|Atop the first base dugout.|
The Navigator and myself always wear the cool Sandlot t-shirts we bring whenever we do a screening. Part advertising, partly as an indicator that I am, indeed, the director whom the ballpark promised would be attending - people know/assume that, because we’re the only one wearing these shirts.
As I was waiting by the dugout (to be called to throw out the first pitch) I hear a small voice behind me say, “Mommy, that’s a Hambino shirt.”
A “Hambino” shirt. That’s hysterical. I don’t know who this is, this small voice, but I like him instantly. So I turn around and there’s a little kid with his mom and dad. He’s shy, but pointing at the back of mine and The Navigator’s shirts because the famous picture of the kids on The Sandlot is print thereon.
|Hunter, 3 years-old. Sandlot genius. With his mom and dad.|
His name is Hunter. And when I ask, I find out he’s 3 years-old. “Wait... he’s 3 years-old?! And he know who the Hambino is? Or better yet, he’s 3 years-old and he speaks in that sort of sentence structure already?!”
His parents say, “Yes. We’ve shown him SpongeBob Squarepants and cartoons and stuff, but he’s not interested. He only wants to watch The Sandlot. Over and over again. It’s not just his favorite movie, it’s his only movie.”
|Hunter will be trading the mini bat in for the real thing in a few years.|
I’m in awe. This kid is a serious Sandlot fan. And clearly smart as a whip. The Navigator tells his mom and dad to bring him by the merchandise table where I have a cool original prop from the movie that we think Hunter will like, and he can hold it and we’ll take a picture of him with it. They say they will. Hunter, as you will see, is the Sandlot Genius I mentioned in the subheading of this post.
I throw out the first pitch. Do some meet and greet with the ballpark people, then it was back to the merchandise table to meet fans and sign autographs.
Everyone is just stoked about the screening, and even more stoked to shake hands and tell me how much they love The Sandlot. During a quick break I go get The Captain out of the Truckster to walk him, then bring him into the ballpark to meet some fans - of his, not mine. And he has about 5,000 fans instantly. Including a guy who walks over and admires The Captain’s conformation and breeding (he apparently knows GSD’s). And then he shows us a picture of his GSD. To say that his GSD and The Captain could be brothers is understating it - they could actually be the same dog! They were that similarly marked and colored. A truly remarkable doppelgänger.
The concession stands were open during the game, but as it got into its 7th inning, they closed. We had had a tasty O’Fallon’s IPA (same great craft beer we had in St Louis at Nick’s Pub last year on our way through to Omaha for a test screening at Werner Park, Home of the Omaha Storm Chasers) earlier, and were ready for another. But with the concession stand closed, what to do? So The Navigator takes The Captain and heads back to the hotel where we have a couple Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye’s on ice for our end of day beer. It’s a short drive there and back, and upon her return she’s got The Captain with her as she walks back into the ballpark. He rushes me and leans heavily against my leg; this is his way of saying, “I’m with you,” “Don’t worry, I’m right here,” and especially, “Hey, don’t go anywhere without me!”
|The Captain and DME at Arvest Ballpark. With his tennis ball, ready to play.|
|The Captain thinking, "Enough with the pictures! Throw my ball! There's a huge grass area right behind me!"|
|The Captain on "Heel. Sit." Leaning against my leg like he was never gonna see me again.|
|Captain Maverick. Super GSD.|
The Captain is a fearlessly protective GSD to both myself and Navigator Stacey, he’d jump in front of a bullet for either one of us without thinking about it. But I am his Alpha. And as such, unless I put him “On watch” with mommy (meaning it’s his job to stay with her while I’m gone for short amounts of time), anytime I walk away, or The Navigator drives away from me with him in the car, he goes into a Force 10, scrambling, worried, vocalizing (barking madly) panic. Not out of fear mind you, out of concern for Dad, his Alpha. Because I had forgotten to give him the command, “On watch, Mommy,” The Navigator drove away from the ballpark without me, and The Captain clearly understood this as a huge mistake and ripped the doggie barrier out of the back of the Truckster and leapt, ready for action (barking his head off at Navigator Stacey) straight into the passenger seat!
Daddy’s bad on that one. Sorry Captain. Won’t happen again. The Captain loves me. And I love The Captain.
As I am signing posters and t-shirt’s, a big teddy bear of a man approaches holding four or five DVD’s he purchased at the FOX swag table. He asks me to sign them each to a different person. And I do. He tells me he and his children and grand children (for whom I have just autographed the DVD’s) are life long fans of The Sandlot. His name is Mike Heiderscheit and we shake hands. Mike, as you will see, is the Multi-generational Sandlot-Fan-Patriarch I mentioned in the subheading of this post.
Later, Mike appears again, with about five more DVD’s and asks me to sign these as well. I do so. He tells me he and his wife are down from Iowa, and found out I was going to be at the ballpark today, and did not want to miss the opportunity to meet me. I wax reminiscent about Iowa, telling Mike that I’ve shot a few movies in Iowa, have very good friends there, and love the country. Mike says he knows this. Now, I do not know Mike, so I ask how he knows this. He tells me he’s from Norway, Iowa. I about need the paddles when he tells me this, because Norway, Iowa is the location of the baseball film I shot there, based on a true story, called THE FINAL SEASON. Mike says he knows this as well, because he knows Jim van Scoyoc! Jim is one of the two high school baseball coaches on whom the film is based. It shouldn’t surprise me that Mike knows Jim, because Norway has a population of about 550 people - but it does nonetheless. I mean, come on, what are the odds of me meeting Mike Heiderscheit from Norway, Iowa, a town where I shot a film about “that very town’s” 1990-1991 state championship high school baseball team, who knows Jim Van Scoyoc, here, at Arvest Ballpark in Springdale, AR on this day at a screening of The Sandlot on its 20th Anniversary Tour?! 350 million to 1 maybe? Oh, and get this...
... Mike tells me he saw The Final Season at a theater during its initial domestic theatrical release in 2007. I tell him he’s probably the only person that did. He says he loved the movie and why wasn’t it in theaters for a long time rather than just a few weeks? I say, “You’ll have to ask the distributor, Yari Film Group about that.” Oh, wait, is there still a Yari Film Group? Nope. You get my point.
Mike goes on to tell me that after having seen the film in the theaters he was looking for a DVD and couldn’t find one anywhere (thanks again, Yari boys!), but eventually saw one at a store when he and his wife were traveling. He did not buy it. Then, driving away, he thought the better of that, and turned around and drove all the way back to the store (35 miles!) to get it. Which he did. And his wife was none-to-pleased about it. I tell Mike that he and I are probably the only people, with the exception of Jim Van Scoyoc, Kent Stock and Producer Tony Wilson, that have copies of the DVD. He says, “Yeah, it was worth the extra mileage. Greatest baseball movie never seen.” He didn’t actually say that, someone else did, but the sentiment was there, and I appreciated it very much.
I signed a The Final Season mini poster for him, because, quite frankly, that kind of cinema loyalty deserves it! Thanks, Mike.
|The Heiderscheit's. Mike once drove back 35 miles to a store just to buy a copy of The Final Season. He also bought something like 10 Sandlot DVD's at the screening!|
Fox and Arvest Park were also having a small silent auction for some tasty Sandlot items. The best being a couple pair of PF Flyer hi-top sneakers. The guy who won the auction (both of them! He got both pair for a total of over $500!), Stacy Wright, brought them over to my table and I signed them with a silver sharpie. And underneath the sig I wrote: “The Secret Weapon!” He was ecstatic about it! You see, Stacy’s son plays for the Razorbacks and he bought a bunch of posters and t-shirts as well and, together with PF Flyers, he’s putting together a big framed display for their locker room. How freaking cool is that?! (Mr. Wright is, obviously, the Sandlot Superfan I mentioned in the subheading of this post). I told him I have three, of the original 10 (of eventually an edition of 500), 20th Anniversary Tour posters printed on Art Quality paper still for sale. He’s definitely interested, but wants the ones numbered corresponding to the player numbers of his son and his teammates. So those are on hold for him.
|PF Flyer's gift certificate. Worth it's weight in unobtanium.|
|Local elementary schoolers. Sandlot fans.|
|These kids loved to sing. And they were good too!|
|Strike. Mascot. Big foot.|
|DME being introduced to the fans.|
After the game, Hunter’s mom and dad bring him to the merchandise table and sit him up on it, and The Navigator hands him the original photo plaque prop with the picture of the sandlot boys on it - the one that both opens and closes the movie, hanging on the wall of the announcer's booth at Dodger Stadium. Hunter thinks this is very cool. And then he just completely blows me away. He points to each kid in the photo in turn as says, “That’s Benny. He has shoes to jump higher and run faster. That’s Yeah-Yeah. That’s Repeat. That Timmy. That’s Smalls. That’s Squints. That’s the great Hambino. That’s Kenny, he’s the pitcher and that’s Bertram.”
|Hunter. Sandlot Genius holding the original photo plaque from the movie.|
|I have a feeling this kid is gonna do something great someday - even greater than naming all the sandlot kids in the picture at the age of 3 years-old!|
I swear to you this 3 year-old kid knew all the names of the characters by heart and on sight! Amazing. I gave him a signed mini poster because he deserved it!
After the game ended, it was with some disappointment that I saw most of the fans leave. Then I realized that it was a Sunday - and the next day being both a school day and a work day, I guessed parents had to get back home. For those that stayed, and there were a couple of hundred, I held a Sandlot trivia contest from the infield with the house-mike. That’s always a lot of fun and I gave away a ton of posters, stickers, PF Flyer certificates and other cool FOX swag stuff courtesy of my friends at FHE. Fans just go crazy for it and I love that.
|Sandlot trivia time. Everybody's got an answer, but not always the correct one.|
|The Babe. On the BIG screen.|
|A fan answers correctly. Sandlot sticker, buttons, and a poster. Good haul.|
|Telling the story of how I came up with the idea for the movie.|
|I have to run back and forth between first and third to give everyone a chance to answer.|
During the screening of the film, a lady struck up a conversation with The Navigator. Whitney’s a die hard Sandlot fan and lives in Arkansas and couldn’t wait for this screening to happen. Her sister, Catherine, who lives in Minnesota is also a die hard Sandlot fan and will be attending the Minneapolis screening in May! Awesome. We tell Whitney we’ll look out for her Catherine there, and get a picture with her like we did with Whitney.
After that, as the screening ended and fans passed by, and after shaking a million hands and thanking everyone for coming, The Navigator, the Captain and myself loaded up the Tour Truckster and headed back to the hotel.
When we got there, the parking lot was almost empty, all the cars were gone, and so was our little fold up grill that we had left tidily aside in “our” parking space in the back, intending to grill again this evening. No worries, it was 10 bucks! A quick trip to Wally World rectified that issue, and we were once again sitting near the Truckster, with The Captain on watch, enjoying our end of day beers while the coals got hot.
|The Navigator giving The Captain a piece of his steak to check if it's cooked to his liking yet.|
|Navigator Stacey. My girl.|
|$10 folding Wally World grill and chicken.|
While at Wally World I could not resist purchasing the Navigator and myself full-on Razorback t-shirts and hats. Seemed like the thing to do. Arkansas had been good to us. So, “Woo Pig Sooie!” Razorback country, and thanks to Arvest Ballpark and the NWA Naturals for the great screening.
The Navigator, The Captain and myself all appreciate it very much!!!
The Navigator, The Captain and myself all appreciate it very much!!!
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