PHILADELPHIA, PA TO TRENTON, NJ
DAY OF THE FIRST SCREENING ON THE 20TH ANNIVERSARY SANDLOT TOUR AT ARM AND HAMMER PARK, HOME OF THE TRENTON THUNDER - OFF THE CHARTS!!!
I woke up at 5AM feeling like I slept in a state of total unconsciousness, no dreams, just full-on battery recharging mode. I was in the sauna by 5:10AM and once again cranking the heat up to about 180.
I hit the treadmill and got back in the sauna for another heat-filled pressure session. Bliss. Here's what happen to plastic cups when you power-sauna like a Finn:
|Plastic cups after a Krakatoa sauna session|
We checked out of the hotel and packed the Tour Truckster for the short drive to Trenton, NJ. Along the way I did a phone interview with CRAVE online. I finished the call just as we pulled into the parking lot at Arm and Hammer Park.
|Heading out of Philly on the way to Trenton|
Sports Illustrated journalist extraordinaire Matt Gagne was there waiting for me. Matt's a great guy and sharp as hell. I liked him immediately. He had contacted me a few weeks back and said he had just gotten the go-ahead for a feature article on me and The Sandlot intended for the July issue of SI. I agreed instantly and checked that one off the bucket list.
But first we had to download the t-shirts and posters and Sandlot gak from the Truckster; no small feat, and the thought of having to hump that stuff up those stairs wasn't a happy one. Luckily, what can only be described as a Phalanx of burly guys in Trenton thunder staff jerseys appear out of nowhere. TJ Hahn, the Thunder's thoroughly capable man assigned to handle/shadow me for the event, was johnny-on-the-spot for the unloading.
|The Sandlot on 68 feet of hi-def jumbotron awesomeness!!!|
We overloaded a rolling cart and got the stuff up the elevator and delivered to the big sales area they had already set up for us. Relief. And get this, the gates had just opened and there was ALREADY a long line of fans waiting for autographs and t-shirts!
|Arm and Hammer park filling up!|
|"If you screen it, they will come..."|
Navigator Stacey took charge of the merch table and I sat down with Matt outside the park and told him Sandlot stories for about an hour and a half. He intends to interview all the original cast members and even the key crew people who were on the film. Should be probably the most in depth article/study of The Sandlot ever. And Matt, if you're reading this, write me pretty.
After the interview I went back up to the merch table where, for the first time in about 19 years I met Tom Guiry again. He was 12 years old and a little dude the last time I had seen him, now he's about 30ish with a wife and 3 kids. We hugged it out for five minutes. It was great to see him again.
|DME signing a baseball for Tom Guiry|
|Me and Tom laughing it out|
|First time we'd seen each other in 19 years|
|Signing baseballs for each other|
|Laughing it up!|
|It's actually tough to sign a baseball!|
|Must've been a good joke!|
|Tom signing a baseball for DME|
In no time it was very obvious this was going to be a BIG deal - attendance reached somewhere near 6,000 fans. And most of them stood in line all through the opening ceremonies - I swear there was never any less than about 400 people in the autograph line, they just kept coming and coming... incredibly gratifying, and a little scary.
|Tom and DME signing and rolling posters,, while Navigator Stacey man's the Square cc swipey thingy|
|And the line keeps getting longer!|
Tom and I threw out the first pitch(es) as we were introduced to the crowd. The fans were very gracious and gave us a huge round of applause. After that it was up to the merch tables to meet fans and sign stuff.
|DME throwing out the first pitch. The guy was amazed that I can still bring it at 95 mph. ;)|
|DME & Tom with Boomer the Thunder mascot|
|Warming up because I didn't want to look like an idiot|
|Tom following through|
|DME gettin' his Lincecum on.|
|DME, Tom, Thunder pitcher and Boomer|
|Christine, Navigator Stacey, DME, Tom and Cassie|
It was quickly clear that the line was going to move slowly because everyone needed to tell us not just how much they liked the movie, or what big fans of it they have always been (which is great!)... but something much more than that, they needed to tell us how much The Sandlot meant (means) to them.
There's a big difference there and I try to always be aware of it and sensitive to the fact that people consider The Sandlot a part of their lives, their childhoods, and their kids' childhoods. A mom at a screening last year said it best I think, when she told me that, "Benny and Scotty and all the sandlot kids are a part of our family. My kids grew up with them in our house. Those characters are like my kids' brothers." High praise indeed. Got really lumpy-throated when she told me that.
So it progressed like that hour after wonderfully gratifying, laughing, funny, grateful hour.
|Team work, signing t-shirts takes four hands|
I had a few friends on the comp list, including my cousin Tim Kohl whom I had not seen in 38 years. He came with his wife and two sons, who are my second cousins who I'd never met! It was a little overwhelming to see Tim again. I did not have a happy childhood, and one of the best times I did have as a kid was a cross-country trip my mother took us on from Los Angeles to Wilkes Barre, PA to a family reunion at Harvey's Lake. I think I was 12 at the time, and Tim and his brother Chris were the same age as me and my brother. You know that one great summer everyone can point to in their childhood? Yeah. That one. Well, for me, it was that summer. We swam in Harvey's Lake and took turns diving off this wooden dock, where Chris and Tim taught me and my brother a particularly stylin' type of twisting dive called "The Hawaiian."
During the game the Trenton Thunder took me to the announcer's booth where I got to put on the headset and join the play-by-play for an interview as the announcer called the game. the guy was amazing switching effortlessly between asking me a question and calling the game without missing a beat or a pitch. I have no idea how he does that.
Then it was back for more autograph signing. And the line kept getting longer.
A particularly memorable moment was when a young lady who had been waiting in line for over an hour finally got to the table. She looked at me and took a moment to be sure what she was about to say came out just right. She said, "Thank you for The Sandlot. It "is" my childhood."
I rushed around the table and we hugged it out before I started balling my eyes.
Navigator Stacey was manning the Square cc swipey thingy in the iPhone and the cash box, and also dashing back and forth to the Tour Truckster to throw the ball for Captain Maverick every hour. I wanted to bring him into the stadium, but the Thunder have two stadium mascot dogs, golden retrievers, and it's their house, their territory and The Captain politely declined to violate that unsaid sacred doggy line-in-the-sand.
After the game (the Thunder won BTW) Tom and myself went down on the infield and hosted a Sandlot trivia contest with cool sandlot swag give-aways courtesy of my friends at Fox Home Entertainment, the highlight of which was this question and answer session with a young fan:
DME: "What year does the Sandlot take place?
KID: Looking very disappointed
DME: "I'll give you a clue. It's somewhere between the years 1961 and 1963."
KID: Concentrating really hard, "Um, 1962?"
He got a gift certificate for a pair of PF Flyers.
After the trivia contest and a big thank you to the Trenton Thunder and the fans, it was back to the tables for more autograph signing. I'll let the pictures do the talking here:
After the event, with the stadium empty and the top-notch Thunder crew helping us re-load the Tour Truckster, I gave all the boys a t-shirt and bunch of posters. I love it when big burley men grin like little kids. They deserved it.
Then it was off to a local place called "Firkin Pub" for the end of day beer. And God love him, Matt Gagne from SI had stayed through the entire event! So he joined us and we yacked for a few more hours about life and Sandlot stuff. It had been a long and heady day, and I was incredibly grateful...
... I went to sleep thinking I have the best job on planet earth.
|The Sandlot in the bigs|
|DME and TG their name in lights|
|End of Day beer, well deserved.|
Check back soon!