The intermittent drum roll kicks in. Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez is hurrying Smalls out of his house as the sun sets over Smalltown, USA (or some neighborhood in Los Angeles County). Smalls runs out of the house; Benny follows. The crew is waiting for them in the cul-de-sac: Yeah Yeah, Hamilton Porter, Kenny, Bertram, Tommy and Timmy. They all rush past a block party (with the exception of Porter, who makes himself a hot dog) and head straight for their favorite haunt and the movie’s namesake, The Sandlot.
“Oh beautiful, for heroes proved, in liberating strife”
The gang starts throwing around the baseball and warming up. Then, they start to play with Benny up to bat.
“Who more than self, our country loved, and mercy more than life, America, America, may God gold refine”
The character of Kenny is known in the movie as the pitcher with the self-named “heater,” the fastball that never fails. Kenny winds up to throw, what looks like, his signature pitch at Benny. Critical error.
“Till all success be nobleness/And every gain devined”
The fastball flies towards Benny who reeks back and takes a swing. For a moment, you wonder if this is going to be it and then
“And you know when I was in school,
We used to sing it something like this, listen here:”
You hear the crack of the bat, and the ball goes flying over Kenny’s head. All of the characters are captured in slow motion watching the ball as fireworks light up the night sky. The ball disappears from view as the colorful explosions of red, blue, purple, green, and ivory cloud its flight path.
“Oh beautiful, for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties,
Above the fruited plain”
All of the characters, seemingly Tweens except for Benny, stare up at the sky as the explosions become more frequent. They gawk as they lose interest in the game; they are captivated by the moment.
“But now wait a minute, I’m talking about America, sweet America,
You know, God done shed his grace on thee”
At this point, Ray Charles takes over as the scene focuses on the fireworks. His voice hits in the gut; each passing word bearing more and more of his soul. It becomes the most poignant moment in the movie. Baseball becomes secondary as a reverence for America, and the ideals it was founded upon take center stage. They could not have picked a better rendition of the song for this scene, this piece of my childhood.
There are a lot of great moments in The Sandlot. Most of them provided by Hamilton Porter: “You play ball like a girl!,” “You’ve gotta be kidding me, Smalls!,” “Would you like a s’more?,” “You chew it, Smalls!,” “Hi, Ladies.” But this is one that has stuck with me for years. Every 4th of July when there are fireworks popping off, I want to play Ray and just stare out at the spectacle painting the summer night. I want to think that I’ve just put my glove down and given up baseball for this one moment of reflection. A moment to be thankful that I live in this country, no matter the issues and adversity that we face as a nation. Everything else is secondary except for this moment that I will keep trying to recreate every first week in July.