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SALT LAKE CITY — Twenty years ago, "The Sandlot" debuted in theaters, capturing a portrait of American life in 1962. The film follows the adventures of nine boys and their antics as they attempt to salvage a baseball signed by Babe Ruth from the backyard of "The Beast," a legendary 300-pound, ball-eating, ferocious English mastiff.
RottenTomatoes.com ranked "The Sandlot" the 20th-best baseball movie of all time, but what hits the film out of the ballpark for Utahns is that it was made in their own backyard — primarily Glendale, Rose Park and Poplar Grove.
In celebration of the movie's two decadelong success, members of the cast and crew are returning to Utah for events on July 19 and 20, including an outdoor screening of the movie at Spring Mobile Ballpark.
David Mickey Evans, writer, director and narrator of "The Sandlot," told the Deseret News that the entire premise of the movie came from an incident when he was a kid.
Evans and his younger brother lived on a block where the other kids didn't like them. The kids would play baseball in the middle of the street and they'd never let Evans or his brother play. One day the kids hit a baseball over a brick wall at the end of the block into a yard where there was a vicious dog named Hercules.
The kids told Evans' little brother that if he retrieved the ball, they'd let him play with them. His brother went over the fence and tossed the ball back, but the dog got off its chain and tore up the boy's leg.
"That's the sort of little notional incident from where I got that 'aha' moment," Evans told the Deseret News. "I go, 'That's a movie; that is a movie right there.'"
When choosing to film "The Sandlot" in Utah, Evans considered two main factors: cost and topography. He said he didn't want to film in California because of the cost and the inconvenience of high-traffic areas, so he began looking for a new location with a similar setting. That was when Mark Burg, the film's executive producer, suggested Salt Lake City.
"I wrote the thing to take place in the San Fernando Valley (Calif.), which is a bit of a desert ringed by purple mountains and there's really only one other place if not in the world, definitely in the Northern Hemisphere, that looks like that, and it's Salt Lake," Evans said. "So it was kind of a no-brainer, because it was a perfect match."
Evans said the film crew built the entire sandlot from the ground up on a privately owned field in Glendale between Navajo Street and Glenrose Drive. The crew constructed backstops, the diamond, fences, telephone poles, the alley and more. The lot has remained empty since the crew razed the set after filming.
Other filming locations included the little league diamond in Riverside Park, 739 N. 1400 W.; an alley in Poplar Grove located at 550 S. Post St.; Lorin Farr Park Pool at 1691 Gramercy Ave. in Ogden; a drug store in Midvale; and State Street in American Fork.
For Evans, filming in Utah was memorable.
"I remember that at the time it was a great place to shoot, still is," he said. "The crews are terrific; the people are great; everybody works their butts off. It's a good, good place. I like it a lot."
When people talk to Evans about "The Sandlot," the most oft-mentioned scene is where Squints, known for his large glasses, jumps into the deep end of the pool in a ploy to be rescued and given CPR by the lifeguard, Wendy Peffercorn.
But Evans' personal favorite scene is when the kids play ball on the sandlot underneath the fireworks with Ray Charles singing "America the Beautiful" in the background. He also likes the section of the film when the kids try different contraptions to get their ball back, ending with a chase scene.
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