I would first like to start off by saying I am in no way, shape, or form a psychologist or sociologist, or even remotely close to being an expert in either field. I am a 22-year-old marketing major in Boston College’s Carroll School of Management. In fact I have only ever taken two psychology classes in my eight-year high school/college career . . . Boy it felt good to get that off my chest!! I just love sandlot baseball.
I would like to talk about something I like to call “The Sandlot Theory.” If you have not watched the 1993 coming-of-age movie, The Sandlot, starring Tom Guiry and Mike Vitar, PLEASE find two hours in the next week to sit down and watch the film. You will not be disappointed. If you are anyone like me, you sat on your grandmother’s couch in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania every Thanksgiving for five years and watched the movie over and over and over. Just thinking about “Squints” kissing Wendy Peffercorn still makes me laugh; or the ever classic line from Ham Porter, “You play ball like a girl!” (Please, nobody take offense to this! Girls can play on the sandlot too!).
During my childhood, sandlot baseball was a HUGE thing. Whether it was at the ball fields in my town or our neighbor’s unkempt lawn; my twin brother, my friends, and I would meet up almost every single day from the first warmth of spring well into the fall to play either real baseball, wiffleball, or the ol’ tennis-racquet-baseball. I had an elderly neighbor, Mrs. Balsley, who had a beautiful, sprawling property overlooking the marshes, bay, and the Atlantic City skyline. Her house was the perfect location for our games. She was over 90, and only came out of the house for what seemed like every blue moon, but every single day my brother and I would knock on her back door and yell “Hey Mrs. Balsley, it’s Wes and Wyatt!” Without even coming to the door she would yell back from her chair in her living room, “Go ahead boys. Have fun!”
Ten years ago, after Mrs. Balsley passed away, developers bought her property and bulldozed the old home. They put up two beautiful homes on the sacred field I used to run the bases on. My friends and I were the last kids to ever sweat, bleed, fight, and win ball games on that sandlot. Thinking about it now I cannot help but smile. I am forever grateful for her generosity in letting us hang out on her property every day. I made a lifetime worth of memories in those summers with some of the best friends an eight-year-old boy could have ever asked for.
Growing up, I used to love listening to my dad and Uncle Bob tell stories about their sandlot glory days, my brother and I always trying to remember their friends’ names, who was the toughest, the fastest, and who hit the most home runs. Looking back, the tall tales and exaggerations got slightly bigger each time the stories were told, but one thing was constant – the look of nostalgia on their faces every time my brother and I happily sat and listened to those stories. The 1960s (when my dad and uncle grew up) was the hey-day for the sandlots, with families settling in new suburban locations. Some homes did not have televisions, cellphones were 30 years in the future, and the only way a kid could interact with his or her friends outside of school was if actual face-to-face hangouts took place. Bones were broken, knees were skinned, lessons were learned, and legends were made out on the grass and dirt fields. Come to think of it the film The Sandlot was actually set in 1962, perfectly detailing what I am talking about.
The reason that I bring up all these stories of my past are not to bore you with the specifics of my life, but to bring up what I firmly believe is a problem: Today’s youth rarely plays sandlot baseball anymore. I spent last summer living and working at home, and I did not see a single group of kids playing ball on our little league fields each time I walked down there that was not required to be there for a scheduled game or practice. Modern technology has changed our youth’s idea of fun, of play, and communication, to video games, Netflix, texting, and social media. The hours of hanging outside have been replaced by hours of children Snapchatting, Facebook messaging, and scrolling through their friends’ Instagram posts.
Sandlot baseball is on its last life. It is reserved for those who cannot afford the luxuries of having an XBOX One, an iPad, and an iPhone 6 to occupy their time. In another 10 years, 20 years since the passing of Mrs. Balsley, I wonder if kids will even know what the word “sandlot” actually is, or maybe was.
I learned the value of friendship, generosity, and hard work playing sandlot baseball, coming back day after day, trying to be the kid who was picked first on his team, and who my teammates could count on to knock them home. I built a closer relationship with my brother, my dad, and my uncle because of sandlot baseball, sharing similar childhood activities, and now, at 22, the same feelings of nostalgia when I think about that old field. Hopefully this summer I see a few kids down at the old ball fields; kids whose parents maybe have gotten sick of them not responding to their questions because of constant focus on a smartphone screen; kids whose parents might remember what it was like to slide into third base head first, ripping up their arms, with tan dirt getting stuck in their blood-crusted skin, but smiling at their buddies who they just knocked home; or maybe, just maybe, a group of kids who think playing ball is a hell of a lot more fun than reading about it in their Facebook news feeds. I still have a little bit of faith left.