By John Beifuss
For one day, at least, the Memphis Redbirds are asking you to root, root, root for a home team that includes such players as Ham, Squints, Benny the Jet and Scotty Smalls.
The day is Saturday. That's when AutoZone Park becomes the city's largest movie theater, as director David Mickey Evans hosts a special outdoor screening of his family-friendly cult favorite "The Sandlot," in recognition of the film's 20th anniversary.
"The film is infinitely more popular now than when it came out," said Evans, 50, calling from Greenville, S.C., in the midst of a movie tour of ballparks.
After "The Sandlot" finished its 1993 theatrical run, "It had the advantage of coming out right at the height of the VHS revolution," Evans said. "It became what they like to term an evergreen film. You're talking tens of millions of copies of this all over the world," embraced by kids and parents who could relate to "a simple story with identifiable characters. "
Evans said he has fielded many requests from fans through the years to show the movie in ballparks. That idea had a test run when Evans brought "The Sandlot" to AutoZone Park for an underpublicized screening on a cold and windy Oct. 19 that attracted about 500 fans, said Redbirds marketing manager Erin O'Donnell.
The park's capacity is about 15,000. Nevertheless, the event was deemed a success, considering the weather and mostly word-of-mouth (or word-of-Internet) publicity.
Now, Evans is touring mostly minor league ballparks. He not only introduces the movie but also meets and greets fans afterward, signing and selling "Sandlot" memorabilia.
"We have a 'Sandlot' lovefest," he said.
Said O'Donnell: "This is just another way for us to showcase the No. 1 ballpark in the minor leagues." (The July 2 Bob Dylan/Wilco concert is yet another, she said). She said fans can bring blankets if they want to sit on the field, for a closer view of the 3,600- square-foot Redbirds video scoreboard, which will display the movie instead of the usual game highlights, barbecue races and fan antics.
Written (with Robert Gunter) and directed by Evans, "The Sandlot" is a coming-of-age fable set in 1962, which Evans dubs "the last year of innocence."
The hero of the ensemble cast is a fifth-grade boy named Scotty Smalls (Tom Guiry) who experiences "the best summer of my life" after he moves to a new neighborhood in suburban California. At first, the somewhat-clumsy Scotty is disparaged as an "L7 weenie" by the colorfully nicknamed kids who play "an endless dream game" of eight-player baseball at the local sandlot. Eventually, however, he is embraced, completing the ragtag team as its ninth player.
The nostalgic movie's magical 101-minute summer is filled with highlights. These include first catch (of a fly ball); first kiss (with unsuspecting teen lifeguard Wendy Peppercorn); first taste of s'mores (in the kids' treehouse); a taste of danger (a dog known as "The Beast" lurks behind the outfield fence); and even a taste of Memphis instrumental soul, thanks to the presence on the soundtrack of "Green Onions" by Booker T. & the MG's and "Smokie Pt. 2" by the Bill Black Combo.
Evans knows Memphis. He was to be the director of "Master's Tree," a Christmas film inspired by the true story of Mississippi's Palmer Home for Children. The producer who set up the project, unfortunately, was Bret Saxon of Los Angeles, later hit with numerous lawsuits accusing him of bilking investors across the country in connection with various movie projects, including "A Fine Step," a horse movie shot in Memphis in 2010. Evans said he still hopes to make the Palmer House movie with different financing because he admires the script and the work of the charity orphanage.
Whether that movie ever materializes, the type of neighborhood fun exemplified by "The Sandlot" may be gone forever, Evans said.
"When I was a kid, on summer days we'd leave the house when the sun came up and literally not come back home until the sun went down," he said. "That doesn't happen any more. You do that now, the Amber Alert goes out."
'The Sandlot' at AutoZone Park
20th anniversary movie screening with director David Mickey Evans
Saturday. Gates open at 6 p.m. Program starts at 7 p.m. Screening at 7:30.
$7 in advance, $10 at gate. $20 for a "Family Four" pack. Children 2 and under free.
Those who want to sit on the field may bring blankets; no chairs, please. Call (901) 721-6000, or visit memphisredbirds.com.
Originally published by John Beifuss firstname.lastname@example.org 901-529-2394 .
(c) 2013 Commercial Appeal, The. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.
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