'The Sandlot' cast talks reuniting after 20 years, James Earl Jones and more

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It's hard to believe that "The Sandlot" is 20 years old. It seems like just yesterday that the world got to follow along with the adventures of Smalls, Squints, Benny the Jet and the rest of the boys. That may be because the timeless movie still feels as relevant as it ever does, and with good reason.

Zap2it sat down to talk to the cast, as well as writer/director David M. Evans about the staying power of the movie, special memories from back then and showing it in ballparks 20 years later.

"I don't think any of us saw any of this coming. I don't think there's a way to predict something like this happening," Marty York (Yeah-Yeah) says. "It's like catching lightning in a bottle." Some of the cast still gets recognized from the movie, Art LaFleur perhaps more than any other.

Though he had just one scene, in which he appeared in a dream as baseball legend Babe Ruth, LaFleur says the role follows him to this day. "There's a whole new generation of kids who come up and ask me 'Are you The Babe?'" he says, and it's something he doesn't take for granted, adding, "Every time someone recognizes me as Babe Ruth, I am surprised in a way and I am very grateful ... No matter when it is, no matter how inconvenient it might be for me, it's always so nice to hear and it's because of this movie."

There's been a lot of that during the 2013 baseball season as Evans and select cast members have been traveling across the United States, stopping to show the movie at various ballparks and meeting with fans. Evans says the reaction the movie has gotten is "off the charts," and has also taught him something.

"The thing that I've learned ... It's not just that they like the movie or that it's their favorite movie, but that it has great meaning, specifically in a familial way," he explains. "It means something very important to people's families." Evans says the movie has become something parents pass down to their children, who cherish it like they did in their younger years.

York has a theory about why people still hold the movie so close, as he says, "I think each character in the film really represents a kid out there, somewhere in the world, because we're all one of those kids. There's a Yeah-Yeah, there's a Ham, there's a Squints, there's a Bertram. Every kid can relate to it."

As for what made it special for them as young actors, there is one moment everyone in the cast remembers as being special, working with James Earl Jones, who portrayed Mr. Mertle. Grant Gelt (Bertram) recalls his first memory of Jones, saying, My mom took me to meet him and I heard a booming voice from the other room and I'm like, 'Mom, that's Darth Vader.'"

According to Evans, once Jones signed on to play Mr. Mertle, a very important change needed to be made to the script. "That role was not ethnically specific, it was just Mr. Mertle," Evans remembers, "James says 'I love it and I want to do it, but if I'm Mr. Mertle, I could never have played baseball with Babe Ruth,' because of the Negro leagues." 

That meant the dialogue at the of the movie needed to be altered, which led to the memorable exchange when Smalls asks, "You knew Babe Ruth?" "George? I sure did," Mertle replies, "and he knew me. He was almost as great a hitter as I was."

Now, 20 years later, much of the cast is seeing each other for the first time since the movie. "The reuniting process has been surreal almost ... It was unbelievable to see how much we've changed but oddly still look the same," Shane Obedzinski (Repeat) says. "We all have that common bond that we share forever."

To Evans, "The Sandlot" means they will all live forever. "The movie was designed to evoke a memory and that's all we are when we leave terra firma," he says. "And take this the right way, but we're all kind of immortal because of that film."

So, what happens now? Evans and the cast are headed to the last stop on the tour, in Lawrenceville, Geo. They'll be appearing at Coolray Field on September 21, showing the movie after the night's baseball game. After that, it's time to get cracking on the next outing. "I think we go for Cooperstown for the 25th anniversary," Gelt jokes. Sounds like the best possible plan.

To celebrate the 20th Anniversary, a special limited edition Blu-ray of "The Sandlot" has also been released, which comes with a few special features and a set of baseball cards immortalizing the young stars of the movie.
Photo/Video credit: 20th Century Fox