SUBJECTS — Sports/Baseball; ELA Discussion and Writing Exercises;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Friendship; Leadership;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Caring.
AGE: 10 – 14; MPAA Rating, PG;
Comedy, Drama; 1993; 101 Minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com.
Note to teachers:
This Learning Guide is designed to provide ELA discussion questions and assignments for middle school and junior high. The Sandlot appears to be a lightweight comedy, but the film provokes an empathic reaction in virtually all viewers. It can be of use in addressing the values and feelings young people experience during times of change in their lives. In addition, it will lead students to do their best in response to assignments requiring the exercise of skills described in The Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts for Writing and for Speaking and Listening.
A not very athletic boy nicknamed “Smalls” moves into a new neighborhood and seeks to find friends. The Sandlot describes a summer of baseball, friendship, and growing up as Benny, the best player on the local team, takes Smalls into his circle. The team shares adventures dealing with a ferocious ball-eating dog behind the homerun fence. The story shows how relationships develop, including the relationship between Smalls and his stepfather.
George Herman Ruth, known universally as Babe Ruth, remains an iconic sports figure more than 75 years after he retired from the New York Yankees. Ruth was a major factor in popularizing Major League Baseball. His charismatic personality, coupled with his ability to hit home runs, changed baseball forever. In 1927 he hit 60 home runs, a record that remained unbroken until 1961. Ruth was also called “the Bambino” and the nickname Babe stayed with him long after he retired. Babe Ruth died of cancer in 1948. In the minds of sports fans, not just fans of baseball, Ruth ranks with Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordon as all-time greats in their games.
In Greek and Roman mythology, Hercules (Herakles in the Greek) was the son of the most beautiful and accomplished of all mortal women and Zeus, the King of the gods and ruler of Olympus. Hercules was a great warrior, possessing superior strength and skill. His enemy was Hera, the wife of Zeus, who was angry at Zeus for his infidelity. Hera sent Hercules into a blind frenzy in which he killed his wife and his children. Upon regaining his sanity, Hercules went to the oracle at Delphi for advice. He was told that to atone for his sins, he had to serve the king of Mycenae and perform twelve tasks, known as the twelve Labors of Hercules. The twelve tasks were very difficult and seemed impossible, giving rise to expression “a Herculean task.”
Suggestions for Teachers:
Introduce the figure of Babe Ruth by having students who know about him describe his career for the class. Make sure that the information in the Helpful Background section is included in the discussion. Also, introduce the mythological character of Hercules.
QUICK DISCUSSION QUESTION:
What did you learn from this movie that you can use in your own life?
There are several lessons from this film. Describing any one of them is a good response. There are probably more that are not mentioned here. One is that it is worth risking embarrassment and rejection to find friends. Think of how much Smalls would have missed if he had stayed in his room that summer. Another lesson is that you should first assume that people will be helpful and considerate. Had the boys just asked for the ball, the old man would have given it to them. Another lesson is that if you have an important goal, don’t give up. The team never abandoned its efforts to get the ball. Another lesson is that practicing a lot will make you a winner. That’s how the team beat the rich kids who had uniforms and a real baseball diamond to play on.
2. Smalls’ mother pushes him to find friends out of doors, even though he is not especially interested in sports. What kind of pressure does this put on Smalls and what is revealed in his character by his efforts to meet new friends on the baseball field?
Smalls does not want to disappoint his mother and even though he knows he will be embarrassed on the baseball diamond, he pushes himself forward. This shows respect for his mother, resilience, and the ability to take risks.
3. How is baseball tied into Smalls’ efforts to establish a relationship with his stepfather?
Smalls’ mother encouraged her son and his new father to practice throwing and catching together, but there was clearly no enthusiasm in this relationship. Smalls’ stepfather owned a prized baseball that had been signed by Babe Ruth and everything grew complicated when Smalls used the prized baseball during a game.
4. What seems to motivate Benny in his efforts to include Smalls’ in the games?
Benny simply likes Smalls — and he can always use an outfielder for ball games which are a vehicle for Benny to practice his skills. With Smalls, the team will have nine players. Benny behaves with respect and fairness toward every boy on the team. He shows patience and generosity. Benny is one of those rare persons whose maturity easily translates into leadership.
5. The imaginative and creative side of young boys can be seen in the way they behave in two episodes in the film. What is imaginative and creative in the scene involving the sleepover and the efforts to get the ball from the dog known as “the Beast”?
At the sleepover, the tall tale of the Beast is recited and the story serves to hold the boys together. There are several attempts to retrieve the baseball involving contraptions made from scraps of tin, vacuum cleaners, and devices using ropes to lower one of the boys into the yard.
6. What ironies can be found in the way the film ends?
The boys learn that the Beast is not a mean dog after all and that his owner, Mr. Mertle, used to play baseball in the Negro Leagues and had been a friend of Babe Ruth. Although Mr. Mertle was blinded by a stray pitch back when he played, he is able to see into the problems Smalls faces with his stepfather. He offers the solution to the problem by giving Smalls his “Murderer’s Row” ball, signed by the best Yankee players in the team’s prime. In exchange, the boys will visit with the old man and talk baseball. At the end of the film, Benny is a star baseball player and although Smalls never became a good player, he learned enough in his days in the sandlot to establish a fine career as a sports broadcaster.
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS (CHARACTER COUNTS)
Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.
(Be kind; Be compassionate and show you care; Express gratitude; Forgive others; Help people in need)
See Discussion Questions #4 and #6.
ASSIGNMENTS, PROJECTS & ACTIVITIES
2. Look up information about Babe Ruth and make a presentation to the class that includes some of the changes in baseball statistics and teams since the days when The Bambino charmed the public with his ability to hit home runs.
The following prompts can lead students to write a narrative of their own experiences. Before giving these assignments, consider having the class perform some of the exercises from TWM’s Narrative Writing Lesson Plan.
3. Write about a time when you pushed yourself to try something new, as did Smalls when he went to the sandlot. Be sure to include what you learned from the experience.
4. Write about a friend you have known that behaved toward you as Benny behaved toward Smalls or about an experience when you played the role of Benny to someone else’s Smalls. How did this friend help you adjust to something new? What kinds of fun activities did you enjoy together? What has happened to your friendship over time?
5. Write about which sport or physical activity such as football, basketball, baseball, or dance brings out the best in you. Describe your role in the sport.
6. Try to remember a time when you and friends or siblings got creative and made up stories or games or built something special. Be sure to use details so that your reader will be able to see and feel what is going on in your story.
“in a pickle,” omen, “John Hancock,” “rubber legs,” legend, “rub salt in a wound,” “Murderer’s Row.”