If you’re Puerto Rican, Dominican, Cuban, Mexican, Nicaraguan, Panamanian, Colombian, Venezuelan, or just a red-blooded American, you’ve probably got a mild to severe case of World Series fever right now. It usually comes around the fall, and almost never severely affects fans of the Chicago Cubs or New York Mets, although it has been prone to unexpected mutations over the years. And now, as we hurdle toward an electrifying conclusion to the respective league championship series, typical symptoms of unexpected shrieking, body spasms, and tearful secretions are in full effect. So to help alleviate what ails you, we’ve decided to take a look back at a cherished monument to multicultural American childhood and the prepubescent Latino heartthrob who may or may not have inspired an entire generation of young girls to root for the Dodgers.
Yes, we’re talking about David Mickey Evan’s 1993 coming-of-age classic, The Sandlot, and it’s baseball crazed co-lead, Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez. Benny of course was the charismatic leader of a neighborhood gang of preteen peloteros who got their kicks whacking balls at a dusty abandoned lot next to the home of a grumpy old man played by James Earl Jones. When a nerdy new kid on the block makes timid overtures to the group, Benny takes him under his wing and teaches him that to play baseball, all you have to do is not think.
Whether or not the pros would agree with this sentiment, the important thing is that Benny was a brave, generous, and dedicated kid who risked his life to save an autographed Babe Ruth baseball from the jaws of an intimidating dog monster and went on to play professional baseball for the Dodgers, just as he had always dreamed. For a story set in the sixties and shot more than twenty years ago, it is a refreshingly non-stereotypical portrait of a young Latino.
In real life, Benny was played by Cuban-American child actor Mike Vitar, who apparently decided he could better serve his gaggle of teen girl devotees by becoming a hero firefighter with the LAFD. But before trading in his acting shoes (is that a thing?) for a hard hat and fireman’s axe, he tore up the ice as Luis Mendoza in D2: The Mighty Ducks and D3: The Mighty Ducks, along with a one-episode appearance on CBS’ long-running medical drama Chicago Hope.
Apparently public service runs in the Vitar family, because his older brother Pablo – who played the adult Dodger version of Benny in The Sandlot – went on to join the LAPD without dipping his toes back into acting. But while the brothers may have ultimately found better things to do with their time, their turn as baseball-crazy LA Latinos has become nothing short of iconic.
As for The Sandlot, critics were initially a bit lukewarm about this unapologetically nostalgic slice of Americana, while others hailed it as a childhood classic akin to a summer version of A Christmas Story. And while the film’s cult status may not quite match up to its holiday counterpart, at least the cast’s got a little more color to it, amirite?
Now if only Benny were actually a Dodger, just maybe they’d be on their way to the World Series right now.
Update 10/22/15 at 5:17 p.m.: An earlier version of this article stated that Mike Vitar appeared as Luis Mendoza in The Mighty Ducks and The Mighty Ducks II. Mike Vitar actually played Luis Mendoza in D2: The Mighty Ducks and D3: The Mighty Ducks.