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Mike Vitar, the heartthrob teen actor who played the Jet, can relate. No, Vitar never signed a professional contract—he didn't even play college ball—and he's never swiped home. But the 14-year veteran of the Los Angeles City Fire Department serves as the catcher and occasional infielder for the squad's baseball and softball teams. He gave up acting after meeting a fireman at his high school's career day, and he has made a life responding to 911 calls and playing recreational ball throughout Southern California.
"I'm just an average guy with a family," says Vitar, who played in as many as three overlapping baseball leagues before he and his wife, Kym, had three kids. The boys, Elias and Wesley, are six and four, respectively, and already are being coached by Dad in T-ball; their sister, Norah, is five months old.
For Vitar, all those years of crouching behind the plate led to knee-replacement surgery on each leg. But the grind was worth it. The 34-year-old driver of a ladder truck gets chills thinking about the first time he played a game at Dodger Stadium, for a men's league's championship in 2004.
When the older Benny stole home in the movie, the character was played by Mike's brother, Pablo, an L.A. police officer who died of colon cancer at age 41 in 2008. Mike had been spotted by a casting agent while waiting in line to ride the bumper cars at a carnival, but he told the man he wasn't interested in auditioning. When Pablo found out, he persuaded Mike to do it, saying, "Hey, dummy, you can play baseball all summer long if you do this."
Benny the Jet has been rounding the bases ever since.
TOM GUIRY — SCOTTY SMALLS
The biggest whiff in baseball this season occurred at a Double A game in New Jersey between the Trenton Thunder and the Richmond Flying Squirrels. In a walkway behind the home plate grandstands, Tom Guiry spent roughly six hours signing autographs for fans—married couples pushing 40 who'd seen The Sandlot on their first date; women in their early 30s who blushed while having pictures taken with their childhood crush; kids barely taller than a Louisville Slugger who wanted to know if it hurt getting hit in the face while playing catch. ("No," Guiry said. "It was movie magic.")
At one point Guiry, a patient transporter at the Robert Wood Johnson Hospital in nearby Hamilton, looked up from his table and knew instantly that he'd been caught in a white lie. He'd called in sick to join Evans at the ballpark, but staring back at Guiry was an emergency room doctor from RWJ. Unfortunately, the doctor swung and missed when he failed to proclaim, "You're killing me, Smalls!"
The Sandlot's money quote was delivered when Guiry, playing the role of Scotty Smalls, the new kid in the neighborhood and a self-described egghead, gets offered a s'more by Ham in the tree house. "I haven't had anything yet," Smalls deadpans, "so how can I have some more of nothing?"
On a near daily basis, Guiry still hears Ham's retort from friends and even strangers who recognize his boyish face. But only once, he says, was it delivered with impeccable timing. About four years ago Guiry was driving on an I-95 exit ramp in New Jersey and fiddling with the radio when he plowed into the back of a stopped car. The other driver got out, recognized Guiry and shouted, "Aaaahhh! You're killing me, Smalls!"