This last weekend at L.A. Comic Con, I had the privilege of sitting down with the cast members of the 1993 cult classic The Sandlot. They recently got together to begin a non-profit called Play Forever. Founded last year by Grant Gelt (“Bertram Grover Weeks”) and Victor DiMattia (“Timmy Timmons”), Play Forever seeks to eliminate barriers that prevent young children from being involved in team sports.
The slogan from their website reads, “We work to remove obstacles and equip young athletes with the support they need to Play Forever.” They’ve built up quite a substantial board of directors so far, which includes fellow The Sandlot cast member Shane Obedzinski (“Tommy ‘Repeat’ Timmons”).
The cast that was visiting the convention spent the day in their booth in the main hall, signing autographs, and promoting their new foundation. And on Sunday they took to the main stage for a panel. Grant and Shane were gracious enough to let me sit in their booth with them for a while to discuss this amazing new initiative.
I was reading a little bit about Play Forever. And I was wondering, in your own words, what does it mean to you?
Grant: Play Forever really means everything at this point. We started this with a mission to make an impact wherever we can, in any way that we can. We’ve been so fortunate to have been given this opportunity to be in [The Sandlot] and to have the film become what it became. So to not have the opportunity to give back and to use the platform that we do have for as long as we have it to start making some changes and impact. So I think about it all day long. To be able to be here, to be able to start to talk about it means everything.
Shane: The movie’s been so good to us for 30 years that if we didn’t give back it would have been horrible. We wanted to be as good and gracious to the community of people who need us as they’ve been to us. So it’s been incredibly gratifying.
Grant: For the last 30 years, we’ve been talking about the movie. What it meant to be in it, all that, and we love those stories. It’s really exciting now to be able to spend the next 30 years talking about what we’ve done. And what we’re planning on doing. And to put systems in place to keep running, long after we’re not able to go around and start talking about it.
Shane: To really help the community that has been so good to us.
That’s really an amazing answer. So, how did your experiences with The Sandlot help you realize how important it is for children to be involved in sports?
Shane: We spend a lot of time meeting our fans and going out to places and learning about the people who have been good to us, and it’s really encouraged us to want to give back even more so than ever. When you’re out there meeting the people who grew up with you, for me, that’s a big part of it.
Grant: There are so many important life lessons that you learn from sports. Whether you’re a player or you’re part of the organization – one way or the other. Regardless of the sport you do. So, being involved in sports at a really early age teaches you about teamwork. What it’s like to win, what it’s like to lose. It’s important to learn how to win, it’s important to learn how to lose. So for kids to not have those types of opportunities to be in safe or healthy, organized environments to learn that, there are a lot of life lessons that are lost. And there’s a lot of data that shows that for you to have participated in sports, whether it’s on the field or part of the organization, you go on to do better. I forget the exact number, so I hate quoting it, but a large portion of female CEOs played sports. They don’t say that about male CEOs. And there’s so much inequality even when it comes to just scholarships for women athletes or athletes that identify as women. There’s so much work that needs to be done. We want to be able to make a micro-impact. Being able to work with organizations that already exist in other areas that we can bring more attention and awareness to, like we did in Minneapolis. Coming in and raising funds like we did in Houston. Being able to address things on a very localized level while we put together plans and our framework for bigger programs in the coming years. Like scholarships, educational programs, field restorations, development, all those types of things.
That was actually going to be my next question. Is that the plan for Play Forever? You want to do scholarships and things like that?
Grant: We have a wish list of things a mile long. As a non-profit, the work is about putting the money together to have an impact. Those are our goals, but we’re not going to let the big goals get in the way. Every opportunity where we get together, and it happens a dozen times a year, we’re going to be able to put together a fundraiser because we’re all going to be in that area. Small impact. Being able to do events like this [L.A. Comic Con] hopefully will give us a little bit of an operating budget so we can start doing monthly micro-grants to local organizations. Something like sending 50 basketballs to a Boys and Girls Club in an area that doesn’t get any support. We’re going to start by doing things all the time while we put together these bigger initiatives. Big goals.
I like the idea of starting small and building up.
Shane: Plant all the seeds everywhere across America and work together to get it out.
Grant: Yeah. If we were to only focus on the things that are going to take 5 years to do, that’s 5 years where we’re not making any impact. We want to make an impact in 5 minutes. We have to be able to do the work. And the more work that we do, the more people will be able to see it and want to get behind it. We’ve had some pretty amazing initial reactions from across the sports and entertainment industry. And I feel like we’re only just scratching the surface.
So this is still relatively new? You’re just getting into this?
Grant: We’ve spent the last year putting this together.
Shane: This will be our third or fourth activation. We did Minnesota and Atlantic City, and [Los Angeles]. We’re new, but we’re already far into it.
Grant: Doing the paperwork and getting the business set up. Everything that we’re doing, we are doing right and above board. Legitimate 501(c)3 registered. All the paperwork is in place. We put together a really needed board. We’re still adding people to the board. Infrastructure is the most important for building a team. Can’t win a World Series without building a team first. So, it’s the same thing. Victor [DiMattia] and I started talking about it this time last year. This is what we’ve been able to do in a year, and now that we’re all able to be together, we’ll be able to do a lot more.
I have one more question. If there is one thing that you think is the most important thing for people to know about Play Forever, what would that be?
Shane: That’s a great question. What do we want everyone to know?
Grant: I’ve got an answer for that. We’re gonna do the work. We’re gonna work hard. We’re gonna work really hard. And we’re gonna practice what we preach. This isn’t something that we’re gonna do just for the feel-goods. We want Play Forever to be here 50 years from now. Making an impact still. So we’re here to work.
Shane: We’re not going anywhere. We’re going to be there for the people as they were there for us, forever.
I really love that answer. That was a good answer. Thank you guys for your time.
Stills from "The Sandlot" are property of 20th Century Films.