Something was different that summer day in 1992 when 12-year-old Ryan Zumwalt rode his bike to the playground at Nibley Park Elementary in Sugarhouse. He found adults at the baseball diamond instead of his friends.
“I started asking the question, ‘What’s going on?’ and they said they were casting for a movie,” said Zumwalt, who now lives in Lake Point. “So I’m like, ‘I’m going to figure out what to do in order to get in this.’”
The Sandlot casting staff told him he could be an extra in a baseball movie, but he had to have a headshot.
Zumwalt’s parents were at work, so he knew it was up to him to find the picture. He couldn’t locate a headshot in his house, but returned to the playground with a different solution.
He wobbled as he pedaled a 2-by-3-foot framed poster of himself, which showed he could play Little League baseball.
“I brought that large picture back, so I think they said, ‘This kid’s excited, let’s give him the opportunity,’” Zumwalt said.
His parents came to the playground after work and filled out the paperwork. It turned them into chauffeurs for the summer, dropping Zumwalt off at various locations along the Wasatch Front.
The film crew kept “the chauffeurs” on track.
“The day before they’d say, ‘OK, we want you back here tomorrow at this time,’” Zumwalt said.
“The Sandlot” crew shot the majority of the scenes at an existing field in the Glendale neighborhood of Salt Lake City. The baseball diamond was remodeled to match the period of the film, set in 1962.
“It was the funnest summer of being a child,” Zumwalt said, “It took 42 days. I ended up making a lot of money.”
The swimming pool scenes from “The Sandlot” were filmed at the Lorin Farr Pool in Ogden. Zumwalt said he turned into a prune, as they started filming at 8 a.m. and didn’t leave until dark while the crew filmed four scenes.
“It was freezing, and we were waterlogged,” Zumwalt said. “We got a lunch break and we tried to push that as long as we could. You know you can only swim so much.”
Despite the long day, Zumwalt said the food on location was excellent. He also said his good attitude during filming stood out.
“I’d be where they told me to be early,” he said. “I’d always be ready.”
Zumwalt said his attitude was part of the reason the assistant casting director cast him to the Little League team, which plays the Sandlot team.
“I was what they call bully kids, or the uniform kids,” Zumwalt said. “Everyone refers to them different ways. The rich kids, mostly.”
In his scenes with the Little League team, wardrobe provided Zumwalt with a uniform with the number 2.
“I want to try and track mine down someday, and see if I can purchase it from the studio because it was so neat to wear that all summer,” he said.
There are three close-up shots of Zumwalt in the movie during the baseball game. In one, his hat flies off, in another he chases a baseball, and in the third, Patrick Renna, who plays Ham Porter, said, “If my dog was as ugly as you, I’d shave his butt and tell him to walk backwards.”
“I’m the one he’s calling ugly,” Zumwalt said.
In that scene, the director told the Sandlot team to distract the “rich kids.”
“A lot of the lines weren’t in the script, but the director kept a lot of the commentary in there that was ad-lib,” Zumwalt said.
The scene that was the most fun to film was when the “rich kids” stop their bikes simultaneously on an “x,” according to Zumwalt. A camera was placed at tire height to capture the shot.
“We must have had to ride our bikes in 20-plus times,” he said. “That was one of the hardest scenes, to stop on that “x” over and over again. There was someone off to the side saying, ‘Slow down, slow down.’”
In the scene, Zumwalt wore the vintage uniform, and the extras were told to put their hats in their pocket while riding the classic bikes.
“You felt like you were on a baseball team, but also acting,” he said. “Even though they’re filming us, it felt like I just had to be myself because I love this.”
During filming, the extras had opportunities to interact with the Sandlot team actors. They played catch together whenever the film crew was interrupted by a different priority.
“We played on the sandlot and had fun together,” Zumwalt said.
The extras had better baseball skills than the Sandlot team actors, according to Zumwalt. One time the “rich kid” extras were playing so much better than the sandlot actors, the director had to throw the ball past the extras to film it.
Zumwalt said The Sandlot actors had to go to baseball practice in between filming scenes to improve their skills..
Only a small group of extras, including Zumwalt, who started at the Nibley Park playground, continued on through the entire film. They had fun and developed a strong relationship.
“They wanted us to gel together, so when they’re filming we’re all personable instead of stiff,” Zumwalt said.
While Zumwalt got along well with most of the extras on the set of “The Sandlot,” there was one notable exception. One extra had an agent and told the others they didn’t belong because they weren’t actors.
“He was not nice to anyone,” Zumwalt said. “He literally felt he was better than all of us. But I’m thick skinned and I’m like, ‘Hey, I’m here because I’m supposed to be.’”
That extra did not last on the set. The assistant casting director, whom Zumwalt called their “wrangler,” decided whether an extra came back or not.
Another obstacle Zumwalt faced came when wardrobe lined up the cast for either a period trim or buzz cut.
“Every third person was getting a buzz cut,” he said. “I don’t like to buzz my hair at all, so I changed positions so I could keep my haircut.”
The movie premiered the following year, when Zumalt was in seventh grade. He received premier tickets, some memorabilia, a sandlot hat, and a group interview with the Deseret News.
At school, Zumwalt heard comments made in fun.
“‘There goes the movie star,’” he said. “But the biggest one is a friend said, ‘You must be really ugly for them to put you in the movie.’ I would make fun of some of the lines, too.”
After the movie, Zumwalt took some modeling and acting classes, but playing three sports took over his life.
“I love the actual playing sports and all that,” Zumwalt said. “I think acting got put to the wayside.”
Zumwalt, now 38, works for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Welfare Services after spending 18 years in public service.
Nowadays, Zumwalt said players on the Little League team he coaches and his children’s friends go back and watch the movie, pausing his scenes once they find out he’s in it.
“That’s fun to know that people still do that,” he said.
Zumwalt said he learned lessons from the movie.
“The movie gave me more confidence,” Zumwalt said. “It taught me to be very thankful for opportunities that come out of nowhere.”