Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez; Sandlot Hero and Leadership Legend

So I’m sitting here in the Training and Leadership office thinking about what I want to write this blog post about. I know it has to be about leadership, but what aspect do I want to write about? Looking around I see a book shelf full of leadership books that could jumpstart my creativity. I know my boss is right down the hallway that I could just talk to for inspiration. Having just been a RUSLPride peer mentor a few days ago I could talk about that experience. But I’m not really feeling any of these options. What I cannot stop thinking about is a movie that I watched a few weeks ago that I’m sure you’re familiar with, The Sandlot.

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For those that haven’t seen the movie it tells the tale of a group of kids basically playing baseball all summer and getting into shenanigans. The group is made up of nine kids but the main two are Smalls and Benny. ImageSmalls is the new kid in town that is relatively geeky and hesitant to go out and meet new friends. Benny, on the other hand, is the best baseball player in town that is the leader of the ragtag group of kids which play in the sandlot. 

ImageI’ve often said to my friends that if Benny was a video game character, he would have the slight chance of being as good as Pablo Sanchez of Backyard Sports fame. Getting back to the point, Benny is the person that I thought about as a leader. Throughout the movie Benny proves again and again why everyone looks up to him as the leader and in this post I will look at the different aspects of his leadership.

When Smalls moves to town, he is encouraged by his mother to get out of his room and even to get in some trouble (I wish my mom had given me a license to be bad). So following the group of kids to the sandlot, he watches in wonder as they practice. With no prior baseball skill, Smalls is put in the unfortunate position of having to throw a ball back to the pitcher from the outfield and not surprisingly fails miserably. As the other kids begin to laugh at him, Benny is the only one that notices him running away in humiliation. ImageA few days later, Benny approaches Smalls and encourages him to come to the sandlot with him, only this time, Benny fixes the outcome as he sets up success for Smalls with a perfectly hit fly spit ball and a well positioned glove.  Smalls is able to “prove” that he indeed knows how to catch and throw and gains the approval of the group. What Benny saw in Smalls was simply a desire to be a part of the group. Becoming part of a new group is difficult, especially when you don’t know the skill set associated with that group. When the kids saw Smalls try and fail at playing baseball, they automatically made fun of him and thought themselves better than him. Benny, though, saw someone that just wanted to fit in and saw his lack of baseball skill as no reason why he should not be included in their group. When the kids argue with Benny as to why he’s letting this “L-7 weenie” (Squints) play with them, he points out that while everyone has their flaws, Yeah-Yeah runs like a duck for example, that in now way discredits them being “part of the game” (Benny). Benny realizes that skill should not always be the necessary component to whether someone fits into a group. While in the real world skill does matter, you would never hire a undergraduate bio student as a doctor, in this situation the stakes were much lower, the skill was learnable, and what was more important was the enthusiasm. Everyone on that field wanted to play baseball and to Benny, there was no reason why everyone shouldn’t be able to. 

In another part of the movie, an extremely hot day hits the sandlot. Benny, the lover of baseball that he is, is adamant that the group still go out and play a game. Everyone else, however, is content to just stay in the shade drinking pop. A vote is proposed by Benny that anyone that wants to be a “can’t hack it pantywaist who wears their mother’s bra” raise their hand and choose not to play baseball. Maybe somewhat surprisingly the entire group agrees to assume this expertly used insult. ImageWhile this use of intimidation is not a great example of Benny’s leadership, he nonetheless succumbs to the desire of the group and they, instead of playing ball, go “scam pool honeys,” aka go to the pool. In this instance, aside from the aforementioned insult, Benny displays a flexibility that some in leadership positions fail to show. Rather than imposing his will onto the group, he goes along with their wishes even though they are contrary to his own. He recognizes that the group doesn’t always have to do what he wants to do in order to be successful. Often times a compromise is needed between the leader and those that they lead in order to accomplish anything. A leader is normally never 100% correct about everything and it takes strength as a leader to realize this. Even though he is placed by the group above him, Benny and good leaders know that the group is right sometimes and an open mind should always be kept so these instances are not missed. Plus, listening to the group turned out in the favor of Benny as he got to witness Squints kiss Wendy Peffercorn that day. Image

Perhaps Benny’s greatest show of leadership comes at the end of the movie when he pickles the Beast. When Smalls hits his step-father’s Babe Ruth signed baseball into the yard of the Beast, the group tries many ways of retrieving the ball that all turn out unsuccessfully.Image When everyone has given up hope, Babe Ruth himself appears to Benny and challenges him to confront his fears to become a legend that “never dies.” Benny is obviously hesitant to hop over the fence because of the past rumors about the Beast, chief among them being that the last kid that hopped the fence was eaten. The following day Benny does in fact hop the fence and in true Hollywood fashion is chased by the Beast all the way around town. Without recapping everything, Benny is able to successfully pickle the Beast and becomes a legend in the town. What many people see as Benny’s motivation is just one kid’s attempt at being enshrined as a legend. What I see, however, is the work of a true leader. Benny pickled the Beast not because he wanted to become a legend, but because he knew that he was the only one that had the skills required to accomplish the task. The group had expended all of their other resources and had given up. Benny saw one more option on the table and that was him. He alone had the resources (his quickness) required to accomplish this task and so took it upon himself to do so. The quote that most people remember from this movie is the classic, “heroes are remembered, but legends never die.” What many people don’t remember is the quote the disembodied Ruth says right before Benny jumps over the fence; “follow your heart kid, and you’ll never go wrong.” I like this quote much more as it gives meaning to what he is doing. Benny feels a need to get the ball back not to become a legend, but to help out Smalls, a sign of a great leader.

The conventional wisdom says that a leader is the person that everyone sees standing in professional clothes in front of a large crowd, spurring them onward in whatever mission they are doing. What I am seeing more and more is that this belief is stupid. Sure a business man in a suit can be a leader, but every joe-schmo dressed nicely doesn’t automatically qualify as a leader. It takes a certain set of skills, ones that Benny displays, in order to effectively lead another group of people and this can be done in a pair of jeans and PF Flyers.

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-Luke Modzier 

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