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Q&A: Patrick Renna (aka Ham) on ‘Sandlot’ reunions, fan conventions and Pauly Shore memories

The ‘Sandlot’ star returns to Utah Sept. 5-7 for the FanX Salt Lake Comic Convention — and he’s got some stories to tell.

Patrick Renna, who played Ham in the movie “Sandlot,” jokes around with Bees players at Spring Mobile Ballpark in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 19, 2013.
Patrick Renna, who played Ham in the movie “Sandlot,” jokes around with Bees players at Spring Mobile Ballpark in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 19, 2013.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — One way or another, Patrick Renna always finds himself back in Utah.

As a 13-year-old in the summer of 1992, Renna and eight other young actors spent the summer in and around Salt Lake City filming “The Sandlot.” Despite a modest box office turnout — the film made about $34 million in theaters — “The Sandlot” gradually became one of its generation’s defining coming-of-age films. In recent years, Renna and his “Sandlot” cast mates have regularly returned to Utah for various “Sandlot” anniversary gigs. And he’ll be back for the FanX Salt Lake Comic Convention, happening Sept. 5-7.

In a recent phone interview, Renna told the Deseret News about his early “Sandlot” memories and being taken under Pauly Shore’s wing, and he cleared the air about an infamous “Sandlot”/“Basic Instinct” story.

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Patrick Renna in “The Sandlot.”
Patrick Renna in “The Sandlot.”
Deseret News Archives

Deseret News: I’m curious, do you have much experience with fan conventions?

Patrick Renna: It’s not something I’ve done a ton of, but I’ve done a few now since the 25th anniversary (of “The Sandlot”). And so far, I’ve loved them. This will be my third. The thing I love about them is that it’s what everyone is there for. It’s an opportunity to chat with fans and say hi, and it’s in an environment where everything is really set up. And this way, I don’t have a giant bite of pasta in my mouth while I’m meeting someone.

DN: People obviously point to your role in “The Sandlot,” but you’ve been in a number of things that have stuck with people — “The Big Green,” your appearance on “The X-Files” and so forth. Do people ever surprise you with stuff they remember you from?

PR: “The Sandlot,” “Son in Law,” “The Big Green,” “The X-Files,” “GLOW” — those type of things obviously aren’t a surprise because they’re just very popular. But sure, there are some obscure ones that I’ve done, some more independent films. And when someone has seen that, it’s always a treat.

DN: I totally forgot you were in “Son in Law.”

PR: I like to think of it as Pauly Shore’s best one. There are some other really good ones, though. “Encino Man” was my favorite.

DN: What’s Pauly Shore like?

PR: He’s amazing. When we filmed “Son in Law,” he was the big brother I always wanted — that my parents probably didn’t want me to have. He taught me all the things that a young man needs to know. But he actually was quite a sweet man. He’s a very kind person. He’s caring. And that was a part of him I didn’t know until I worked with him. He welcomed me and did take care of me. I was 14, and everyone else was either 18 to 20 or even older. You know, Tiffani-Amber Thiessen was in that movie, and Carla Gugino. These were very beautiful 20-, 22-year-old women, so it was intimidating for a 14-year-old boy. I was a huge “Saved by the Bell” fan, so I was starstruck the whole movie.

DN: It’s a good thing you had Pauly Shore there.

PR: Yeah, to take me under his wing.

DN: I wanted to ask you about a recent tweet of yours, where you took your son to visit the actual sandlot here in Salt Lake where they filmed parts of “The Sandlot.” What was it like to bring your son there?

PR: I was actually in Park City for the weekend filming something, and I brought my whole family. My mother and mother-in-law wanted to go to Salt Lake for the day. So we went in to Salt Lake and had lunch. I Googled where the actual location of the sandlot was, and it was 10 minutes from where we were eating lunch. I had been back there twice, because I did some stuff with the Utah Film Commission, but I didn’t realize how close to the city it was — because when we filmed the movie, we didn’t actually stay in Salt Lake. We were 20, 30 minutes away. We filmed the pool scene somewhere else. I didn’t realize that the actual sandlot was in the city of Salt Lake. The sandlot location is overgrown, and it’s actually the backyards of about 10 different homes, and they kind of all share it and leave it there. It’s not that hard to recreate a sandlot because that’s the whole point of a sandlot is that it doesn’t look like much.

DN: Last year, for the film’s 25th anniversary, we interviewed a bunch of local people who were extras — one of the “pool honeys,” the “Mommy mommy, look, a doggie” kid, etc. — and they all said the meaning of “The Sandlot” has changed for them as they’ve gotten older. Has that been the case for you?

PR: It’s important to remember that for me, “The Sandlot” isn’t “The Sandlot.” My “Sandlot” was “The Goonies.” I have that very similar experience. I’ve seen “The Goonies” a hundred times, and it meant so much to me as a younger guy, and now watching it again, it still holds up. One thing I’ve learned is that “The Sandlot” still holds up. And there are a lot of movies that don’t hold up. I’ve seen a few lately and gone, “Oof, that is not the same movie I saw 20 years ago.” But for me, the thing about “The Sandlot” are my memories filming it. To me, what’s really changed or heightened it is that it’s continued in this new generation, and the love for it has even increased in the last few years. Since about the 20th anniversary, I’ve seen a new level of appreciation for this movie.

DN: I read about you reconnecting with your old “Sandlot” cast mates in recent years. What has that been like for you?

PR: Well, I hadn’t seen a lot of them in 25 years. And we share something together. Even though we were only together for six months, there is a brotherhood there. I hadn’t seen Tom Guiry, who played Smalls, in 25 years. Last year we were doing a segment for one of these morning shows, and they had us on a baseball field. It was a cloudy, overcast day, it was misty, and I was the first one there. And the second one there starts emerging — it was like “Field of Dreams,” starting to emerge from the corn stalks — and there he was, Tom Guiry, after 25 years. I wish I filmed the thing. We sort of frolicked to each other and embraced.

Cast members from “The Sandlot” on set in 1992.
Cast members from “The Sandlot” on set in 1992.
20th Century Fox

DN: A lot of the recent “Sandlot” anniversary articles include this anecdote about you guys sneaking into a screening of “Basic Instinct.” I won’t ask you about that specifically. But other than that story, what other moments from that time really stick with you, of forming a brotherhood with those guys?

PR: I want to set the record straight: I don’t think that “Basic Instinct” thing happened. I think Marty (York, who plays “Yeah-Yeah”) is full of it. But I’m not going to go so far as to say it didn’t happen, because I’m sure it is something we would have done. But I cannot confirm or deny that. I plead the Fifth on that one entirely. But yeah, we would hang out and do crazy stuff at the condominium we all stayed at. We really were nine dudes playing baseball over a summer, hanging out. And the movie was that way, so we really didn’t have to do much. We were a team, and we had an amazing time. And I think it showed through in the film.

If you go …

What: FanX Salt Lake Comic Convention

When: Sept. 5-7, times vary

Where: Salt Palace Convention Center, 100 S. West Temple

How much: $20-$295, free for children ages 8 and under