|Famous For: As “Benny the Jet” Rodriguez in The Sandlot and as Luis Mendoza in D2: The Mighty Ducks and D3: The Mighty Ducks||Currently Known For: Firefighter with the Los Angeles Fire Department|
Currently Known For Firefighter with the Los Angeles Fire Department
“Just stand out there and stick your glove out in the air. I’ll take care of it.” Spotted by a talent scout as he waited in line for a ride at the school carnival, Mike Vitar was only 12 years old when he fell into show business in the early 1990s. However, despite his early success in classics like The Sandlot and The Mighty Ducks franchise, little could persuade him to stick around Hollywood as Vitar pursued his passion for serving others as a first responder and medic before joining the Los Angeles Fire Department. So, how exactly did the former child star known for his antics on the baseball diamond end up fighting fire as one of Los Angeles’ finest? Let’s take a look!
Michael Anthony Vitar was born on December 21, 1978 in Los Angeles, California as the youngest of three children. Of Cuban descent, Vitar had a certain look and charm about him even as a youngster, which is why a casting agent didn’t think twice about approaching him at a school carnival as Vitar waited in line for the next ride. Offered the chance to try his hand at acting in the first of many commercials, Vitar had never considered show business but jumped at the chance and appeared in a string of commercials for brands like Tylenol, Coca Cola, JC Penny, Sprite and Reebok.
Learning the ropes and building confidence, Vitar made his acting debut at 13 years old in the 1991 flick, Diplomatic Immunity. He then appeared as Anthony Gambuzza in an episode of Brooklyn Bridge in 1991 before snagging the role of Luis in the 1993 mystery flick, Sunset Grill, starring Peter Weller and Lori Singer. Then, months later, he caught the biggest break of his career when he was cast as Benjamin Franklin Rodriguez, better known as “Benny the Jet,” in The Sandlot. Coincidentally, his brother, Pablo, joined him in the film and played the older version of Benny. Needless to say, the coming of age flick was a massive success and grossed over $30 million at box offices worldwide while putting Vitar on the map as a rising star.
With The Sandlot becoming a cult classic, Vitar rode the wave of his success and starred as Luis Mendoza in D2: The Mighty Ducks in 1994 and in D3: The Mighty Ducks in 1996. He added in appearances in NYPD Blue in 1996 and in Chicago Hope in 1997 before he grew tired of being the token Latino in Hollywood and set his sights on finishing his senior year of high school at St. Francis High School in La Cañada, California. After graduation, he joined his brother at the Los Angeles Police Department before briefly working with the Gerber Ambulance company in Torrance while training as an emergency first responder. Then, after years of working on the ambulance, he was hired on as a firefighter for the Los Angeles Fire Department in 2002 where he’s served the community ever since.
Vitar didn’t waste any time making an impression in his new career when, with only a year on the job, he and his crew were honored after they rescued two fellow firefighters during a house fire in Hollywood Hills on New Year’s Eve in 2003. With two firemen trapped and severely burned when the roof of the house collapsed, Vitar and his crew rushed in and dragged the firemen out alive. Honored for their bravery, Vitar and his crew were featured in a special publicity release and presented with an award. “I am extremely proud of the members of Truck 35,” Los Angeles Fire Department Captain Joseph Castro said in the news release. “In my nearly 25 years of service with the LAFD, I have never seen a greater act of courage than they demonstrated that day.”
Amid his growing success as a firefighter, Vitar also saw his life at home settle down after he met and fell in love with a woman named Kym. Marrying in 2006, the couple has since added to their family with two sons and a daughter, whom we imagine are now finally old enough to appreciate their dad’s early stardom in The Sandlot. Apart from the joys of fatherhood, Vitar experienced a tragic loss when his brother and hero lost his battle with colon cancer in January 2008. In the years since, Vitar has carried on his brother’s legacy through his own work as a firefighter while still managing to embrace his childhood stardom. “I would like to meet anybody and everyone who has supported me even though I’ve been out of the acting business for years now,” he says. “To all the fans, I have nothing but love and great respect for all of you and, who knows, I might one day consider acting again. So, stay tuned!”
Although Vitar hasn’t yet returned to acting, he’s managed to make a few headlines over the years and found himself in the paparazzi’s crosshairs in October 2015 when he and two other firefighters got into a physical fight with another man, leaving the man severely injured. On December 3, 2015, Vitar was arrested and later released on a $30,000 bail with the possibility of spending up to four years in prison. Luckily, he avoided jail time and, after two years tied up in the court system, he pled no contest to the misdemeanor charge in January 2017. He was then sentenced to weekly anger management classes and three months of community service in addition to a $2,000 fine.
Today, Vitar is close to wrapping up his weekly anger management classes, which will leave him even more time to focus on his firefighting career and his family. So, until he decides to make his foray back into acting, we’re left with replays of The Sandlot and The Mighty Ducks sequels, which isn’t too much to ask for Vitar’s adoring fans. After all, Vitar gave us plenty to love as one reporter put it perfectly: “Since his most visible role was Benny in The Sandlot, we can imagine the Mike we had a crush on as similar to that character: a little tough, but not in a way that alienates others. At least, not too much. Benny was, at his core, a super sweet guy—which allowed him to forge a friendship with the hopelessly awkward narrator, Scotty Smalls. When you’re a kid, it’s hard to find a dude to crush on with total dedication; it’s like a juvenile equivalent to having honor. Benny had it coming out his ears.”