If you build it, they will come.
Thursday night at the Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa, a once-in-a-lifetime baseball game was played finally, after a year of pandemic delays, between the #1 ranked White Sox and the New York Yankees, and the event returned something long missing to the game. In the third inning Chicago White Sox outfielder Eloy Jiménez flipped a switch, igniting a ho-hum MLB regular season game into something more with a three-run homer, and the Sox led most of the game until New York took back the game in the ninth inning. Then, crushing a two-run, walk-off homer into the corn, shortstop Tim Anderson won the landmark game for the Sox with a 9-8 final. Anderson remarked, “playing out here in the middle of the corn, who would’ve thought that?” Jiménez commented that the experience in the first ever Major League Baseball game in Iowa was a little bit like playing back in the minor leagues, “it was amazing… but this was a big one. This was fun.” With a bushel of homerun baseballs landing in the corn field behind left and right field, it wasn’t the same old, big city baseball, but an experience that brought players and fans back to the basics of the game. It was a perfect summer night in the kind of pastoral venue the old pros played in for a hundred years before Nike logos adorned player shirts, before piloted drone cameras, and giant HD playback monitors. In short, it’s the kind of game that will hopefully happen again and again at this unique venue, and certainly more than only one MLB game per year.
It’s a little over 30 years after one of the greatest American film classics premiered, and Phil Alden Robinson′s Field of Dreams touches audiences today as much as ever, proven by the attendance and TV ratings. In great Hollywood style, the man who played Ray Kinsella in the movie, Kevin Costner, emerged from the outfield cornfield to give a brief speech to start the game. A lot of actors brush off these kinds of nostalgia events (if there ever was anything like this before), but Costner was more than a good sport, arriving earlier this week for publicity events on the original Field of Dreams movie set, just a few yards across a corn maze from the 8,000 seat MLB field constructed for these kinds of events, asking the crowd to answer his question, “Is this heaven?” Even the announcers and players acknowledged the game was a “magical” event, with seemingly anyone and everyone involved in the Fox-MLB production bringing along their own families for autographs and photos, or even a catch with Costner on the film field, still attached to the now renovated house from the movie.
Phil Alden Robinson’s tightly written, major re-work of the W.P. Kinsella novel Shoeless Joe (reviewed here at borg), written just miles from Dyersville in Iowa City, sparked that magic. The 1989 film made the National Film Registry list. It was named to the Library of Congress list of the greatest American films of all time, as well as included on two American Film Institute Top 100 lists, nominated for three others, and named the AFI #6 best fantasy film of all time. It has returned to theaters for anniversary screenings. It’s a Top 5 baseball movie. And one of our favorite fantasy movies. The coverage of last night’s game was accompanied by cues from James Horner′s sweeping, emotional score from the film (plus spliced in bits from film songs The Allman Brothers’ Jessica and The Doobie Brothers’ China Grove). And Costner returned to talk about the making of the movie throughout the game with the announcers, watching most of the game from his seat among the fans. Iowa has had its own minor league team based in Des Moines, the Oaks, which became the Cubs, a farm team for the big league team in Chicago. But this was the first major league game ever played in the state.
More than 100,000 people find their way each year to the Field of Dreams baseball diamond in Dyersville. Back in 1994 during a summer between college years, my then girlfriend/now wife and I made our way from Iowa City to Dyersville to visit the field. At the time no one was there–you could play some ball, run bases, or sit and stare at the field in the bleachers. Over the next decade professional baseball players were brought in for exhibition games, playing a team of Ghost Players from the cornfield. Dwier Brown, who played Ray’s dad in the film, returned to Dyersville to celebrate the film’s 30th anniversary release (and he just bought a 19th century building to renovate in Dyersville). As James Earl Jones’ Terence Mann says at the end of the film, “they’ll come from all over.” And they did, August 12, 2021.
Fans just keep being drawn to the magic of the field. Maybe next time James Earl Jones will make an appearance? Tickets for Thursday’s game ran from the hundreds of dollars to scalpers asking into the thousands of dollars, but ultimately no more than scalpers of a World Series–or Super Bowl–ticket. But those games happen every year, don’t they?
For now, at least one more MLB game appears to be in the bag (according to the commissioner of baseball this week), but after last night’s increase in ad revenues and ratings for the coverage, you can bet the network will be pitching the field for more regular season games, or maybe even annual All-Star games. If you missed the first Field of Dreams MLB game, you can stream it anytime on MLB.tv.
C.J. Bunce / Editor / borg