“What are you grinning at, you ghost?!”
On Thursday night, the New York Yankees & Chicago White Sox will play a baseball game in a cornfield. Not just any cornfield, mind you, but the same one in which Kevin Costner, James Earl Jones, Ray Liotta, & Burt Lancaster once trod while making the film Field of Dreams in 1989.
Field of Dreams is my favorite baseball movie of all time. Full stop. Sure, I’ve dreamt about being Billy Heywood in Little Big League, basked in the Vin Scully narration of For Love of the Game, & laughed at the LA antics of Angels in the Outfield. But the magic—both literally and figuratively—contained in the Phil Alden Robinson-directed masterpiece is impossible to deny.
Not long ago, I read this unique book by Dwier Brown, the actor who portrayed Ray Kinsella’s youthful father in the film’s emotional climax. Scattered amongst Brown’s remembrances of his brief on-set filming stint (including his own father passing during that experience) are instances in which complete strangers and tough men—who could probably count on one hand the number of times their eyes leaked—conveyed to him how much that final game of catch between father and son meant to their own lives…
That scene gets me every time, too. When the James Horner score swells, it is one of the four movie endings—the others being It’s A Wonderful Life, The Champ, & Toy Story 3, if you must know—guaranteed to produce waterworks.
Between that kind of emotion, the inspiration present in the Moonlight Graham story, and incredible acting from beginning to end, Field of Dreams produces a type of magic rarely captured on celluloid.
Ten years ago, in the midst of a different lost Twins season, I had the opportunity to trod upon that sacred ground. En route to Chicago’s South Side for a couple of Twins/Sox tilts, me and my two brothers—James & Zebulun Koenig—diverted to Dyersville, IA for an afternoon.
It was truly one of the most special baseball-related experiences of my entire life. We played catch on the infield, threw each other some BP (Zeb still reminds us at every opportunity that he was the only one to put a ball into the cobs), and took a stroll through the stalks. To paraphrase James Earl Jones’ famous monologue: “Dipped in magic waters”, indeed.
Another aspect of that experience I’ll never forget is how the three of us were at the movie site on a random weekday afternoon, yet the entire time cars were constantly trickling in and out. Every vehicle came bearing a different license plate. Again, Mr. Jones: “They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up your driveway—not even knowing for sure why they are doing it”.
When I first heard about the idea for an official MLB “Field of Dreams Game”, I have to admit being a bit skeptical. Commissioner Rob Manfred doesn’t exactly have the greatest track record in promotional matters, and I would hate for the whole experience to come off as overly “corporate” or “promotional”. We’ll see how it goes. But the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced this won’t happen. Despite featuring my two least-favorite baseball clubs on this Earth, that 1989 magic will likely transcend rooting interests and commercial enterprise.
The thing about a movie is that one never quite knows which one will capture the spark of inspiration that carries its legacy through the decades. Even the films that accomplish such lofty goals are never sure bets. The mechanical shark almost doomed Jaws, James Cameron was roundly mocked—and almost bankrupted—during production of Titanic, and a California kid named George Lucas had to pitch his “space opera” to nearly every studio in Hollywood before getting a green light. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, Field of Dreams—itself a long shot as an unconventional baseball fantasy—has that spark, and on Thursday it will be on full display once again.