I’ve resisted consuming the run-up coverage to tonight’s Field of Dreams Game between the White Sox and Yankees in Dyersville, Iowa, because it’s the kind of event that pitches around my wheelhouse. I’m the last person who should write about movies critically, I’m not a fan of nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake, and I have a limited appetite for cultural takedowns.
And man, the partnership between Major League Baseball and “Field of Dreams” invites a lot of content in the second and third areas.
I generally write about things I’d want to read, for better or for worse. But I’m also a newspaper man at heart, and it’d be weird to see the only reference to this game being the fact that it happened, so here’s a post about it.
I like “Field of Dreams,” but I get why people don’t. It’s a movie that assumes things of its audience, and sometimes those assumptions couldn’t be more wrong. Tim Anderson says it doesn’t apply to him, and why should it?
It’s best appreciated as a small story, even if it possesses universal aspirations. There are good performances. There are good scenes. It has a quick pace, probably in order to keep one from thinking through individual plot points too long, but that makes it easier to hang around for the preferred parts when it pops up on TV. (Catch “The Natural” at the wrong 15 minutes and you’ll think you’re watching a glum staring contest.)
Those universal aspirations are probably why “Field of Dreams” so irks those who can’t buy what it’s selling. The script dares to speak for people who might have opposite things to say. When it has James Earl Jones’ Terence Mann waxing poetic about baseball’s power to reminds us of “all that once was good and could be again” with entirely pre-integration MLB players behind him (and Gil Hodges, for some reason), even I want to throw a bucket of water on the script and give it 10 minutes to regroup.
Setting that aside — and it’s a lot to set aside, but let’s pretend it isn’t — the movie ends with two people on a beautiful baseball field and whatever feelings you have in your chest, which is why I say it’s a small story. If you have no feelings, it’s not because you lack a soul. It’s probably because the movie ordered for you without asking, and wasn’t considerate enough to ask about allergies.
Still, I always thought the backlash to the movie was disproportionate to its intent. It’s a movie from 1989, so it’s going to show its age. That doesn’t make it unique (“The Bad News Bears” sprinkled the N-word into a film that was rated PG). Yet the era-specific transgressions of “Field of Dreams” generate more antipathy.
The heavy-handedness of the Boomer-era weltanschauung drives a lot of modern-day cultural reassessment and rejection, and sure enough, “Field of Dreams” lacks a light touch. But while it and a lot of things from that era assumed a certain ubiquity, I think it’s better treated as a film with modest, personal aims. It hits how it hits, and there’s no fault on the consumer’s end if it missed.
Except then Major League Baseball rolls in and disrupts that settled, 30-year-old soil, and now all the old arguments are floating in the air. Everybody remembers the back end of the Terence Mann speech, but MLB seemed to key on the former:
They’ll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won’t mind if you look around, you’ll say. It’s only $20 per person. They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack.
“Field of Dreams” lacked subtlety, but its heart-on-sleeve earnestness was part of its charm. But when a 30-year-old movie that lacks modern resonance is picked up by Major League Baseball’s marketing apparatus and turned into a national event with $375 face-value tickets staged in a state whose baseball fans are blacked out from watching six different MLB teams, what modesty it could claim is lost, and the bickering is back where it started.
Throw in MLB’s rush for all the gambling money at a time where it’s celebrating a movie that was itself apologia for a team that threw a World Series, and the general direction of the efforts feels counterproductive.
But it’s a White Sox game, so I’ll be watching. I’m looking forward to the scenery and the livery. Perhaps I should take a cue from the movie itself and not overthink the rest of it.
(Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports)