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)
I’m excited about this game and it has nothing to do with a movie I watched 30 years ago and I can’t remember it. It’s a different setting. It’s a newsworthy event. And it has the Yankees and the White Sox in a year they don’t suck at baseball.
I’m excited for this game the same way I’m excited for the Winter Classic in hockey. It’s a unique atmosphere that makes it exciting, regardless of the teams playing. The irony is also not lost on me that MLB is heavily promoting a game featuring the White Sox based on a book heavily featuring a White Sox player that deserves to be in the HOF but MLB won’t let that happen.
“But while it and a lot of things from that era assumed a certain ubiquity,…” *cough* Forrest Gump *cough*
“Those universal aspirations are probably why “Field of Dreams” so irks the people who can’t buy it. It dares to speak for people who might have opposite things to say.”
Thank you, Jim.
Nick Offerman skewered the plot from an Iowa farmer’s perspective on the Poscast a few years back, and it’s a delight.
I can take or leave the film, and I’ll generally leave it due to an aversion to Kevin Costner, whose charisma seems to be trapped down a well. I’m looking forward to the game as an oddity and rare national exposure for our White Stockings. If they stumble on that stage and remind the public why they’re an afterthought, well, that’s my nostalgia.
Agree re Costner.
Amazes me that Ray Liotta has not even seen the movie. He said something to the effect that he thought his role and the premise was silly, and re-affirmed this year that he has still never seen it.
A few years back I decided to watch all the classic baseball movies and Field of Dreams felt so meh to me. But I think the visual of the corn and the players has more impact in pop culture than any dialogue or character in the movie.
Anyway, here are some MLB ideas for more movie games
Back in ’87 I read “Shoeless Joe.” It was a book about a man who, against all logic and common sense, plows under his cash crop to build a baseball diamond, and he does it with the full backing of his wife who supports his compulsion even though she doesn’t understand it. After reading that book and having my wife of 5 years read it, we both quit good-paying jobs that we hated, even though we didn’t have a clear idea of what we would do instead.
We decided to self-publish my wife’s quilting books. Our first one was dedicated simply to Shoeless Joe. For more than 3 decades, that’s how we’ve supported ourselves. It gave us the freedom to relocate wherever we wanted. It gave us the freedom to consider starting a family, something that had been off the radar before then.
Coincidentally, a few years later we moved to Iowa. The day after I found Grinnell when I was searching for a town to move to, I played on the Field of Dreams. It was Fathers Day, and it was a magical experience.
The book, the movie, the site all loom large in the GrinnellSteve story. I can’t wait for tonight’s game.
That’s one of the best stories I’ve ever heard. Thanks for sharing.
The movie rights are available. Have your people get in touch with my people…
This is amazing. Good for you and your wife!
Fantastic take, Jim.
This is just a great piece from Jim. I’m a boomer who has never got the movie at all but I have friends who love the movie and we have had to agree to just not talk about it since tonight’s event was first announced. I didn’t think it would be possible to write a piece that reflected the many different perspectives on the movie until Jim proved me wrong.
We saw the film the day it came out. I remember walking out of the theater behind an older couple, one of whom said to the other, “I don’t get it.”
I remember being fond of the movie at the time. I usually set aside movie flaws and try to enjoy it for what it is. Life’s too short.
Then I showed it to my French wife (along with Eight Men Out and Bull Durham). She thought it was silly fantasy that didn’t make sense. Of course she had no clue on the baseball stuff. I replied, “well at least it has an ending!” (Dig at French movies)
In the end it didn’t age well in my mind but accomplished it’s objective for me for my wife to understand just how deep baseball runs in American culture and how important it is for me. It is really like no other sport in the sense of it’s history, cultural impact, part of the fabric of daily life for 6 months a year. That is the hardest thing to explain to foreigners about baseball. It goes so much beyond just basic fandom.
And now I am trying to imagine what baseball film Jean-Luc Godard would make.
“The Kid with a Bat,” un film des frères Dardenne.
Carol Reed directed both The Third Man and Oliver!
Godard might surprise us.
I wasn’t born in America or even live in America. I was two years old when Field of Dreams came out and I still love that movie. It’s 100% pure nostalgia saccharin to be taken directly into the veins and is also completely sincere which I feel a lot of movies these days lack. They’re cynical, ironic, afraid to wear their hearts on their sleeves.
I can’t say this enough: I am so excited about this game for some reason. I think it will be a magical experience. I hope Eloy is a DH
Eloy is at LF. Vaughn is DHing
You would think that lineup is a good bet to kick some ass against a lefty with a 5 and a half ERA.
Assuming Eloy doesn’t end his career getting impaled on the camouflaged chain fence, I agree. Why couldn’t they have just had the corn as the barrier? That would be awesome to see outfielders flying 5 rows back trying to steal an HR.
I don’t know, put me in the opposite camp. I understand that I’m a 36 year old white dude from the midwest, but let’s be honest — baseball’s fanbase, for all the hundreds of times I have to watch that terrible Tatis commercial about a controversy that wasn’t, is older white dudes. I think it makes total sense for mlb to play to its base and, if you’ve lost a father with whom your favorite memory was playing catch and you didn’t say everything you wish you said to him (which I assume is a pretty much universal white man experience), that scene is incredibly powerful. No matter how ham fisted all of the Catcher in the Rye nonsense is.
That said, what mlb will do with it will be awful, because mlb is awful. Making sure that no white sox or yankees fans (who aren’t obscenely wealthy) can actually attend the game by only selling tickets to Iowans? All of these stupid promotions? Being told to like something instead of organically letting it happen? The rank hypocrisy about sports gambling? Smoltz/Verducci/A-Rod/Ortiz instead of Bennetti and Kay? I could do without all of that. But I don’t see the need to hate on the movie just because it wasn’t for you, which seems like a cheugy thing to do these days.
The criticisms of the movie are right on (and there are others) but also miss the greatness of tonight’s game. The field of dreams has transcended the movie. Droves of folks don’t take pilgrimages across the country to visit the site where okay-ish movies from the late 80s were shot. Of course, part of the appeal of the field is that the message of the movie still resonates, but there’s more going on. Something about the setting—the baseball diamond in the middle of a cornfield in the rural countryside—just feels like the right setting for baseball. It’s the kind of field we played on when we were kids, regardless of background. And that setting is why the field continues to infuse the baseball fan’s imagination, even if they haven’t watched or cared for the movie.
The “reminder of what was once good and could be again” is, in this context, the joy of watching a baseball game just for the simple pleasures it provides, apart from the stat counting, award watching, standings, or the business and politics of it. And I’m very much looking forward to even the fleeting feeling of that tonight.
It is a lot of fun watching pros look like tourists.
I saw the movie when I was a kid when it came out, and I liked it (although my dad and I always made fun of the “have a catch” phrase). I watched it again a few years ago with my kids and thought it was okay. I ready Shoeless Joe last year; also okay. I don’t really get the strong reactions either way on it.
Apparently that’s regional? My buddy from Long Island always makes fun of me when I ask if he wants to play catch, like it’s a game.
I’ve never heard “have a catch” in the wild.
However, my coworker and I kept our gloves at the office to throw the ball around outside on nice days. If one of us floated the idea by saying “You wanna have a catch?” the required response was a choked-up “I’d like that.”
Catch in French is professional wrestling. Like WWF wrestling. When my daughter was a toddler I was throwing the ball to her. Wife came home and said what did you two do today. I said “we played catch.” Hilarity ensued.
W.P. Kinsella’s baseball world is a little sentimental and sweet and self-indulgent, and perhaps the book is due for a revision. Let’s just say Kinsella’s pastoral fantasy could benefit from some tough-minded references to BABIP, wRC+, ISO, BQR, FIP, Exit Velocity, GB%, OPS+, LIPS, UZR, not to mention bWAR, fWAR and rWAR (shout-out to rallymonkey!). I mean, does Kinsella even once compute the Pythagorean Winning Percentage for any team in this book? Life is short— or life is long, depending upon your perspective—I look forward to some cornball baseball. Big questions: if someone hits a ball into the corn, will any of these millionaire outfielders run in to get it? I would. If Eloy runs into the corn, will he still manage to injure himself? Let’s pray he does not. And wouldn’t it be something if Dick Allen came walking out of the corn, juggling three baseballs and smoking a cigarette?
Sox Machine commenters at their best.