Tim Anderson makes magic at the Field of Dreams
As far as gimmicks go, the game was about as involved as it gets
DYERSVILLE, Iowa — Movie magic. It’s the stuff that makes Hollywood what it is. An imaginary world in which when the story is done being told, the good ones either win or are at the very least redeemed. In 1989’s Field of Dreams, a mystical story of a farmer who decides to build a baseball field in middle-of-nowhere Iowa (marginally redundant, we know) because he hears a voice that sends him on a baseball fantasy whirlwind like none other.
It’s a story of redemption for the character played by Kevin Costner, and features a dynamite performance from James Earl Jones as the merrily mercurial Terence Mann, an author whom Costner (Ray) has idolized since childhood. It’s part buddy cop, part fairy tale, part baseball and on a certain level, it works. Other parts definitely do not.
When MLB decided to build an 8,000-seat stadium in Delaware County near the site of the field in the movie to host the first big league game in Iowa history, it was before times. The idea was exciting. Sort of a sandlot meets Winter Classic kind of thing. Hey, come check out the field where Ray Liotta played “Shoeless Joe” Jackson! Bring your dad and have a catch! The draw was obvious, for some.
Then a pandemic hit. In late 2020, Iowa found itself as not only one of the worst coronavirus hot spots in America, but on Earth. Seriously. Then the minors were consolidated. The state lost two teams, cutting its total in half. At that point, quite a few dreams were done.
Fast-forward to summer 2021, when things appeared to be better, the league proceeded with its plans.
“I have to tell you, when I walked out today – I haven’t been back since 2015 – and saw the finished product, I was just blown away,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred boasted. “The work that our people in Major League Baseball did was just absolutely phenomenal. Right down to the littlest details of what the dugouts were going to look like and what the scoreboard was going to be and how it was going to be operated.”
To think that the commissioner of the league was so obtusely proud of this project without apparently ever having lifted a finger, never mind taken into consideration of it, was astounding. Everyone there knew what they were dealing with. The internal conflict of Iowans was obvious and unfortunate.
Mind you, none of the wood you saw on TV was real. And the faux-barn doors on the batter’s eye, along with the wood-paneled stickers on every surface of the field were pretty nakedly lame to even the most novice of designers. Not to mention that in the film adapted from W. P. Kinsella’s 1982 novel Shoeless Joe, there is no scoreboard.
Again, some things made sense, others did not.
For Chris Estrada, coach of the Dream Academy Highlanders, who played Wednesday against Chicago’s ACE Academy, it was a building experience that they won’t forget.
“I told them, ‘This moment, it’s one in a lifetime,’ ” Estrada, who played at Missouri Western, said. “ ‘Make sure that you guys are photographing, and cherish every moment of this.’ Because not many kids their age can be able to say they did this.”
On the other side of the ball, ACE coach Darius Day was just glad they made it to play at all. The bus ride was fun, but eventful, and led to a great experience.
“It was crazy, actually. We rode through a tornado almost. It took us about five hours to get here. It was really a three-hour drive. We got here safely and in peace,” Day said with a smile, rocking high baseball fashion Oakleys. “But the kids ate it up. They loved every minute of it, man. They had a good time. They got on the field and performed and put on the show.”
There was a rain delay, but they still got to take batting practice and John Smoltz, in town for the Fox Sports broadcast, stepped in to throw a few. And Jimmy Downs, a teenager, took him to the corn.
“That was great, man,” Downs said. “I took a Hall of Famer deep. Yeah, I did.”
For those kids, it was absolutely a dream come true. They got to play in front of a crowd of people who were actually paying attention to them, while playing on what’s known as the “small field” on site. An ironic twist, if you’ve ever seen the film and understand the concept of belief.
As far as gimmicks go, Thursday night was about as involved as it gets. If it was in the movie, it was somehow represented in the broadcast or the event. Except for, of course, one thing. Outside of the final scene of the movie, the soliloquy that is most often quoted comes from Mann.
“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball,” Mann booms while walking toward the hastily-built bleachers, trying to convince the farmer not to sell his property. “America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: It’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and it could be again.”
As a kid, it was a powerful speech that stuck with me for days. As a grown man, it’s a logical fallacy that reminds us exactly how ridiculous the premise is, never mind the canonization of this film. Think about it: The most magical place in the baseball world is a place dedicated to a movie about a man romanticizing an era before Black people were even allowed to play on the same field.
An imaginary world only for those who could dare to dream. Hollywood magic that erases Black people unless they are otherwise idolized by white folks and seen as trailblazers.
There’s a vague reference to Jackie Robinson (shocker) and Ebbets Field as part of the storyline, but otherwise, the fact that, yanno, Major League Baseball DID NOT ALLOW BLACK PLAYERS UNTIL DECADES LATER is just … unaddressed. Unmentioned. Unheard. Not in the movie, and certainly not Thursday in Iowa, where the schmaltz was so thick that TV chef Guy Fieri could have used it as a spread on top of his hot dog apple pie handout snacks at the farm that day.
Earlier in the day, Chicago White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson released a video with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America that said “kids can aspire to [be] – a judge, artist, builder or baseball player.”
So when Anderson — easily the coolest player in the bigs — stepped to the plate and sent one deep into the night to send the New York Yankees home losers, I immediately thought back to what he said before the game in his news conference. Iced out with a smile, rocking the black White Sox pregame T-shirt that reads “Family,” he let these people know exactly what the deal was.
“I don’t know anybody from Iowa. I have never been to Iowa. My first time here, so, you know, I’m trying to make good impressions,” Anderson said. As for the movie and whether he’d seen it? “I still haven’t. Maybe I’ll watch it after.”
No need. He’s already written the best Field of Dreams script there is.