If He Builds It, We Will Come
August 13, 2021 Update
I don’t mean to brag but, well, yes I do. My hometown Chicago White Sox beat the New York Yankees 9-8 in the Field of Dreams game with a dramatic bottom of the ninth inning walk off home run by Tim Anderson. The lead had changed hands several times. There is no hiding the fact that baseball faces some big challenges in the years a ahead. Perhaps this event will help. It was a great game.
August 12, 2021
Tonight the Chicago White Sox and the New York Yankees will play the first major league baseball game ever in the state of Iowa. There will be eight thousand people in the stands. They will have paid from $1,500 to $5,000 for the privilege. The town of Dyersville, Iowa, the game’s location, has a total population of about four thousand. The game will be telecast on Fox at 7:15 Eastern Time.
The special game commemorates the thirtieth anniversary of one of my all time favorite films, Field of Dreams, which stars Kevin Costner, Amy Madigan, James Earl Jones, Ray Liotta, Timothy Busfield, and in his last film role, Burt Lancaster. The anniversary was actually last year but the tribute game, originally scheduled for 2020, was delayed by the Covid shutdown.
This is the story of a man named Ray Kinsella who came of age in the turbulent 1960s and has decided to head for Iowa with his wife and young daughter and take up farming in search of something he is not quite sure of. There, while out tending his corn crop he hears a mysterious voice saying, “If you build it, he will come.” And he sees a vision of a baseball field in the middle of the corn. He plows under his corn and builds the field. Eventually, a group of “ghost” players from the disgraced Chicago Black Sox team of 1919 show up to play.
Yes, this is a fantasy. If you can’t get your mind around that you may as well stop here and wait for my next blog on public affairs. It is also an ode to the sport of baseball, perhaps not as popular as it once was but still the great American pastime. It is a romance guys can shed a tear over without embarrassment, for it is the story of a man’s love for his family, his sport, and his father. And it is a teacher of life’s great lessons. Don’t put off telling people what they mean to you. If you wait too long you may never get the chance. And don’t search too hard for what is important, it is probably right in front of you.
I still remember seeing my first professional baseball game. My father took the nine year old me to watch the Chicago White Sox at Comiskey Park. The Yankees were playing. I was already playing baseball at school and summer camp and I was never much of an athlete. But baseball was a game you could play at all skill levels, and later in life I still enjoyed playing whether is was an intermural game at college or a game of mixed softball between other newsroom teams in Chicago’s summer soft ball leagues.
The wonderful actor Kevin Costner, on the other hand, is a serious athlete with a special love for baseball. He is often involved with professional teams and might have been good enough to play in the majors if a little thing like his film career didn’t get in the way. He starred in three of the greatest base ball films of all time, Bull Durham and For Love of the Game as well as Field of Dreams. He played a retired baseball player in The Upside of Anger and narrated the documentary, Fastball. Costner has said he was reluctant to do Field of Dreams because he had just finished Bull Durham but changed his mind once he read the script by Phil Alden Robinson, who also directed, and W.P. Kinsella, author of the book, “Shoeless Joe” on which it is based.
But beyond Costner’s wonderful performance and the great script, there are great moments for all of the supporting players.
There is Amy Madigan, who plays Kinsella’s wife, Annie. Also a child of the sixties, as am I, she stands by Ray even as their financial situation gets more and more dire because of the baseball field occupying space needed to grow enough corn to keep the farm in business. Even as Ray reacts to a second message from the mysterious voice, “Ease His Pain.”
Little needs to be said about the presence of James Earl Jones in any film. Here the great actor plays a J. D. Salinger like character, a reclusive author, the real Salinger whose name was used in the novel reportedly objected. Jones’s “Terence Mann” acts as an expository partner for Costner’s Kinsella until the end when he delivers a monologue, that ode to baseball I talked about earlier, as worthy as any Shakespeare performance you might see. “People will come” to see the mysterious “ghost” players from years gone by to play the game they love in Ray’s field, he tells his friend.
Ray Liotta plays “Shoeless Joe Jackson,” the player from the days of the Chicago Black Sox scandal who arrives at the field first. Timothy Busfield , who plays Annie’s pain-in-the-rear brother Mark who is allied with a group of investors who want to buy the mortgage note on the farm which Ray cannot pay. Mark can’t see the players on the field of course, because Mark does not believe. There is the child actor Gaby Hoffman, who plays Ray and Annie’s daughter, Karin and tells Ray that the people who come to watch the game will gladly pay enough money to save the farm.
And then there is the legend Burt Lancaster, in what was to be his last performance. Lancaster plays a doctor loved by the people of his small town. But Dr. Archibald Graham has a secret. He once played baseball in the minor leagues and was called up to the majors on the last day of a season. He played one inning. The ball was never hit in his direction. He never got to bat and never got another chance. “Moonlight” was the nickname they gave him. He regrets never having batted, and Ray commiserates after somehow being transported back in time to meet Graham, that it was a tragedy. (Skip over the time travel thing please, I told you this is fantasy). “No,” says Moonlight, “it would have been a tragedy if I had never had a chance to become a doctor.”
These lessons are all here to be learned. And at the end, Ray realizes that his father, John, played by Dwier Brown, is the catcher on the ghost team. “He” has come. Father and son have a catch, the catch Ray never had with his father when he was still alive. The “pain” was Ray’s. And it has now been eased. There isn’t a dry eye in the house.
So watch tonight’s game. Go see the movie. Appreciate what you have. Don’t regret what you have not. Be good to your parents. And to yourselves. And to everyone you love.