“If you Build it, He will Come

 

The outfield fence or is it?

 

Being born, raised, and educated in Iowa, I’ve always had a soft place in my heart for the movie “Field of Dreams.” I played pretty much all levels of amateur baseball through a semi-pro league there. I once batted a thousand over a three game tournament without hitting the ball out of the infield! But that’s a story for another time. Today, I want to revisit “The Field of Dreams” and Iowan’s dream of seeing major league baseball played in their lightly populated, but baseball crazy state. Iowans are typically either Cubs, Cardinals, Royals or Twins fans, but they are mostly just baseball fans. During my years growing up there, my Dad was a well known fast-pitch softball pitcher and we traveled around southeastern Iowa to games where his team were regularly payed a little something to play against some local town team in a little farming community. But again, I have strayed from my story.  As testimony to Iowan’s passion for the game, my hometown, Ottumwa, is hosting the Babe Ruth League ‘World Series’ this week.

“If you build it, he will come” was a big deal in Iowa, and it has remained so over the thirty plus years since it first aired. At one time and another there were leaks that the majors might have some kind of exhibition game there or a late preseason game, but it wasn’t until the last several years that MLB got serious about playing a real game, one that counted in the standings, in Iowa.

It was one of those sports movies, which more often than not fail to deliver what sports fans can be satisfied with. But, this one was different – different even from Costner’s ‘Bull Durham’  or Billy Crystal’s ’61,’ baseball movies which many baseball aficionados will tell you are the top two best baseball movies ever made. ‘Field of Dreams’ wasn’t just a baseball movie.

The game finally happened and it was one that counted in more ways than just the standings. The little Iowa town of Dyersville, Iowa got it’s taste of big league baseball after all this time and star Kevin Costner was there to reprise his role … in a sense. As he beckoned the players from the corn, did it not symbolize Iowa’s resilient efforts to bring the big leagues to their humble state?

The movie is abased upon the wonderful book “Shoeless Joe” by Canadian author W.P. Kinsella. In an unusual twist, Kinsella used his own last name for his protagonist. I’m ashamed to say I have read it, but my editor, Leigh Carter,  tells me it is an excellent read.  It’s now on my list.

I started to write what the movie meant to me, but I found this account and I couldn’t say it better than Kevin Hagopian of Penn State University:

Field of Dreams is a film about lost chances gotten back again, and about finally having those talks with Dad you wish you’d had. The story of “Ray Kinsella’s” (Kevin Costner) crusade to bring a perfect ballyard to his Iowa cornfield is an unashamed parable of male longing, an excusably sexist paean to a universe untroubled by the emasculating realities of corporate economics, and by the withering of skill that comes with age.”

In the same article, Nina Easton of the LA Times wrote this:
” It’s also about lost dreams, generational ties and discovering magic in the back yard. ”

It was way more than a baseball movie, and yet America has morphed into some kind of ‘boy plays ball, boy’s dreams come true’ story.  My own city has a “Field of Dreams” which isn’t even a baseball field – it’s a high school football stadium. I have to wonder how many Fields of Dreams are scattered across the US and how many of those that were responsible for naming them truly new what the name meant? Oh, and by the way, if you are questioning the title of this post, that too has since been deformed into “if you build they will come.”

Last week, Major League Baseball got it right. Their creation of the field against the tall Iowa corn, with chain link fencing leaving an unobstructed view to the corn beyond — just enough to give you that same feeling with the original field of dreams where there was no outfield fence to encumber the entrance of the players — emerging from the Iowa cornfield with Costner beckoning them on. Yes they got it right — right down to the that same wistful music.

The throw-back uniforms reminded me that baseball changes just as everything around us. Many of my readers will remember the American League going to the designated hitter in 1973 or the lowering of the mound by ten inches in 1968. Recently we’ve seen rules to reduce pitcher’s spin rate — a statistic that wouldn’t have been possible when “Field of Dreams” was made. It wasn’t the first time pitchers had to deal with new rules and MLB recently posted an article I found interesting about the history of the rules dealing with pitching and MLB’s attempts to balance pitching and hitting in America’s national pastime.

How does this intersect with “The Two Valley’s Saga?” In Book Two (still untitled), Larlo Fountain plays for the Las Cruces Town Team on the fourth of July 1887. During my research about baseball in 1887, I discovered that it became legal for pitchers to throw overhand only a few years before. That tidbit wasn’t included in the novel, but this interesting little poem was and it was actually written by Marianita Fountain as she watched that game:

Our left fielder is sick; our catcher is lame;
Our shortstop is playing a very poor game;
Two pitchers are used up, the other is wild;
The baseman can’t play when the weather ain’t mild;
The man in the right field is suffering from chills;
The ‘sub’ has a queer complication of ills;
Just what bothers our captain the doctor can’t tell—
But is the reason they beat us like h—–!

If you are a baseball history fan, you’ll find the article below by John Thorn of great interest. Just click on the picture of Jim Creighton:

Jim Creighton, painted by Mark Rucker
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Comments

    • Leigh Carter
    • August 17, 2021
    Reply

    Baseball lends itself so much to being made into books and movies. Its nuanced, self-paced, multi-layered style can be any writer or director’s dream – think “The Natural”. And of course “Field of Dreams” was both that movie and a book; it was based on the excellent “Shoeless Joe” by Canadian author W.P. Kinsella, whose last name is given to Kevin Costner’s character. Anything with even a bit of baseball in it makes the whole thing better in my opinion.

  1. Great point Leigh. I was remiss in not investigating the author of the book “Shoeless Joe,” although I did know there was a book by that title and the movie originally had that title. Thanks for ‘pitching’ in with that great comment!

  2. Reply

    Mary, very cool historical tidbit with Marianita’s poem. Thanks for sharing!

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