DYERSVILLE, Iowa — In his indispensable newsletter (subscribe now!), Joe Sheehan makes a fantastic point about why Thursday night’s Field of Dreams game felt so special. Yes, of course, it was all of the Field of Dreamy nostalgia stuff that I will get into in a minute. But there was something else:
This was a mid-week, regular-season primetime baseball game on network television.
And that NEVER happens anymore.
It’s funny that I haven’t thought about this before: Baseball simply doesn’t get primetime coverage like football does. You might say, Well, football is more popular, which it is. But that doesn’t mean baseball should NEVER get a primetime game.
Well, OK, not never. There’s the All-Star Game (which isn’t really a game) and the playoffs (which are different). Also there’s Sunday Night Baseball, but that’s on ESPN and doesn’t feel special for any number of reasons.*
*Reason 4: A-Rod.
And so, baseball, the sport, normally goes entire summers without ever getting the sort of national treatment it got Thursday night. Fox Sports did an entire documentary about “Field of Dreams” (which I was part of), heavily promoted the game and sent their A team to Dyersville, Iowa. They had Kevin Costner narrate an introduction. They treated this game like it was a big deal.
And, so, it WAS a big deal.
Baseball won the ratings night. According to Fox’s Michael Mulvihill, the game drew baseball’s best regular-season ratings in 16 years — this at a time when sports NEVER sets ratings records — and, I thought this was cool, it was the most-watched game by women since 1998. It was the most-watched game by teenagers in a decade.
On top of that, baseball was actually being TALKED about … on social media, on radio, in non-sports settings across America. People argued about the movie. People talked about baseballs being hit into cornfields. Then the game itself turned out to be so spectacular, with Aaron Judge smashing two home runs, and the Yankees coming back from oblivion to take the lead, and then the White Sox winning the game on Tim Anderson’s walk-off homer, it was all glorious.
Could this be the start of something special? I hope so. Baseball certainly could come up with 13 such special games in a season that has 2,430 of them. Do the Field of Dreams game. Feature the Hall of Fame game in Cooperstown. Play a game at Rickwood Park in Birmingham, Alabama, where the Birmingham Black Barons played. Feature a cool game at Wrigley Field, a cool game at Fenway Park, a cool game at Dodger Stadium. Play a game in Durham, N.C., for Bull Durham night. Play a game in Hawaii. Play a game in the Dominican Republic. Play a game in Japan. Play a game honoring Henry Aaron. There are a million ideas.
You could call it — and I know this is crazy — “Thursday Night Baseball.”
More on that later. For now, let me tell you a little bit about my day in Iowa, featuring photos taken by me and my friend Dan McGinn.
Of course, you remember the climactic scene in “Field of Dreams,” when a line of car headlights — “People will come, Ray” — stretches for as far as the eye can see.
Well, this turned out to be true to life. There were hundreds and hundreds of cars lined up trying to get into Dyersville for Thursday’s game. I’m told people were stuck in that line for ninety minutes, even two hours. As we left Cedar Rapids and headed for the game, I was having text exchanges like this from my pal Michael Schur.
Well, naturally, this is what you would expect from the first major league game in Dyersville, Iowa, right? But now I’m going to tell you what happened to us; we took the wrong exit. We had plugged the Field of Dreams Office into the GPS instead of the field itself, and I guess that’s in a different place. Once we realized the mistake, we punched in the new location, and it directed us down a winding two-lane road for seven miles. We didn’t see a single car during that stretch. We just kept turning and twisting, past cornfields and farmhouses.
And then, suddenly, we were just there at the field.
No traffic. No delays. No nothing. We ended up beating Michael to the game by like 20 minutes. It was heaven. And Iowa.
This was a real thing — an Apple Pie Hot Dog, sponsored by Chevrolet. You might have heard the “Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie and Chevrolet” song (and then you might not have heard it since it is like 50 years old), so Chevy had someone dressed in a hot dog costume, someone dressed up as an apple pie, someone wearing the Chevrolet logo, and they gave out these apple pie hot dogs, which are just what they sound like. They are apple pies with hot dogs inside.
And what did they taste like?
Well, I think back to what Kansas City Royals announcer Ryan Lefebvre said when we went to Sedalia, Mo., and tried a famous Guberburger at the much-missed Wheel Inn. A Guberburger is a hamburger with peanut butter slathered on it, and Ryan was the brave one who tried it first.
“What does it taste like?” I asked him.
“Well,” he said, “it tastes like a hamburger if you put peanut butter on it.”
So that tells you what an apple pie hot dog tastes like — it tastes like what would happen if you put a hot dog inside an apple pie. There is no magical fusion of flavors, like raspberry and chocolate. You taste the hot dog. You taste the apple pie. You are never unaware that these should be eaten separately.
And before you ask: Yes, I still finished mine.
A friend wrote this to me about the Field of Dreams game: “I thought the whole thing was really dumb — a fictionalized version of a fictionalized location, and everyone getting all weepy and nostalgic about it as if it all had been true. But then I was watching a major league game in a cornfield, and it was really awesome.”
I think this gets to the heart of how I feel about “Field of Dreams” itself: The movie is unquestionably problematic. I fully get why many people don’t like it; my first serious girlfriend utterly hated it and her reasons for hating it made a lot more sense than my reasons for loving it.
But, I think there’s something about “Field of Dreams,” something almost wordless, that gets to the heart of baseball. The movie — and, first, W.P. Kinsella’s novel “Shoeless Joe Comes to Iowa” — somehow mixes baseball with cornfields with mysticism with regret with fathers and sons with redemption, and unlike apple pie hot dogs it all swirls together and creates something larger. My friend is 100 percent right: Baseball was celebrating something that didn’t happen in a place where it didn’t happen, but there is something about baseball in a cornfield that feels right.
And when those players started coming out of the corn …
It was utterly perfect.
Another text exchange with Michael Schur right after I took this photo.
From what I can tell, the game was probably better on television. The ballpark itself was overstuffed — the bleachers allowed for about 18 inches of butt space, and some of us, alas, have more butt than that — and it didn’t feel like the sturdiest of structures. Before the game, there was a military flyover, and as those planes flew over, the bleachers began shaking. Not like a little shake; I mean they REALLY shook, a scary level of shaking, which both offered insight into the awesome power of those aircraft and the not-so-awesome feeling that you sometimes have on a ride at a country fair where your mind goes, “I wonder just how much thought was put into the safety standards here?”
All in all, it felt like a television event — which, I should add, is what baseball needs. More television events. But there were a few things that came across live. For instance, that barn above, those cows, all of that was in the background while the game was going on. I cannot tell you how mesmerizing that was, to be watching Major League Baseball at its highest level and then look off into the distance and see a barn and cows.
Also, you could walk around the ballpark and just run into Dwier Brown, who played John Kinsella, Ray’s father, in the movie.
Yes, that’s me, wearing a game-worn Cleveland Buckeyes Negro Leagues jersey from a Cleveland-Kansas City Salute to the Negro Leagues game — I have long thought it was a Josh Barfield jersey, but I guess looking back it is actually a Josh TOMLIN jersey, which is still pretty cool.
Anyway, I have known Dwier for a few years now — he reached out to me after he wrote his superb book If You Build It. When we talked. he told me a bit about his life story, how he was a character actor whose role in life seemed to be playing the bad guy who would meet a fitting but terrible fate. He wished to play just one meaningful role, to have one meaningful moment in a meaningful movie like “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
And then, against all odds, he got the role of Kevin Costner’s dad in “Field of Dreams.”
By the way, he’s showing a great feat of strength in this photograph as he holds an early version of my upcoming book The Baseball 100 in one hand. Keith Law got a copy and tweeted this out:
And that’s not even the hardcover, which is being printed now and will weigh, if my estimates are right, 294 pounds. I don’t know how many copies The Baseball 100 will sell, but I am hoping at least to sell quite a few pounds worth of books.
The game was amazing. That certainly helped make the night unforgettable. José Abreu homered into the cornfield in the very first inning. Lance Lynn struck out Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Luke Voit to get the game rolling. Judge hit a monster opposite-field homer in the third inning to give the Yankees the lead. Eloy Jimenez homered in the bottom of the inning to give the lead back to the White Sox.
And so it went, the White Sox built a big lead, Chicago’s brilliant prospect Michael Kopech, who has had countless bumps and bruises along his road, pitched out of a nasty jam. Chicago got to within one out of winning the game when closer Liam Hendricks gave up a two-run homer to Judge (the big man’s second of the game) and then a two-run homer to Stanton, as the Yankees took the lead.
And then Tim Anderson hit that walk-off homer and he ran around happily in a cornfield. This is what waited for him when he got home.
This field. This game. It is part of our past, Ray.
As I stated at the top, I hope that this game was a beginning rather than an end. I am sure there will be another Field of Dreams game next year, but I hope that this night inspires more than just that. The game provided a reminder: Baseball really is wonderful. It has been at the heart of the American experience for more than 100 years. It has been played brilliantly by the children of farmers and coal miners and factory workers. It has been played brilliantly by the children of immigrants.
Sometimes, for fun, I like to look at the home run record. Pretty much all of the homer records were set by the son of a saloon-keeper in Baltimore who was declared incorrigible and was sent off to the St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys. One record was almost broken by a Jewish son of immigrant parents who couldn’t understand why their son kept playing this silly game. One record was broken by a shy kid from Fargo, North Dakota, who felt so much pressure during the chase that his hair started falling out. Another record was broken by an African-American man from Mobile, Alabama, who was 13 years old when Jackie Robinson was finally allowed to break the color barrier and who endured the worst of American racism on his path to becoming the beloved king. In time, those records would be broken by the massive son of a California dentist, a Dominican dynamo who began playing the game using a milk carton as a glove and a tempestuous son of a tempestuous major league superstar.
This field. This game.
Sure, it was all based on a movie, and one with lots of problems. But it was a celebration of this great game. And if there was one takeaway from the night, it was probably this: We just don’t celebrate baseball enough.