Hollywood had to make the corn grow. The shooting schedule of Field of Dreams was driven by Iowa’s agricultural cycle, and the production had just a few weeks to capitalize on the stalks of high summer. But that year saw a historically bad drought, and the pitiful crop would have made for the highly dramatic sight of Kevin Costner standing in ankle-deep corn, yelling “All right, who are you?!”
So the producer hired an actual, literal corn whisperer, who brought in rainbirds, trucks full of water, and fertilizer. By the time of the shoot, the crew had to build a platform for Costner to stand on while communing with the corn. The stalks were over his head.
Field of Dreams is now a Field of Dreams in fact, and it’s easy to go overboard with manufacturing the magic. Building a real baseball field where a real MLB game can take place near the site: Good. Projecting an undead Harry Caray into a broadcast booth: Horrifying.
In this way, then, the Field of Dreams Game was a letter-perfect expression of the current state of the MLB. Although it provided nine precious innings reminding us of all that was once good, the grotesque remainder was sometimes an unwelcome reminder of what could be.
The very decision of which teams should play in the first Field of Dreams Game smacked of cold monetary selection. The movie’s mysticism hinges on the reappearance of the eight White Sox banned from baseball after the thrown 1919 World Series against the Reds. MLB got it half right: The White Sox were invited to play the 2021 Field of Dreams game. They showed up in replicas of the jerseys of the era, to face off against… the Yankees.
It was everything baseball, including our frustrations about it. It made perfect sense for the White Sox to be there, and precisely zero for the Yankees to join them.
It should have been us. It should have been the Reds, especially if this were to take place exactly once and never again, and not only for matters of historical accuracy and suggestion of a rematch. It should have been us because it would have squarely faced the modern consequences of the fallout from that Series.
The legitimacy of baseball hung by the width of a jockey’s whip in those days; gambling was rampant and horse racing and boxing were threatening to swallow this scruffy upstart game whole. So the commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, installed for the express purpose of throwing out everyone who needed to be thrown out, threw out the offenders. Cincinnatians came away thinking that the worst thing about all this was that our first World Series title was now tarnished. Such a pity, but an ancient one, and at least now every player and manger knew the terrifying consequences of betting on baseball. It would never contaminate the game again.
Until it did, and in the most nightmarish possible way for the city who had already suffered its effects.
But the corn had its way, in the end. The pairing of the White Sox and the Yankees made for a movie-script ninth inning, one that ended with a home run into the corn. That game would not have unfolded in the same way if the Reds were present, so I’ll concede the point.
While the farmer kept the field after the movie wrapped, the little MLB stadium constructed down the road was temporary. It vanished into the corn after that final run, and sprang to life again to welcome the team that probably should have been there in the first place.
But it’s gone again, and we don’t know when or if it will be back. No MLB games can take place in Iowa next summer, because the site will be under construction. The owners are building a hotel.
Such a pity. The corn can only hold out against the grotesque remainder for so long, but maybe it will surprise us, and grow over our heads once again.
Part II is here.