Part I of this post is here. Thanks for reading.
The Field of Dreams Game was a letter-perfect expression of the current state of the MLB. Although it provided us with nine precious innings reminding us of all that was once good, the grotesque remainder was sometimes an unwelcome reminder of what could be.
You may not have heard of him, but you have seen him, albeit probably through teary eyes. That’s fine; he’s okay with that. That’s precisely what he wants.
Dwier Brown, tears streaming down his face, told the Field of Dreams Game audience during the pregame of how he came to play Ray’s father, John Kinsella, in the 1989 movie. Despite his dreams of taking part in a heartwarming classic like It’s a Wonderful Life, his acting career wasn’t going well, he said, when he received an opportunity to play a role in the upcoming movie based on one of his favorite books, Shoeless Joe.
But 33 years later, Dwyer has, understandably, taken his role to market. There’s a little picture of an ear of corn on his personal website tab and an wide array of autographed baseballs and movie photographs for sale (free shipping on orders over $35!) You and I would probably corner the same hustle. But it creates in me the same feeling I have when I soar gloriously through the countryside on a Kings Island roller coaster and, while discussing the qualities of the ride with a loved one, must walk through a gift shop in order to reach the exit. But if there’s anything more American than the American pastime, it’s selling crap–and these days, the hot market is selling illusions.
And so the real moments are sharper and clearer than any HD video screen. When Cub Willson Contreras collapsed on the baseline with a rolled ankle, Jonathan India gently tapped him with his glove to make the out –honoring the game– then raised an arm to stop play, placing his hand on his competitor’s back– honoring the human being.
A temporary total illusion was almost achieved at the Field of Dreams Game. They were so close to getting this exactly right, weren’t they? They were so close. Everyone from the players to the announcers to Johnny Bench wore period clothing. The scoreboard was magnificently wooden and analogue, and even the digital version in the corner of the screen followed the aesthetic. Bench, a Crosley Field alumni, noted all the families in the stands and said, “This is the way it was.”
And then: The invasion of the DayO. The hologram. The jarring appearance of a hoard of parents and children nobody knows or cares about blocking a perfectly fine walk-out from the starting lineup and attending legends. They were afraid to let the three-hour moment breathe, fearing the modern American attention span of 8.25 seconds.
It could be argued that such contours were necessary to juxtapose the vintage game with modern-day appreciation. But these realizations must arise organically for them to work– the decided contrast, for example, of the 2022 opening line up roster versus the men who played in the 1919 World Series.
If this game were actually played in that era, neither India nor Contreras would have been anywhere near the dugout, not to mention Velasquez, Suzuki, or Aquino, and you know exactly why. But in a stage such as this, we truly were seeing not what could be again, but what could be again, better.
And so such situations underline who you really are. Joey Votto was thoughtful and funny. Johnny Bench revelled in being Johnny Bench. Various luminaries posted social media videos of themselves walking solemnly out of the corn, savoring the moment; Sean Casey, exactly as he was meant to, crashed through the stalks yelling “They Mayor’s in the Field of Dreams! Let’s go!!”
It’s a family sport, and the MLB knows it, which is why its current disappointments are so very difficult to overlook. My family was attending a dinner while the game was going on, but my sister leaned over to whisper that the event began with both Griffeys emerging from the corn. I flapped my hands in front of my eyelashes in the universal female sign for emotional overload; she laughed. And do you know why I brought that moment home from the banquet hall? Because I heard about it from my sister, not a glowing rectangle, and we participated in an actual, human-to-human exchange of information.
So it was perfectly appropriate that when Hall of Famer and broadcaster John Smolz received the news that his father passed away earlier in the day, he decided to work the game anyway. In honor of his dad, in honor of baseball, in honor of all of it.