There are many wonderful baseball movies -- I can recite "Bull Durham" virtually word for word -- but none that connect with viewers as meaningfully as "Field of Dreams."
The Oscar-nominated movie was released 25 years ago this week, and I still recall watching it with my softball teammates in Seattle just before I moved to St. Paul to cover the Twins. Standing outside the theater afterward, our center fielder, Rags, noted that because "Moonlight" Graham hit a sacrifice fly, he still did not have an official at-bat. (No wonder Rags is now an official scorer with the Mariners.) We all nodded and smiled, while trying unsuccessfully to pretend we weren't also sniffling back tears.
During a trip to visit relatives near Milwaukee several years later, my brother John insisted we drive several hours out of our way to the Field of Dreams site at the farm where they filmed the movie in Dyersville, Iowa. I returned in September 2003 during a Page 2 sports road trip along the length of the Mississippi River. Our earlier hours-long detour? Forget about it. This time, there were people from as far away as Australia and Luxembourg visiting the field.
There also was a 30-year-old ballplayer there named Chris Briones. He had just finished up his ninth and final season in the minors and was driving home across the country with his father, Seb.
Briones' parents had divorced when Chris was a child, so he didn't see much of his father growing up. The two were using the road trip to reconnect; and as they passed through Iowa, they decided they must visit Field of Dreams, even though it meant backtracking for a couple of hours. When they found the field after some searching -- this was before GPS -- they expected to spend perhaps 20 minutes there. Instead, they stayed several hours, walking in and out of the corn, wandering around and simply gazing at the field.
And, of course, just like in the movie, they played catch. And a father-son pair made up for some lost time.
Briones is a scout for the Rangers now. Last month, we connected again at a game in spring training, remembering that day at Dyersville.
"That's something that no matter how long I live, I'll watch that movie and [feel] it is MY dad, and me playing catch with my dad,'' Briones recalls. "It's something that everyone should get a chance to do. It's very unique. I didn't have any idea what it would mean when we were doing it; but as the years have passed, even 11 years later, it's something I never forget. It's awesome.
"We had both seen the movie. We both knew what it was. But after we had been there, it was a completely different experience to watch it. He would call me and say, Hey, we just watched 'Field of Dreams.'"
San Francisco reliever Jeremy Affeldt hasn't been to the Field of Dreams site, but he knows something similar to the feeling of walking through the corn and onto a baseball field. He felt it when he walked onto the grass at the Oakland Coliseum, where he and his father had often watched the Athletics play -- and Jeremy once told him, "I'm going to play here one day."