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."
"You're all of a sudden walking on this field where you saw all these guys standing," Affeldt says. "It's almost like you were brought into their scenario, which is like what Kevin Costner was brought into. They talked to him, they hung out with him -- that was the cool thing. He met the James Earl Jones character on the road, who seemed like a grumpy author, and then he goes on this road trip and he saw the field and he just lit up. Like something inside him was fulfilled.
"That's a similar aspect to what happens to a baseball player when they get to the majors the first time, and you walk into a clubhouse or on the field."
ANGELS STARTER AND film buff C.J. Wilson says "Field of Dreams" works so well because it's about relationships more than baseball. Even if one of those relationships is between an Iowa farmer and a long-dead baseball player.
"There is a lot more subtlety in 'Field of Dreams,' I feel," Wilson says. "It's one of the first times that this mythical thing -- the imaginary -- has worked with a baseball movie. Usually, it doesn't work. Like 'The Natural' is plausible in a way. But 'Field of Dreams,' you really have to take a leap of imagination to get to the point where you can be in that universe.
"For me, it's like a Noah's ark thing, where they say he's crazy and then it turns out he's right."
He's right because "Field of Dreams" shows that baseball has the magic to connect everyone. From an Iowa cornfield to Fenway Park to Chisholm, Minn. From Australia to Luxembourg. From generations of families to softball teammates to total strangers. And especially fathers and sons.
"I think of the times when I played catch with my dad," Cleveland closer and film major (at Notre Dame) John Axford says. "And how many times he got down in the crouch position to catch me when I was throwing, and I didn't really know where the ball was going, and how many times I dinged him up. It just brings back those good memories and that good feel of baseball itself. That's where it starts for me. Being back in the yard and playing catch between an apple tree and a pear tree that we had back there."
That's one of the ironic beauties of "Field of Dreams." The movie's catchphrase -- "If you build it, they will come" -- was used as a marketing slogan when franchises were trying to blackmail communities into building lavish, publicly funded stadiums that eventually cost $250 million, $500 million, $1 billion and even more. The irony is that the movie's message is you don't need retractable roofs and luxury suites to attract fans. A humble field with an old wood bleacher is enough to have fans lining up as far as the eye can see.
"That is all you really need," Axford says. "The baseball field that was back where I came from [Port Dover, Ontario], there really wasn't much there. Just open grass and they kind of found this spot to build the baseball park and baseball field. It's still there and it's a great location. The main highway that comes into town goes around the outfield so you can see the whole ballpark as you enter town, and it's great to see it like that. When you're a kid, that's all you need.
"That's what is great about that movie. It sort of brings you back to this childhood feel."
And to your dreams.
In "Bull Durham," Costner gives Tim Robbins a list of clichés to use with sports writers. But he leaves out perhaps the biggest cliché of all: "It's like a dream come true." That sentence is a cliché because it is true. Dreams do come true in baseball, virtually every day.
In "Field of Dreams," Affeldt says, "all these guys are coming out of this cornfield, this field [Costner] made, that everyone said was a dumb idea, or that he was chasing some wild, crazy, weird dream. Just like they told each and every one of us here in this clubhouse, you're chasing something that the percentages say you can't do. And yet we achieved it."
"Field of Dreams" was based on the W.P. Kinsella novel "Shoeless Joe." I like the movie's title better. It describes what every ballfield is, no matter whether that field is surrounded by corn or parents cheering on their Little Leaguers or 35,000 passionate fans filling seats that average $50 apiece.
Baseball fields are where dreams are planted and where they grow and bloom magnificently.