With the San Francisco Giants and Texas Rangers officially set to start this year’s World Series, it seems like the appropriate time to look back on an old baseball favorite…
If ever there was a movie that captured the American tradition and nostalgia of baseball, it’s Phil Robinson’s directed 1989 classic Field of Dreams, starring Kevin Costner. Ray Kinsella (Costner) buys a farm in Iowa with no other plans than to settle down and take care of his family—until he starts hearing voices in the corn. “ If you build it, they will come,” the corn whispers to him. Kinsella is unsure at first what this means, but soon finds himself overcome with the urge to plow down half of his cornfield to build a baseball diamond. With the loving support of his wife, Annie (Amy Madigan), he goes out on a crazy whim and does it.
Months pass. Ray begins to lose hope when nothing continues to happen, and even contemplates tearing down the field when he finds it has put him back on his mortgage payments. Of course this notion is quickly abandoned as soon as the ghosts of famous baseball players start turning up on his field, including his father’ s idol Shoeless Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta). From here Ray embarks on a wild goose chase through the American countryside and the annals of baseball history fulfilling his dream by helping others fulfill their own.
Kevin Costner delivers an exciting performance as the ever-optimistic and determined Ray. Also making an appearance is James Earl Jones as the once famous but long forgotten war protest writer of the 60s (think Malcolm X or MLK), Terrence “ Terry” Mann.
Jones’ interactions with Costner are rich in both comedy and emotion depending on the tone of a given scene, and keep the movie grounded before it gets too sloppily sentimental or melodramatic. The movie slips into the realm of melodrama towards the end, but it is a well-deserved and justified melodrama that, I’ ll admit, made me tear up a little. I get mushy for reunions.
When it comes to the actual game of baseball, this movie talks about it more than it actually shows it, and I wanted more of the easy camaraderie of the old teams practicing in Ray’ s cornfield, reliving their glory days. The dynamics between the players felt very natural, and my favorite scene was getting to watch the young Doc Graham play rookie to the baseball bigshots: clowning around, hitting balls, and simply enjoying the game. The minor characters in this film were full of life and personality, even if they only had a line or two, and they filled out Ray’ s baseball field and the world of the film superbly.
In the end this movie is about the spirit of baseball — it’ s about the passion baseball invokes in people and it’ s about realizing this passion and following your dreams. As Terrence Mann puts it in an inspired monologue that only James Earl Jones could possibly deliver: “ America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again.
But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past… It reminds us of all that once was good and could be again.”
So try and keep that in mind over this next week or so—it’ s not about who wins or loses, it’ s about playing the game! Or so I’ m going to say for now, unless the Giants lose, in which case I will personally be extremely annoyed. But that’ s beside the point.