Sunday, June 22, 2014

Celebrating 25 Years at the Fields of Dreams

I almost didn't go.

I didn't know it was happening.

But last Saturday morning, I saw a headline that the 25th anniversary of the filming of "Field of Dreams" was underway.  A celebrity baseball game would be played at 2:30 that afternoon.  Attendance was by free-ticket only.  No ticket, no entrance.

I made phone calls.  I spoke to the main office for the movie site.  I said I'd been there for a book signing a few years before, and could I have a ticket now, please?

In fact, my baseball novel "Until the End of the Ninth" is reminiscent of the "Field of Dreams."  It is inspired by the true story of a minor league team - the 1946 Spokane Indians - that died in a bus crash midway through that season.  Nine of the 16 men on the bus died.  Eight of the nine who died had served in World War II.  Nine died, so they died as a team - the number on the field at any given time.  When I learned of the story, and of this strong team of men, I could not let it go and so wrote about it.  I wanted to imagine that their spirits lived on, so I wrote it that way.  Had "Field of Dreams" not existed, my more spiritual approach would have been challenged, I'm sure.  But "Field of Dreams" gave people permission to allow for the way that I wrote the story.  I can't help but feel grateful, and a kinship for that film. 

So when the office said that there were no extra tickets for that day and they were not sure how to help me get to the field - if I even could make it in time - I told them I was driving to Dyersville, Iowa anyway.  From Chicago, where I currently am, it would be about 3 1/2 hours.

In a funny way, I liked the uncertainty.  It seemed to bring to life the film's slogan: "If you build it, [they] will come" - even if you can't guarantee them access to the field.

First I went to my 6-year-old nephew's soccer game.  It was his last game of the season.  It seemed fitting to watch him play before going to the field of dreams.

On the way to Dyersville, I called the dream office.  I wouldn't need a ticket after all.  Everyone who showed up for a bus ride to the field would get to the field.

I arrived at the field about 2:15 p.m., just before the celebrity game.  It was the best afternoon.

The roster of players was impressive.  Kevin Costner, Bob Costas, Tim Busfield (who played the doubting brother-in-law in the film), Dwier Brown (who has his own book now called "If You Build It,"  a memoir that includes talking about how he came to play Kevin Costner's dad in the film) - the list goes on and on. The executive producer was there, playing umpire (again, as he did in the film).  Here is a nice article on the event.

Initially I sat by the corn field that serves as the home run fence.  It was pretty far away, but an interesting view.  Later I stood by the first base line - my favorite spot.  It was softball, not baseball, but it was a real game.  There were a few errors of course, but it was basically a good game and fun to watch.  I had not realized this, but Kevin Costner is a good ball player.  He was one of the best on the field (and that field included former Cy Young winner Bret Saberhagen).  He played shortstop for his team (the Kinsellas) and got the first and third outs of the first inning.  His first at-bat sent the ball near us - the peanut gallery out by the corn.  Here he is, getting a single and rounding the base, looking for more:

Bob Costas called the last inning.  Fantastic.

I wasn't there the night before, when everyone saw the film on the field.  I wasn't there earlier on Saturday to see parents and children playing catch on the field.  So I missed some of it.  But I did see some of the ghost players (local players who come out of the cornfields on Sundays in July and August every year to reenact the film's intent).  I did meet some folks, helped someone find her particular hero from the film (Dwier Brown)... And I remembered being there before, years ago, for a book signing - it had been a Ghost Sunday that day, and I remembered how magical it was, to listen to the film's music come on over the loudspeakers and then to see the players come from the corn, to the film's music...  I thought about my 1946 team now - wondered if their spirits could know that baseball remains alive and well in Dyersville, Iowa, on a field that was built to remember the game and to remember those we love.

They did build it, you know.  We all should go.

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