“Yeah, well, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.”

HobbsThere is a scene in the classic baseball movie, “The Natural,” in which slugger Roy Hobbs meets Glenn Close’s character, Iris, in a diner in Chicago. It’s a short scene, but there is an element to it that bothers me immensely.

The opening dialogue to the scene is as follows:

Waiter: “Hi, folks. What can I get ya?”
Iris: “Al, I’d like you to meet Roy Hobbs.”
Waiter: “Are you kidding? What do you think I ran over here for?  We got jiffy service? The pleasure is mine.”
Iris: “He’s a big fan of yours.”
Waiter: “What can I get ya?”
Hobbs: “Do you have any lemonade?”
Waiter: “Sure have.”
Iris: “I’d like the same, too, please.”
Waiter: “Two lemonades.”

Al heads behind the counter, retrieves two lemonades as instructed, brings them to the table, and then leaves so Roy and Iris can catch up. They chat for a few minutes before Iris announces that she has to get going. It’s a rather insignificant portion of the film.

So, what is it that bothers me? Well, at NO point during this diner scene do Roy or Iris take even one sip of the lemonades brought to their table. They asked for them, they received them, but they did not drink them and, as far as I can tell, no one pays the bill.

Maybe it’s the former server in me, but their refusal to drink the lemonade gets under my skin. ONE SIP! That’s all I wanted to see. Is that too much to ask?

Why bring this up? The point is that every movie has its flaws. Did this ruin “The Natural” for me? No. Neither did the physics-defying home run ball that shattered the lights, sending sparks falling over the diamond in the film’s memorable conclusion. It remains a classic baseball movie, despite its issues with consistency or accuracy.

When you go to the movies, you suspend reality. You allow yourself to forget how the real world works, helping spark your imagination and appreciation for ideas and concepts that simply would not happen in real life.

I’m bringing all of this up in light of recent column by my friend and colleague, Anthony Castrovince. The subject of the column is a good one: the Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa, has been purchased by a group wanting to develop the land and farm into a super baseball complex for both tourists and traveling teams to enjoy. Hall of Famer Wade Boggs is one of the people helping organize this project.

Castrovince opens his column with a rip job of the movie, “Field of Dreams,” that did not sit well with me — a big “Field of Dreams” fan. Castrovince writes:

Every now and then, I’ll come across some list of the greatest baseball movies of all-time, and almost invariably, “Field of Dreams” makes the cut.

The preoccupation with this frustrating film confounds me. I usually appreciate a paean toward the great game, and I understand the connective qualities the movie seeks to celebrate and the emotional strings it attempts to strum. I also get that sometimes, when you step into the theater, you must suspend your sense of reality.

But the reduction of rationality this movie requires goes beyond what I’m willing to offer. God, ignoring all the other troubles of the world, bends the laws of time and space just so some Iowa farmer can “have a catch” with his dead dad? (Who actually says “have a catch” anyway? Isn’t it “play catch”?) People willingly plunk down $20 to see a ballgame played by ghosts? (Shouldn’t they be putting that money toward psychiatrists?) “Shoeless” Joe Jackson bats from the right-hand side of the plate?

No, no. It’s all too much for me to stomach. I’m sorry, list-makers and Kevin Costner apologists, but “Field of Dreams” is terrible.

No, Anthony, “Field of Dreams” is not terrible. And there are plenty of people in certain segments of the country who ask their dad to “have a catch.” And, believe me, if there were a baseball diamond nearby where ghosts of Hall of Famers gathered for regular pickup games, you’d better believe I’d fork over $20. I might even pay more! Give me Old Hoss vs. Cobb. Ruth vs. Paige. I want to see Cool Papa try to steal off Josh Gibson.

Yes, “Field of Dreams” was filled with flaws and a concept that begged you to ignore the laws and rules of our world. I never have a problem with the latter when it comes to movies. Plain ol’ mistakes are different. Much like the lemonade scene in “The Natural,” I was also bothered by the fact that Shoeless Joe hit from the right side in “Field of Dreams.” Couldn’t they have reversed the film or something?

It might shock Mr. Castrovince, but when people ask me for my favorite baseball movie I always reply with “Field of Dreams.” It was a story of a man doing something he believed in, no matter what people thought of him along the way. He risked everything in order to do something he felt was right. He had a dream, and wanted to have a catch with his dad, and the baseball gods made it possible. That’s my kind of story.

Could it happen? Of course not. But it was a romanticized look at how the game of baseball connects generations, and builds bonds between fathers and sons.

Another reason I love “Field of Dreams” is pure sentiment. For many summers growing up, my family would make the drive from South Holland, Ill., where I spent most of my childhood, to Dyersville to play baseball on that field in the middle of nowhere for a summer afternoon. When the sun started to set, it was time to head home.

We’d sit on the bleachers from the movie, take pictures by the old farm house and walk into the cornfield. And we’d play baseball for as long as we wanted. Kids formed a line and waited their turn to hit. Dads took turn tossing pitches. You could play any position you wanted, or have a catch with your dad in the outfield. No score. No innings. No highly-paid superstars. Just boys and fathers together on a field in Iowa, playing the great game of baseball.

For me, that was a little slice of heaven.

FoD

That’s me with my dad on the far left. I’m wearing a “Field of Dreams” t-shirt and proudly showing off my “Field of Dreams” baseball. That’s me hitting in the middle photo with my dad standing behind. And the third photo is me emerging from the corn field.

What a great movie. And what a great place. I am excited to see how the project to restore and expand the farm comes along.

–JB

6 Comments

I’m all for the treacle-sweet sentiment of this movie. I can even tolerate an Italian right-handed hitting Shoeless Joe. My problem is that there is no universe where this story and Eight Men Out can logically coexist. Either they are both wrong or one is right. When the dad asks his little girl on the tractor how someone who hit .375 throw the Series I always think, “Simple. He tries hard in 3 games and throws the others.”

It’s the revisionist history about Shoeless Joe that bothers me the most. Otherwise, I am right with you on this heartwarming tale.

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Some of my greatest family memories, too, Son. Always loved to “have a catch” with you, even when you got to where you could throw the ball so hard it would leave my glove hand stinging.

He can’t “suspend his sense of belief” for a movie created for the sole purpose of entertainment? I pity that man. I really do.

“The Natural” was a big disappointment. Maybe because I was in a not so good place and hoped it would help bring me out. It didn’t. But “Field of Dreams” was a pleasant surprise — a sort of sleeper about a regular guy who discovers that ballplayers, even his dead Dad, were just regular guys too — who loved to play baseball. That’s what trumps that movie for me — it manages to a capture a small part of our love for the game. “The Natural’s” heavy themes of good/bad, light/dark just didn’t cut it.

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