One theme in my Baseball in American Narratives class at Northwestern is how baseball movies have a weird feedback loop with reality. Cinematic baseball becomes part of real-life baseball culture. Teams play the music from The Natural when sluggers hit one out. "There's no crying in baseball!" has become a trope where you can fill in the blanks for "crying" and "baseball" in countless context-dependent ways, and everyone pictures the bug-eyed Jimmy Dugan in A League of Their Own chewing out his weepy center fielder. The Quad Cities River Bandits, the Midwest League A-ball minor-league affiliate of the Houston Astros, features a "cornfield deck" in its ballpark so fans can commune with the ghostly players from Field of Dreams.
Major League Baseball just announced what might be the ultimate such feedback loop: next season, August 13, 2020, the Chicago White Sox will play the New York Yankees in an official Major League game at the Dyersville, Iowa, site where that testosterone-and-pastoral-bullshit-fertilized movie was filmed.
Fans of Field of Dreams almost immediately fulfilled the prediction of James Earl Jones's Terence Mann in his historically-and-racially-oblivious speech about how great and unifying American baseball has always been: "Oh, people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come." Over the decades since this film became a macho weeper cable TV staple, Iowa tourist officials estimate 1.5 million people have made their way to that spot to have a catch with Dad, play a pickup game, and buy some souvenirs.
I have gone myself, twice. For research purposes only, I assure you.
The White Sox will be the home team in a custom-built 8,000-seat stadium that will evoke the original Comiskey Park, so let's get the Obligatory Attendance Joke over with: with so few seats, maybe the Pale Hose will finally sell out a game that isn't Opening Day or against the Cubs.
But while the publicity from Major League Baseball and both the Yankees and the Sox cite the emotional power of the film and the way it celebrates America's pastoral heartland and generational connections (two other themes from my class), some awkward questions remain as yet unaddressed, and one subtext should be brought to the surface for Chicago baseball fans.
First, who does MLB expect to come to this game? White Sox fans cannot be bothered to drive from Oak Lawn to Bridgeport, so why would they flock to Dyersville? As for Yankees fans, somehow, I suspect the only New Yorker fond of Iowa is a certain politician whose brand might be getting toxic there due to tariffs that are hammering markets for the Hawkeye State's farmers the way Shoeless Joe Jackson hit American League pitching. I suppose the movie has its superfans who will drive cross-country in VW minivans looking for the ghost of Moonlight Graham along every on-ramp. The Des Moines Register reports that the Super 8 and the Comfort Inn in Dyersville are being inundated with people seeking reservations.
So, people will indeed come, Ray.
But let's be real: attending this game will be a nightmare.
People who get tickets will not be able to drive to this ballgame in a timely way. The road that leads from Iowa Highway 136 through "downtown" Dyersville out to the movie site is a one-lane-each-way back road (Dyersville East to Lansing Road) with, if my memory serves, several right-angle turns and no shoulder. Unless they add a couple of lanes to the whole route, it will be corn-country gridlock. Oh, and if there are 8,000 seats in the park, wouldn't they need at least a 4,000-spot parking lot as well? That will take up a lot of acreage otherwise dedicated to producing high fructose corn syrup and ethanol.
But at the end of the proverbial ninth, this game is really just another slap in the face of loyal White Sox fans. Such fans claim, with no small justification, that they are unfairly neglected by the media in this Cubs-centric city. Scheduling decisions for the 2020 season indicate that they should now add Major League Baseball to their roster of Sox haters.
In June 2020, the Chicago Cubs will be playing a two-game series against the Saint Louis Cardinals in London. The Yankees and the Red Sox did so this season, in London Stadium, which seats more than 66,000.
One Chicago team jets across the Atlantic to a world metropolis to build the MLB brand across Europe and the English-speaking Commonwealth. The other gets to take a bus to the middle of an Iowa cornfield for a romantic tie-in with a 30-year-old movie.
Good thing there's no swearing in baseball . . . v