Week of August 13, 2021

Is This Heaven?

By the time you read this, the Yankees and White Sox will have played a game in Dyersville, Iowa. You likely know the place by a different phrase: Field of Dreams. If that doesn’t ring a bell, then I’ll give you one more descriptor – MLB is playing a game “at” the field from that movie your husband always cries to when Kevin Costner plays catch at dusk with the ghost of his father.

Let’s get the tears out of the way (and—yep—I tear every damn time I watch this clip. The friggin’ score, man!)

The Yankees-White Sox game is the perfect opportunity for Tyler Kepner to revisit the 1989 movie and why it became an unlikely classic (it’s my favorite baseball movie, with Moneyball in second). As Kepner points out (with help from movie critic Richard Roeper), what sets Field of Dreams apart from most sports movies is the plot has nothing to do with a particular game; rather, it is about the timeless nature of baseball, and how often the things we miss the most are the simplest forms of connection, like playing catch with your dad. 

But baseball has never been pure, and that’s a major plot point in the movie. Who first shows up to play on Kevin Costner’s gleaming ball field? Shoeless Joe Jackson and seven White Sox teammates who were banned for life for conspiring to throw the 1919 World Series.

Losing on purpose is a ballplayer’s worst possible sin. Costner’s character, Ray Kinsella, offers redemption. It’s not just the overtone that’s religious, it’s right there in the dialogue; multiple characters wonder aloud if this is heaven. “Field of Dreams” is a different kind of movie, and that is why it stands apart.

“In ‘Rocky’ and ‘Hoosiers’ and ‘The Natural,’ those all have the big game at the end; we’re leading up to the big game, that’s what sports movies are about,” said Richard Roeper, The Chicago Sun-Times critic who succeeded Gene Siskel on “At the Movies” with Roger Ebert. “We don’t really get that in ‘Field of Dreams.’ This is more about the timeless nature of baseball.”

That’s the part of this movie that’s absolutely perfect – the odyssey on which Ray embarks – as flawed and sappy as it can be at times – is to give him one more opportunity to play catch with his dad.  Redemption. So often a fantasy, but a beautiful one. 

Here’s one other nugget from Kepner’s piece that I didn’t know until now:

Dwier Brown, the actor who played Ray Kinsella’s father, lost his own father a month before filming began in 1988, giving extra emotional heft to the role. When the movie was finished, Brown found himself and his co-stars weeping as they watched the screening for the cast.

Good read. If you are the one person who hasn’t seen the movie, grab a box of tissues and get on it! 

Update: The game just finished. Not one, not two, but three dramatic, 9th inning home runs into the cornfields didn’t hurt. The game and field looked just spectacular on TV, although I can pass on Kevin Costner meandering about the field like a kid who can’t find his parents at the state fair.

I’m sure the novelty will wear off at some point, but I’m glad MLB is making this an annual event. Yes, it is all over-the-top, and overly sentimental, and (don’t do it, don’t do it) corny, but dammit it works. – PAL 

Source: Shoeless Joe Won’t Be There. Aaron Judge Will.Tyler Kepner, The New York Times (08/11/21)

TOB: First, great write up by Phil. I’ll never forget the first time I saw the movie. I was probably in middle school, maybe early high school. I watched it with my parents in their room. And when Ray and his dad played catch, I remember being bewildered that my dad was crying. I remember my mom making some comment about, “This movie always makes your dad cry.” I can’t say I had ever seen him cry before that, but perhaps that is wrong. So it did surprise me, though it shouldn’t have. 

More than most, my dad had a good reason to cry at that scene: his father died when my dad was only 4 years old. It’s hard for me to really fathom that. There are a lot of remarkable things about my dad. But the fact he was and is an excellent, loving, and affectionate father, despite all odds and with every reason to be just the opposite, is the most remarkable of all. I love you, Dad!

Field of Dreams, and Ads

Ok, ok. Now that we’ve covered the good, let’s discuss MLB’s execution of the game. 

When they announced this game last year, I was excited. Then the build up this week was so immense – it was everywhere – I started to sour. But by Wednesday night I decided I had to tune in and man…they were so close. They really almost nailed it. But here’s where they lose me:

First, I don’t understand the location decision. The field where the movie was filmed still exists as a tourist destination. They could have used that. Throw in some more bleachers and bam, a small crowd but it would have been magic. Instead, they wanted to pack the fans in because…money. So they decide to build what ended up being akin to a very nice minor league or college stadium. But they did it RIGHT NEXT to the existing Field of Dreams field. It’s SO weird to me. Look at this picture.

In the foreground is the original, from the movie. You can see the house and the bleachers where Karen almost died, and the backstop. It’s quaint, cool. Then in the background is the behemoth MLB built. So, fine, you wanted something bigger – something ready to host a TV crew. But why put it right next door? It ruins the magic of a baseball field in the middle of a cornfield in the middle of nowhere when there are suddenly two of them.

Second, the ads. Oh god, the ads. Yes, there were fewer ads around the stadium than in every MLB game but ugh. Here’s Tim Anderson rounding first after his walk-off yam…and a Budweiser ad prominently behind him, along with some other ad on the tarp cover:

Here’s Aaron Judge, about to hit a dinger into the corn, with a friggin Mattress Firm ad behind him. That panel of course rotated (very period accurate!) and also had a GEICO ad, and I’m sure others. Again, they couldn’t get over their greed to let a good idea be perfect – they had to scrape every last penny possible.

Finally, my biggest gripe. The outfield wall. 

There’s no need for the fence, man! Just hit into the damn corn. I’m very upset about this. Ray Liotta is going to walk out of that corn, look at the chain link fence, and walk right back to baseball purgatory. Outrageous.

Otherwise, the uniforms: sweet. The vibes, wonderful. I hope the Giants get invited some year. -TOB

PAL:  That’s a great line, TOB: “Ray Liotta is going to walk out of that corn, look at the chain link fence, and walk right back to baseball purgatory.”

I am pretty sure there are requirements for a field and facility to be used in an official MLB game, and meeting those requirements would have messed up the original field where the movie was shot…which would dilute the tourist novelty of the original. I think Toronto had to make upgrades and adjustments to the field it played on when they spent time in a minor league park because of the pandemic.

The Fitzmagic Odyssey 

Ryan Fitzpatrick is slated to start as QB for Washington this season. It will be his ninth team during his 17-year NFL career. Most of you readers probably know his story: Harvard dude, 7th-round draft pick, has become known as the steady vet who backs up, then takes over for, high draft picks. This year might be different. The high draft pick for Washington already flamed out last year, and now a playoff team brought in Fitzpatrick to take over. 

The part about this story that I found most intriguing is the idea of leadership. For a guy who never imagined he’d last all that long in the NFL (the framed mini-camp check in his office for $273.63, the first check he received as a pro, is a replica, because “I sure as hell cashed that thing.”), he’s been in a lot of locker rooms with hundreds of teammates, dynamics, and expectations. Above all, Fitzpatrick has learned that leadership requires connections, and that takes honest-to-goodness time. 

“Being on a new team every year, it’s not the system and learning it,” Fitzpatrick said. “That stuff is gonna take care of itself. Meeting the guys and having this human connection with these guys is such an important aspect of playing QB and being part of a team. A lot of that is time. You have to put the time in. You have to have conversations. You have to ask questions. There are no shortcuts to building relationships.”

He is universally loved by teammates from all of his stops to a degree that is uncommon. How about this: when he was holding out for a respectful contract  (we’re talking like backup money) after leading the Jets to a 10-6 record, two of his receivers considered holding out, too, as an act of solidarity. 

Of course, him taking time to get to know his teammates wouldn’t amount to a story if Fitzpatrick didn’t deliver with some regularity, and he does, which has been a bit of a double edged sword when he has backed-up to franchise QB in waiting (Geno Smith for the Jets, Jameis Winston for the Bucs, Tua for Miami). He’s better than the high-end picks, and everyone on the teams love him. It’s not long before the majority of the players want him starting instead of a raw and mistake machine that is most every rookie QB. 

The other portion that stood out is the sheer logistics of moving nine times for a job. Fitzpatrick and his wife have seven kids (no wonder he keeps playing…he’s got to feed those twerps!). They found out the hard way that it doesn’t work for the family when the QB leaves them behind somewhere else, so every new team means a new house, new schools, new everything. They’ve refined the process over the years: 

Over time, the Fitzpatricks have developed a system for each new move. They’ll start by studying the area to identify the best public schools, and use that initial search to build a list of seven to 10 houses. On his own, Fitzpatrick flies out and makes the final decision. Not long after, Liza will follow with all the kids in tow.

Solid read. – PAL 

Source: Nine teams, hundreds of teammates and a lifetime of stories: Ryan Fitzpatrick is a ‘next-level leader’”, Robert Mays, The Athletic (08/12/21)

Video of the Week

Who did it better? Who can say?

Tweet of the Week

Song of the Week

Loudon Wainwright III – “Fathers And Sons”

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