I really have problems with Field of Dreams. I’ll probably come off as the kind of baseball fan that is untouched by nostalgia for the game, but that’s simply not true. The fact is that Field of Dreams attempts to co-opt nostalgia for its own insidious purposes. Where love of the game is earned by fans over time by going to the park and occasionally witnessing some statistically unlikely hit, or diving catch, or some other big moment that may be smaller than a game winning homerun, but just as significant to the observer for personal reasons, Field of Dreams cheapens what is very real by pairing it up with nonsensical garbage.
Field of Dreams is meant to be a tribute to the game, but I see it as leeching rather than enhancing. And I think you can do “baseball fantasy” right. I’m not against fantasy or “magical realism” in general. Mark Helprin’s “Winter’s Tale” is one of my favorite novels, and Michael Chabon’s Summerland isn’t a half bad attempt at a baseball fantasy novel.
So what specifically is wrong with Field of Dreams?
1. At one point in Field of Dreams, Shoeless Joe jokes that they didn’t let Ty Cobb play because he was such a bastard in life. There is a certain irony in Joe Jackson willfully excluding someone else from baseball heaven, even if he was a bastard.
2. Where are the Negro League players? If Joe Jackson is allowed into baseball heaven because of an allegedly unfair exclusion from the game, perhaps Josh Gibson should be allowed in as well? Does Jackie Robinson have to break the Heaven color barrier first?
3. Kevin Costner is apparently riverdancing on this promotional poster. We may never know why.
4. The idea of sacrifice. I dislike sacrificing based on sabrmetric principles. But I also disdain sacrifice for the sake of sacrifice. Sacrifice can be noble if it saves a life or makes the world a better place, but sacrifice for no reason is pointless. Ray acts like a crazy person in the movie, endures Job-like trials, puts his family into financial hardship, all because he hears voices in his cornfield. His faith (and don’t get me started on faith) pays off, but what was the point in putting him and his family though hardship to get a mystical baseball field? God couldn’t have provided some land? I here he does that occasionally. There wasn’t a barren parcel around? There wasn’t some soil with a messed up PH level around that could have been turned into a field? Or maybe a Superfund site? Why was this so hard for Ray and his family? What was gained? If Ray had been familiar with Stephen King’s “Children of the Corn” would this story have happened?
Also, Moonlight Graham is a young ghost when he’s on the field, but when he steps off the field he ages into an elderly doctor and becomes visible to unbelievers. The theological questions are mind-boggling. Do ghosts age? Or do they age only if they let themselves be observed by unbelievers? And what’s bad about being an old ghost? Can you die again? Do you feel pain in your non-body? If Joe Jackson stepped off the field would he become an aged liquor store owner ghost?
5. The belittling of miracles. When the comic book character Superman first came about before the advent of Super Villains, Superman spent most of his time preventing petty theft in Metropolis. He did this even though he was basically invincible and apparently very efficient at converting sunlight into energy. Superman probably would have been put to better use running on a giant hamster wheel and generating electricity, or plowing fields in poor nations or doing any of million other things that would be more valuable than fighting petty crime in what appears to be a fairly well-off city.
Field of Dreams falls into a similar trap. Let’s think about the implications of a baseball field where the spirits of dead baseball players continue to play baseball. What does this tell us about the world? There is an afterlife, apparently. Is there a God? Do the players know? If we plow under an office on Wall Street will the spirits of legendary floor traders start posthumously investing for all to see? What other breaches of the laws of nature are possible with this knowledge? Is creationism actually true? And does God really care so much about baseball that his first recorded miracle in 2000 years involves a haunted baseball field?
And why is no one suitably impressed? Terrence Mann tells Kevin Costner that “people will come” to watch the players. That’s the extent of his vision? You know who else will come? Physicists, priests, photographers, the New York Times, Fox News, and ESPN4 – The All Ghost Sports Channel. And Terrence, I think they’ll plunk down more than a 20 for the privilege. Instead we get “Ray’s farm is saved because he can charge admission for his ghost baseball field! Hopefully we can compete with the Wonder Spot down the road.”
6. “Have a catch”. I’m from the Midwest, and it may very well be that most of the rest of the country asks their dad to “have a catch.” If it is, please feel free to correct me. I have never heard anyone say “have a catch” outside of this movie. Kevin asks at one point, “Can you imagine that? An American boy refusing to have a catch with his father?” There’s only one activity that people routinely “have” and it has little to do with baseball.
7. Assuming that Terrence Mann was allowed to leave the corn again, wouldn’t his subsequent writing on the subject be the most important thing ever in the history of the universe?
8. While much of my analysis has been spiritual so far, is it possible that time travel is involved? Since Joe Jackson reveals the mysterious voice to be Kevin Costner’s own, it is logical to assume that there is super-cool technology in the future. It also seems likely that Costner has caused some type of rift in the space-time continuum which allows these ballplayers to play again. Moreover, it seems likely that this rift will endanger the existence of the universe. There’s probably a good sci-fi horror tale out there about Kevin Costner accidentally destroying the universe in an attempt to “have a catch” with his dead father.
9. The concessions at the Field of Dreams appear to be lacking. Couldn’t he plow under some of his soy bean crop to create the ghosts of dead concession employees and beer vendors?
10. Who are the umpires? I think that an unnamed, undead umpire is a terrifying concept. Especially as he appears to be crooked. Shouldn’t an undead umpire be at least as good as PitchFx?
11. Is there a soccer Field of Dreams out there? Soccer is a bigger sport than baseball worldwide, complete with passionate fans and everything. Or does God just love America and baseball. Perhaps this supports the time travel theory? And do minor sports get their own fields? Is there a plowed under Blockbuster Video somewhere where the ghosts of the greatest badminton players of all time still beat the shuttlecock?
Field of Dream is an ill-conceived mess. Some suspension of disbelief is always involved in the fantasy genre, but this movie seems to be about a complete change in civilization so Kevin Costner and his dad can make up. That, after all, is the conclusion. If the movie is intended as a paean to baseball, shouldn’t the conclusion focus on baseball instead of using baseball and inter-dimensional time-travel as a means to solve Costner’s longstanding familial issues?
Major League gets closer to the spirit of baseball for me. It’s ostensibly a brainless comedy, but it’s far more real, and more evocative than anything in Field of Dreams. As far as I’m concerned Kevin Costner and Roy Hobbes’s son can go and have a catch together and never besmirch baseball again.
Also, Shoeless Joe did it.
21 minutes ago