“If you build it, he will come” (Ray Liotta, Field of Dreams, 1989). The MLB heeded the advice of ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson by constructing a ballpark in the very same cornfield in rural Iowa that was the filming location for the iconic 1989 film Field of Dreams. However, this time, it was not Shoeless Joe and the disgraced players that emerged from the cornfield; rather, it was the Chicago White Sox and the New York Yankees about to kick off the first ever MLB at Field of Dreams game.
The game was a huge success. Until now, the MLB has lacked a marquee regular season event that other pro sports leagues have enjoyed, but the success of the Field of Dreams game presents an opportunity for the MLB to make this event/game an annual tradition, akin to the NHL Winter Classic outdoor games, or the NFL Thanksgiving games. With the Field of Dreams game, they have finally found their niche in the world of special, annual sporting events that have become so critical to the financial and promotional success of other pro sports leagues, and the league must do everything in its ability to replicate the success of this year’s game in future seasons.
Until now, the MLB has lacked a marquee regular season event… but the success of the Field of Dreams game presents an opportunity for the MLB to make this event/game an annual tradition, akin the the NHL Winter Classic outdoor games, or the NFL Thanksgiving games.
The most pivotal aspect of specialized sporting events is the game presentation, which was absolutely spectacular this time. Both the Chicago White Sox and the New York Yankees wore retro uniforms in the style of their respective 1919 uniforms. Fans always applaud the use of retro uniforms for special games, both for nostalgic reasons, and because many people simply like changing things up from time to time. The decision to go with the 1919 uniforms in particular tugged at the heartstrings of baseball fanatics and diehard fans of the film, who recall the central role that this year plays in the film.
This year in question, 1919, was the year of the infamous Chicago Black Sox scandal, in which eight White Sox players were banned for life for intentionally losing the World Series after accepting money from a gambling organization. ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson, the most famous participant of the scandal, is Ray’s father’s favourite player, and Ray ridicules him over this, straining their relationship. Much of the film deals with how each character views the scandal, ‘Shoeless’ Joe, and whether we can consider role models with questionable pasts role models at all.
The ballpark was also designed in the style of Comiskey Park, the home of the Chicago White Sox from 1910 to 1990, and it is equipped with a wooden, non-digital scoreboard erected between the rows of cornstalks. They even had the players enter the ballpark by walking out of the cornfield led by Kevin Costner, the star of the film, recreating the iconic scene in which Shoeless Joe and the rest of the disgraced players emerge from the cornfield to play baseball. To top it all off, the game itself turned out to be a thriller, ending on a walk-off home run into the cornfield by Chicago’s Tim Anderson. This was a storybook finale worthy of the game’s awe-inspiring ambiance.
It’s hard to not envision this as the MLB’s signature event moving forward. The audacity of the project, the backdrop and the appeal to nostalgia all lend qualities that make the Field of Dreams game ripe for reproduction. The MLB has already announced a Field of Dreams game for next year involving the Chicago Cubs and the Cincinnati Reds. The MLB would be foolish to not turn this event into their version of the NHL’s Winter Classic, or the NFL’s Thanksgiving Day tradition.
It’s hard not to envision this as the MLB’s signature event moving forward.
Baseball is at a crossroads. Over the past decade or so, the league has been fighting off harsh criticism from current fans who claim the game has become boring. Games are getting longer, the amount of action each game sees is declining, and viewership both at the ballpark and on TV is decreasing at a rapid rate. The older generation of fans that have watched the progression of these trends are nervous for the sport’s popularity moving forward.
Yes, many of these issues are rooted too deep to be overcome by the addition of a special event such as the MLB at Field of Dreams. However, that should not preclude the league from going the extra mile to help boost fan engagement. Baseball needs some added flair, which is what the Field of Dreams game provides with its throwback uniforms, pre-game ceremony, and picturesque scene. The MLB season is 162 games long, which is almost double the number of games as the NHL and NBA.
It is fairly difficult to maintain interest throughout such a long season. Implementing a regular Field of Dreams event would instantly transform what would otherwise have been a run-of-the-mill, regular season game into an exciting, brand-building national spectacle. Over time, the Field of Dreams event can become a respected annual tradition indispensable to the league, much like the Thanksgiving Day games are to the NFL. Baseball has finally found its niche in the American sporting landscape, and it must seize and embrace this terrific opportunity!