Field of Dreams

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Field of Dreams

Ostensibly about baseball, the emotional, magical Field of Dreams became more than just a movie for many people following its release in 1989 to both critical and popular acclaim. Directed by Phil Alden Robinson and starring Kevin Costner, James Earl Jones, and Ray Liotta, the film made almost sixty-five million dollars at the box office and another forty million in video rentals and purchases.

Based on W. P. Kinsella's book Shoeless Joe, Field of Dreams is a story of faith, forgiveness, and redemption. Iowa corn farmer Ray Kinsella (Costner) and his family lead a normal, if boring, existence until, during one of his regular inspection walks through the corn-fields, Kinsella hears a ghostly voice whispering the phrase " … if you build it, he will come." At first Kinsella assumes he is hallucinating, but the voice returns. After seeing a vision of a baseball diamond in the middle of his corn, Kinsella plows up the corn and builds a ballpark, although doing so puts his family and farm in a precarious financial position. Just at the point when Kinsella is convinced he has gone mad, Shoeless Joe Jackson (Liotta), Kinsella's late father's favorite player, walks out of the corn to play baseball on the field.

Although Kinsella believes he has fulfilled his mission to bring Shoeless Joe back to redeem himself, he continues to hear messages from the voice in the corn. The voices eventually lead him to Terence Mann (Jones), an author and activist Kinsella followed in the 1960s. Mann has given up his activism and become a software designer. Kinsella convinces Mann to return to Iowa with him, and on their way, they are told by the voice to find an old country doctor, Moonlight Graham (Burt Lancaster), who played one game in the major leagues but never got to bat. Although the doctor is long dead, he appears as a young man to Kinsella on his way back to Iowa. When Kinsella, Mann, and the teenage Graham return to Iowa, Kinsella meets the ghost of his father as a young minor league baseball player. For the first time, Kinsella is able to understand his father and the deeper meaning behind his father's obsession with baseball and Shoeless Joe Jackson. Not long after this, bankers come to foreclose on the farm. As Kinsella begins to realize the extent of his plight, an enormous line of cars begins to form outside of his home—people wanting to pay to watch Shoeless Joe and his fellow ghosts play baseball on Kinsella's field.

Field of Dreams touched a particular chord with baby boomers. Kinsella himself represents the average boomer male, forgetting how important baseball was to him as a child. Mann is clearly symbolic of all of the activists in the 1960s who sold out their principles to make money. The bankers foreclosing on the Kinsella farm represent the faceless corporations that now own baseball teams, focusing entirely on profits rather than a love of the game. The connection between boomer children and baseball is perhaps best explained by Mann, who looks out onto the field of ghost players and proclaims, "The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It's been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that was once good, and what could be good again."

Field of Dreams started a resurgence of baseball nostalgia, with dozens of books and movies recounting the "good old days" when children collected baseball cards for trading, rather than saving them as an investment. The actual "Field of Dreams" movie site on the Lansing Farm in Dyersville, Iowa, continues to be one of the top ten tourist attractions in the state. People flock from all over the United States to visit the field, trying to make the same connection with the lost innocence of youth that the film so effectively portrayed.

—Geoff Peterson

Further Reading:

Kinsella, W. P. Shoeless Joe. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1982.

Will, G. Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball. New York, Macmillan, 1990.