‘Field of Dreams’: A film so magical it inspired a Major League Baseball game

Listen to Kevin Costner’s memories on our “Beyond the Fame” podcast.

WTOP's Jason Fraley salutes 'Field of Dreams' (Part 1)

It takes a truly magical movie to have a real-life sporting event named after it.

Major League Baseball will host its inaugural “Field of Dreams” game in a cornfield in Dyersville, Iowa on Thursday night in tribute to the iconic 1989 film.

WTOP listeners voted it the Best Sports Movie, beating out “Rocky” in our entertainment bracket in 2014.

Likewise, the American Film Institute named it one of the Top 10 Fantasy Films of All Time, joining other classics of magical realism, from “Groundhog Day” to “Miracle on 34th Street” to “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Fittingly, Kevin Costner recently told WTOP the movie was this generation’s “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

So what makes this film so special? Here are my Top 5 reasons I love “Field of Dreams.”

1) Crazy Dreams

Kevin Costner opens the film as Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella, who hears a whisper in his cornfield, “If you build it, he will come.” He interprets it as a sign to build a baseball field, teaching us to listen to the little voices in our heads even when the dream seems impossible. “I’ve just built something totally illogical,” he says, to which his wife replies, “That’s what I like about it.” We wait to see if his field of dreams sprouts magic, amazingly fulfilled when his daughter says, “There’s a man on your lawn.” Goosebumps.

2) Purgatory Penance

The film is remembered for its iconic image of ghostly ballplayers disappearing into cornstalks as Shoeless Joe Jackson was one of eight Chicago White Sox banned from baseball for throwing the 1919 World Series. The film explores their penance in purgatory as Ray Liotta longs for the game he misses: “Getting thrown out of baseball was like having part of me amputated. … I’d wake up at night with the smell of the ballpark in my nose, the cool of the grass on my feet. The thrill of the grass.” Later, we see a preview of Liotta’s “Goodfellas” laugh as he explains, “Ty Cobb wanted to play but none of us could stand the son of a [gun] when he was alive so we told him to stick it!”

3) Dreams Deferred

During a magical midnight walk in Chisholm, Minnesota, Ray Kinsella is transported back in time to meet Burt Lancaster’s Moonlight Graham, who played half an inning in the major leagues before becoming a small-town doctor. “It was like coming this close to your dreams and watching them pass by you like a stranger in the crowd.” He romantically describes his wish: “To feel the tingle in your arms as you connect with the ball, to run the bases, stretch a double into a triple and flop face-first into third, wrap your arms around the bag. That is my wish, Ray Kinsella. That is my wish. And is there enough magic out there in the moonlight to make this dream come true?”

4) National Pastime

James Earl Jones may be best known as Darth Vader, but “Field of Dreams” provides the greatest monologue of his career as sportswriter activist Terence Mann. To this day, it remains cinema’s best case for baseball as America’s national pastime as Jones’ booming voice declares, “They’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. … The one constant through all the years has been baseball. … This field, this game, it’s a part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good and could be again. People will come, Ray. People will most definitely come.”

5) Heavenly Parents

After two hours of magic, “Field of Dreams” transcends the bounds of mere sports movie to become a fantasy classic about the eternal bond between parents and children. Ray’s ghostly father asks, “Is this heaven?” to which Ray replies, “No, it’s Iowa,” echoing his earlier exchange with Shoeless Joe. Gazing at his wife and kid laughing on the porch of their farmhouse, Ray concludes, “Maybe this is heaven.” The closing dialogue still reduces grown men and women to puddles as they think of lost loved ones: “Hey, Dad? You wanna have a catch?” As they toss the ball back and forth and a row of headlights drive up to the field, we realize the true meaning of “if you build it, he will come.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley salutes 'Field of Dreams' (Part 2)

Listen to Kevin Costner’s memories on our “Beyond the Fame” podcast.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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