The Batter’s Eye: Field of Dreams

Field of Dreams (1989, directed by Phil Alden Robinson) is arguably the most-well known baseball movie. “If you build it, they will come” remains such a solid piece of pop culture that it almost doesn’t matter if you’ve seen the movie or not. You already know Field of Dreams.

Everyone knows the general plot: A farmer named Ray (Kevin Costner) in Iowa hears a mysterious voice telling him to build a baseball field on his property. He does so and Shoeless Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta) shows up, followed by other members of the White Sox.

More things happen, involving an author, Terrance Mann (James Earl Jones) and more ghostly baseball players. Ray’s brother-in-law, Mark (Timothy Busfield), keeps telling the family they’re going to lose the farm because of the ball field.

And really, it’s all just that Ray wanted to play catch with his dad and celebrate their bond over baseball in a way they didn’t get to do in life. I don’t think that’s a spoiler.

The movie works as an allegory about regrets and familial connections as well as the power of baseball to unite. It’s so clearly steeped in Boomer mythology about what the past was like and trying to recapture a youthful spirit of a simpler time that it never quite feels like anyone is real. It’s also clearly about faith — Ray builds a baseball field just because voices told him to. While I wouldn’t say the movie hits all these points too hard, it’s very obvious about what it’s saying.

Still, though, there’s an artfulness to how all of this is presented. I didn’t think it was a great movie, necessarily, but I enjoyed it more than I expected. The performances feel grounded for the subject matter, even if the characters are mostly just ideas. Ray’s wife, Annie (Amy Madigan) and daughter, Karin (Gabby Hoffmann) are mostly just around. Ray himself is a pretty generic idea of a middle-aged man. There isn’t really a deep conflict here, and despite Mark’s threats, nothing ever really feels at stake.

The emotions come through, though, and I admire that while the movie is not subtle, it lets the small moments shine. I wanted to be more attached to these characters, but what was on screen was fairly affecting in how it was communicated.

The baseball action is fine. For a movie this much about baseball, there wasn’t quite enough, but it’s more about the idea of baseball than it is about actual baseball.

I don’t regret finally watching this. I’m glad I did. I’m also glad I liked it more than I expected, but it’s not particularly one I need to revisit.

I am sad, though, there’s not a Field of Dreams game this year. Those are fun.