Field of Dreams: Reality eternally on deck
DYERSVILLE, Iowa -- After he took batting practice Wednesday at the Field of Dreams, TJ Bradford was asked if he had focused on hitting line drives -- or launching baseballs into the corn.
“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking about hitting it into the corn,” Bradford replied. “Hopefully, I can get one out there during the game.”
The game on Bradford’s mind was “A Dream Fulfilled,” the matchup of top youth teams from Chicago and New York one day before the White Sox and Yankees meet on Thursday in the Field of Dreams Game.
The winsome joy of this venue is so palpable that I’d expect to hear a similar answer from Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Tim Anderson or José Abreu following their BP 24 hours later.
Because as long as you’re at the Field of Dreams, reality waits in the on-deck circle -- and, like Moonlight Graham, never gets to bat.
On Thursday, the baseball world will celebrate the sport in its most elemental form, on a field where temporary bleachers hold twice as many spectators (8,000) as there are residents of Dyersville itself.
Yet there is nothing quaint about the notion of bringing the White Sox and Yankees to town. The concept has been in various forms of development since 2015. Construction on the MLB field -- a few hundred yards away from the movie site -- began in 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic delayed the field’s debut, which had been scheduled for 2020.
The project was nearly complete when the game was postponed last year. Efforts to maintain the grounds -- and add innovations -- have required extraordinary care from Major League Baseball and contractors BrightView Pro, Populous and BaAM Productions.
We love numbers in baseball, and here is one to remember: 30,000 -- as in, construction crews moved 30,000 cubic yards of material in order to clear the acreage and level the terrain necessary to build the MLB field. You’ll see why on Thursday night, if you notice the upward slope of the cornfields beyond the left-field (corn) wall. The terrain’s natural grade had to be smoothed in order to build an MLB-caliber playing surface.
As your eyes trace the outfield perimeter, you’ll notice a few more unique features. The batter’s eye is a perfect hitting backdrop, in the shape of a country barn with a dark brown hue. The bullpens are situated beyond the wall in straightaway center field, a nod to their location in the original Comiskey Park. And there’s a hand-operated scoreboard in right field, completing the aesthetic that would have been familiar to Shoeless Joe Jackson and the film’s fellow “ghost players.”
Most of the stadium seats are positioned down the third-base line, so spectators -- the lucky Iowans who won a ticket lottery -- can glimpse the MLB playing field with the movie field looming in the distance.
Naturally, we expect players to enter for pregame introductions by way of the cornfields … because we’ve asked them to look around for copies of the book Terence Mann hinted that he’d write about what exactly is “out there.”
And why not? Around here, authenticity and whimsy are close cousins. In the world outside, big ideas collide with skepticism. On these 200 acres, as the cornstalks sway and baseball gloves pop, idealism is undefeated.
Consider again the Wednesday matchup between the 14-and-under New York DREAM and Chicago White Sox Amateur City Elite (ACE).
DREAM is a community-based sports and charter school program made up of students from East Harlem and the South Bronx, nearly 90% of whom qualify for free or reduced lunch programs.
The White Sox founded ACE in 2007, to offer resources, mentorship, and access to baseball for African-American youth in Chicago, including financial support for the travel baseball programs that often are too expensive for families in underserved neighborhoods.
The kids from Chicago and New York are growing up 800 miles apart, but they share a common passion for the game and the desire to achieve at higher levels. Bradford, the New York star, told me that his dream is to be a Major Leaguer, “to get the opportunity to play with great guys, just like I am today.”
There’s another word for those ambitions: Dreams.
“My dad played [baseball] when he was a kid,” ACE catcher Jamison Jones told me. “I just want to keep that dream going. I want to make it to the big time, because he never really got the chance to go there.
“I want to do it for him. I loved it. I started young and I’m going to keep it going.”
The scale of the MLB at Field of Dreams project is almost incomprehensibly vast — similar, perhaps, to the journey from a child’s first game of catch to the Major Leagues. Chicago ACE graduate Corey Ray has achieved that with the Milwaukee Brewers. Ed Howard, a fellow ACE alum, was the Chicago Cubs’ first-round pick last year. In all, more than 225 ACE participants have earned college scholarships.
And where better than this place, to appreciate the power and promise in bravely setting a goal?
“I had a conversation with [the team] before we got here, just understanding what the movie was about,” said ACE manager David Reed. “It’s about having a passion. Once you believe in something, don’t let anyone change your viewpoint of yourself. It doesn’t matter what that is — life, baseball.
"Always have faith in yourself, just like this guy did when he created the field. He had faith, no matter what. I just want these guys to come out here today and have all the faith in the world in their talents. This is your chance to shine in front of the world.”
And they did. The final score Wednesday was ACE 8, DREAM 7.
To Judge and Stanton, Anderson and Abreu, along with all the other Yankees and White Sox lucky enough to bring their bats and gloves to Dyersville, like so many baseball pilgrims before them:
Now it’s your turn.