Champlain finds peace in Field of Dreams win

August 10th, 2022

DYERSVILLE, Iowa -- There isn’t much mention of pitching in “Field of Dreams.”

Shoeless Joe Jackson takes his batting practice. Moonlight Graham gets his one plate appearance. The closest the audience gets is seeing Eddie Cicotte hit his spots when he aims near young Archie’s noggin to send a lesson. Even last year’s Major League event was a 9-8 slugfest that ended on a Tim Anderson walk-off homer.

So in a way, Chandler Champlain turned in the first dominant pitching performance (fiction or non-fiction) in the history of the Field of the Dreams on Tuesday.

The Royals' right-handed pitching prospect allowed two earned runs on six hits while fanning seven and walking none over 6 1/3 innings for High-A Quad Cities in a 7-2 win over Cedar Rapids (a Twins affiliate) in front of 7,532 fans at the first MiLB at Field of Dreams.

“Best day of my life,” Champlain said. “In my baseball career, that’s the best day of my life. I couldn’t have asked for a better performance from my team tonight. This atmosphere -- which I’ve never experienced before -- and also the pressures and stress of a new team environment, new coaches, new routines … today just went perfect.”

The outing was easily Champlain’s best since joining the Royals in a July 27 trade with the Yankees that sent Andrew Benintendi the other way. He hadn’t lasted more than 2 2/3 frames in either of his two previous Quad Cities outings. On Tuesday, his 6 1/3 innings marked a career high.

The 23-year-old right-hander was efficient in the gem by throwing only 82 pitches, 56 of which were for strikes. He retired 12 of 13 batters at one point between the first and fifth innings, and his two earned runs were only scored after he exited with an out in the seventh.

It was an opportunity for Champlain, who was at his best zipping low-90s fastballs at the top of the zone past Cedar Rapids bats, to make the impression he’d been searching for since first donning Royal blue.

“When you got to look in his eyes when he was coming in off the field each inning, you kind of wanted to move out of his way a little bit,” said Quad Cities manager Brooks Conrad. “You can see he was on a mission, and he was going to run over anything in his path tonight.”

As settled as Champlain looked as Tuesday wore on, it was the Quad Cities offense that set the tone early. Cleanup hitter Juan Carlos Negret launched a two-run homer roughly five cornstalks deep beyond the left-center fence in the first inning to give the River Bandits an early 2-0 lead, and Peyton Wilson added his own solo shot -- a hook job just down the left-field line -- in the fourth.

“I think it did help to settle the nerves a little bit, getting off to an early lead,” Conrad said. “But it definitely added to the excitement. The feel pregame and going through the national anthem and sitting back and watching the boys in the dugout, you could see the nerves going. [So you tell them] take deep breaths and walk around, make sure they remember to breathe when they're out there playing because sometimes you forget to.”

And who could blame players from either side for having a touch of the jitters at any point Tuesday?

MiLB at Field of Dreams was a first-of-its-kind event, completely different from a normal weekday in the Midwest League. Piggybacking off the success of last year’s Major League contest, this marked the opening occasion in which two Minor League clubs played near the site of the famous 1989 film, and many players shared their pregame excitement for walking among the corn made famous by Kevin Costner, Ray Liotta, James Earl Jones and company.

In a throwback manner fitting the occasion, the two sides changed identities for the day -- Cedar Rapids going from the Kernels to the Bunnies while the Quad Cities River Bandits changed entirely to the Davenport Blue Sox. Iowa’s two High-A clubs honored history on the same day they made it.

For Champlain -- a former Yankee farmhand who played his college ball at USC -- it was a lot to take in.

“I met the team on the road in Beloit,” he said, “and I’d never been to Wisconsin, I’d never been to Iowa. I’d been to Chicago O'Hare Airport. I only know West Coast and East Coast. I didn’t know pretty much anything in between, so [they’re] a lot of new sights for me.

“Iowa is beautiful and peaceful. People are caring and nice. Life is just so much less stressful.”

That may be easy to say for the winning pitcher, but the sense of history and calm was true of the Cedar Rapids side too. For everyone on Tuesday, Iowa felt like a slice of heaven.

“I think the most exciting thing, besides the game, was after a while, guys just wanted to sit in the dugout and take it all in,” said Cedar Rapids manager Brian Dinkelman. “I stayed in there for a few extra seconds looking around.”