Field of Dreams telecast: A critique

Aug 12, 2021; Dyersville, Iowa, USA; Chicago White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson (7) reacts after hitting a two-run home run in the ninth inning to defeat the New York Yankees at Field of Dreams. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 12, 2021; Dyersville, Iowa, USA; Chicago White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson (7) reacts after hitting a two-run home run in the ninth inning to defeat the New York Yankees at Field of Dreams. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports /

In its telecast of Thursday’s Field of Dreams game, Fox did the smart thing, letting the field itself be the star.

“One of the most visually striking scenarios I’ve seen,” sideline reporter Tom Verducci remarked of the mint-condition green field, framed as it was by acres of mature corn and with the evening Iowa sky as a backdrop.

“ This is as picturesque a stadium as you will ever see,” said John Smoltz. Lead voice Joe Buck guessed that “I don’t think you could take a bad picture here.”

Fox telecast made Field of Dreams diamond be the star

Fox and MLB, of course, got lucky when the Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees gave the on-hand crowd of 8,000 and a prime time TV audience what everybody wanted: a power show into all that Field of Dreams Iowa corn.

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The game featured eight home runs, three coming in the ninth inning. Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton both drove balls deep into the corn to rally the Yankees to an 8-7 lead. But that only set the stage for Tim Anderson’s two-run walk-off in the bottom of the ninth, making the White Sox a 9-8 winner.

“Of course we have a movie-like ending,” post-game host Kevin Burkhart observed.

Inevitably, for a game based on a movie, there was more than a bit of schmaltz in the presentation. It was inevitable that Fox would rely heavily on the oft-quoted tropes from Field of Dreams – if you build it…wanna have a catch…etc.

The real-life use of actors Kevin Costner – who was on hand – and James Earl Jones, present in voice – made much of that schmaltz acceptable. The only time Fox really overindulged was in a pre-game skit that allowed commentators David Ortiz, Frank Thomas, and Alex Rodriguez to more or less pointlessly slop through all those Field of Dreams tropes one gratuitous time too many.

But for the romantic who liked — and still likes — the movie, it was possible to overlook that misstep, especially given that the Sox and Yanks gave MLB a classic game to grace a classic setting.  “It was a night to fall in love with the game,” Burkhart concluded in a hitting-the-nail-on-the-head wrapup.

There were errors, both of omission and commission. When Burkhart, A-Rod, Thomas and Ortiz interviewed Costner during pre-game, somebody forgot to remind the movie’s star that they were live in front of an audience of millions. Alluding to playing catch with his adult son on the original Field of Dreams one day earlier, he blurted out that it was like they do at home when “we just throw s – – t.”

Perhaps the most prominent omission was the absence of any mention of the actual 1919 Chicago White Sox, whose story provided a backdrop for the movie. That was the team that threw the World Series, prompting eight of its players to be banned from baseball for life…and decades later laying the backdrop for the film.

The other significant lost opportunity was MLB’s/Fox’s failure to invite Costner to throw out the game’s first pitch to fellow actor Dwier Brown, the man who played his father in the movie’s climactic scene. Both were at the game and Costner was on the field with a ball during pre-game. I kept waiting for him to invite Brown out of the corn to “have a catch,” but that moment never occurred.

Fox does get credit for dealing, if tardily, with one of the obvious but little-discussed aspects of the setting, the crowd of only 8,000.

Late in the game, Ken Rosenthal noted that demand for tickets was so great that a lottery system – limited only to Iowa residents – was used to select fans who could purchase tickets at prices ranging well up into four figures. He noted that the ticket prices were higher than for any MLB game on record save for the 2016 World Series, when Cubs fans paid skyrocket prices to see their team win its first World Series in 108 years.

A couple of fans rented a hot air balloon enabling them to watch the game from above. Considering the ticket prices, they may have made the economical decision.

A few other aspects of the telecast might have been controversial, none more so than Fox’s use of a drone. The pilotless craft spent several innings flying hither and thither – through the corn, into Amy Madigan’s bedroom, around the balloon – providing images that were  interesting, possibly except to those with vertigo issues.

Tom Rinaldi did a feature on Jeff Banister, billed as ‘The real Moonlight Graham.’ In the movie Graham is a retired physician who decades earlier had played one game for the New York Giants, lamenting his failure to get an at bat. Banister had one at bat in his only game, eventually becoming manager of the Texas Rangers.

What Rinaldi did not mention was that Moonlight Graham actually existed. In fact, there have been 105 ‘Moonlight Grahams’ in major league history, position players who made only one game appearance and failed to get to the plate. The most recent occurred just this past June when Jack Kruger – now in the Rangers organization — had that distinction for the Los Angeles Angels.

Playing the game in Iowa deprived both Fox viewers and MLB of the Statcast data fans are used to seeing. That meant no strike zone box, no home run depths…none of those fancy numbers. That point was driven home quickly when plate umpire Pat Hoberg called Yankee outfielder Brett Gardner out on a third strike that for all the world looked high.

The other curiosity was Fox’s limited use of the microphone it asked White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson to wear. Since Fox described Anderson as a voluble team leader – and since it was Anderson who delivered the walkoff shot – the virtual radio silence from that microphone was conspicuous.

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At the end of the night, though, the telecast’s flaws easily gave way to the rush of good feeling surrounding the game itself. Observed Thomas during the post-game review, “Major League Baseball won tonight.” He was right.