Baseball and Magic go hand in hand with me. The two blend into a feeling that washes over me at even the thought of being at a ball game. It's a romantic thing within me and in and of itself. It is pastoral, rejuvenating, just as the spring of each year brings it alongside sun and rain and the resulting green of the grass. These are sentiments usually attributed to Walt Whitman in his days with the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in the mid-19th Century, baseball still called base ball and not yet an organized sport:
"I see great things in base ball. It's our game--the American game. It will take people out of doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism. Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set. Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us." (1847)Phil Alden Robinson's Field of Dreams feels like that. It even pointedly talks like that. Its characters aren't worried with wins and losses and numbers and statistics. But memories and sensations and pain and longing for redemption, second chances. It knows that baseball is those things too. Consider it the anti-Moneyball. Though, like Moneyball, it lies in a realm of baseball movies that aren't really sports movies. Often drawing comparisons to the work of director Frank Capra what with with its everyman protagonist's leaps of faith as well as its affecting use of magical realism, well... Consider it the best baseball story there is. I do.
It is a masterwork of storytelling, perfected by a blend of moving image and sound unmatched in my experience. But at its core, Field of Dreams is a story of good people and the power of faith and redemption. It is a story about fathers and sons, fathers more than anything, and in a year in which I lost both my father and his father, the two men who taught me most about this great game of ball, well, its all the more meaningful.
It's my favorite movie of all-time. It's the start of baseball season. I add, in honor of this glorious weather that my father and my grandfather would so love, the 1989 fantasy baseball drama film, Field of Dreams to The List.
Part 1: "If you build it, he will come."
"I'm 36 years old. I love my family. I love baseball. And I'm about to become a farmer. But until I heard the voice, I'd never done a crazy thing in my entire life." - Ray
"I never forgave him for getting old." - Ray
"What's threw?" - Karin
"Getting thrown out of baseball was like having part of me amputated...I'd wake up in the night with the smell of the ballpark in my nose, the coolness of the grass on my feet. The thrill of the grass." - Shoeless Joe Jackson
One of those moments....those romantic, Walt Whitman, baseball is beautiful moments. Shoeless Joe lives in an Iowa cornfield. He is in his prime. He gets to play ball again.
Part 2: "Ease His Pain"
"Man, I did love this game. Played for food money. It was a game. The sounds, the smells. Ever hold a ball or a glove to your face?...I would've played for nothin'." - Shoeless Joe
Ray Liotta is perfectly cast here in a small role. Serious if a bit unsure of what to thing. His first two moments of dialogue, more monologue actually, coming in between a session of fielding practice and a session of batting practice. We sense the redemptive quality of the field immediately in this moment. Joe is being given his second chance. Ray is finally vindicated in his choice to build the field. They will end their first meeting like this:
Joe: Is this Heaven?
Ray: No. It's Iowa.
"How could you plow under your major crop?"
"Terrence Mann was a warm and gentle voice of reason during a time of great madness." - Annie
The PTO meeting is a perfect (and hilarious) way to set up the brilliant second act, which will take Ray on a journey across the country and back in search of his favorite writer from the 60s, the reclusive, bitter Terrence Mann (James Earl Jones). The hicks want to ban his books. The dreamers like us (and Ray and Annie) need them to live. Madigan's takedown of old Beulah is priceless.
"It means we're going to Minnesota to find Moonlight Graham." - Terrence Mann
This shot always got to me. That jingle again on the soundtrack. Ray's u-turn halted by Terry, who not only went to Fenway Park with Ray but saw the same vision, heard the same voice, had the same dream. The connection is felt in that jingle and this shot and now Terry is along for the ride.
Part 3: "Go The Distance"
"To feel the tingle in your arm as you connect with the ball...that's my wish, Ray Kinsella. Is there enough magic out there in the moonlight to make this dream come true? I don't know." - Doc Graham
Burt Lancaster's work as the ballplayer who never was, Archibald "Moonlight" Graham, is outstanding. And his is the anchor of the redemption aspect of the story. So he only played one half inning of one game as a big leaguer. He became the most respected man in his town anyway, the town doctor. He represents the heartache of Baseball. And the joy of Life.
"I was 17. Son-of-a-bitch died before I could take it back." - Ray
The conversation in the car between Ray and Terry is particularly poignant. We finally get to hear the whole story of Ray's falling out with his father as a teenager. Not only that though. This scene bridges the gap between what's magical and what's real. They talk about the game of Baseball in Ray's dad's youth as a ballplayer of that era, Young Archie Graham, sleeps in the back of the van.
"Hey, rookie! You were good." - Shoeless Joe
The feels when Moonlight gets his one major league at bat, only to prove that his true calling was being "Doc" not "Moonlight." Life is funny (and beautiful) that way. The camera move here, that steady zoom from that low angle mixed with that swell of James Horner's absolutely perfect score. Ugh! That is how you make grown men cry.
Part 4: "People will come, Ray."
"The one constant through all the years has been baseball." - Terry
The best monologue in movie history. End of discussion. Seriously though. How the players stop playing and move in slowly, so they can hear. We hear him loud and clear, the most commanding of screen presences that is James Earl Jones. We also hear the crickets in the hour just before dusk, the wind blowing across the corn, the rustle of the grass under the players' shoes.
"Maybe this is heaven."
I won't spoil anything here. I will only say that there is nothing like the first time you watch this and finally realize what this movie is actually about, what the big reveal is, what the voice meant when he spoke to Ray, well...
And then I cry. The end.
About The List
The List is a series of essays in quotes and screen caps covering re-watches of my all-time favorite movies. It is named after an actual list I once made of all the movies I wanted to show my girlfriend (now wife) when we first started dating. It is now an ever-growing list of movies we've both seen and love and that I, particularly, find important enough to recommend as essential viewing for any movie lover.
More Movies from The List