The Ultimate Book of Sports Movies
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Field of Dreams - 1989

There are many who regard Field of Dreams as the greatest sports movie ever made—a wondrous allegory about life, fathers and sons, lost dreams and a bygone America, all staged in an Iowa cornfield. It is, to reverential devotees, the modern version of It’s a Wonderful Life.

“That movie had a mystical feel to it,” says Pete Carroll,head football coach at USC. “It was very inspiring.”

And then there are those who regard it as so much pap. Premiere magazine listed it among the 20 most overrated films of all time. “A gooey fable,” declared Peter Travers of Rolling Stone.

Bill Simmons of ESPN wrote, “I think the world is separated into two kinds of people—people who loved Field of Dreams, and people who don’t have a heart. If I were dating a woman and she said she didn’t like Field of Dreams, I’d immediately dump her.”

We agree. Certainly, Simmons offers a better method of judging a potential mate than the unlock-the-car-door test in A Bronx Tale. Anyone—man, woman, child—who isn’t touched by the innocence and fantasy of Field of Dreams is too much a grinch for us.

Writer and broadcaster Peter King, who has witnessed thousands of inspiring moments over his career, called Field of Dreams the most emotional sports movie he has ever seen.

“Every kid who grew up playing baseball at some point played catch with his father,” says King. “You don’t think of it as an emotional experience. But when your Dad is gone, you do think of it as an emotional experience. Every time I see that movie, I bawl. I can’t help it.”

So why doesn’t it crack our Top Ten? Because, great as it is, that sweetness sometimes seeps into sappiness. Occasionally, the movie becomes just a tad too reverential for our taste—worshiping that deity called baseball. Moses saw a burning bush, Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) sees a vision of a baseball diamond in his cornfield. With a chorus of angels singing in the background, just in case you missed the subtlety.

Plus this: The entire movie leads up to the final seven-minute scene, the climactic reconciliation between Ray and his long-estranged dad, John Kinsella (Dwier Brown). The two had parted ways—emotionally and physically—when Ray was a teen, and never squared matters before Dad’s early death. Years later, thanks to Shoeless Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta), they get that second chance out in the magical Iowa ball field.

We are told that Dad was a damned good catcher in his day. Now, as father and son meet again, there’s some talk about Iowa and heaven and how easily the two are confused. As we watch, we’re feeling the lump growing in our throat.

“Hey Dad,” says Ray. “You wanna have a catch?”

We’re welling up at this point.

“I’d like that,” says John, as the music nears crescendo.

Ray picks up his glove, and we’re totally verklempt. Searching for Kleenex in the pocket.

So Ray throws, in that convincing Costner-as-Crash-Davis overhand motion. Dad catches the ball, and then . . . well, he executes the feeblest toss this side of Biddy Ball.Pushes it like a nine-year-old girl.

Almost ruined the movie right there.

Okay, call us sticklers. We apologize. We don’t want to get bogged down in the negative. As we said, we’re willing to buy into the overall vision of Field of Dreams. Once upon a time, Hollywood regularly produced this kind of movie—usually starring Jimmy Stewart. Nowadays, such flights of fancy are too rare.

Twenty years after it first came out, Field of Dreams has been parodied so many times that it’s easy to forget the original premise: An Iowa farmer, still wracked by guilt over that suspended relationship with his dad, is told by voices to plow under his field and build a baseball diamond. This leads to the appearance of his father’s hero, the disgraced Shoeless Joe.

But it does much more than that. The voices then tell Ray to enlist reclusive writer Terence Mann (James Earl Jones, playing a character based on author J.D. Salinger), and track down Minnesota doctor Archibald “Moonlight” Graham (Burt Lancaster), who never got his full shot in the majors. And it concludes with our hero gaining peace of mind, closure with his father and financial success far beyond his imagination.

Director Phil Alden Robinson never really tries to explain the far-fetched plot twists, which is smart. Instead, he relies on the audience leading with its heart. “This story teaches you that you’ve got to have dreams,” he said in a Newsweek interview soon after release, “but you should keep yourself open to the possibility that a fork in the road may lead you to something just as good.”

It all works. Well, almost all. We just wish they had taught the dad how to throw.

Copyright © 2011 by Running Press