Some dream

Ken Griffey, Jr.; Ken Griffey, Sr.

The Griffeys—Hall of Fame outfielder Ken, Jr., respected outfielder Ken, Sr. (right)–after entering through the corn, slip their gloves on for a father-son catch.

Maybe the best part of this year’s Field of Dreams Game was what happened before the game was played. Two generations of outfield-playing Griffeys, Ken Sr. and Hall of Famer Ken Jr., both Reds once upon a time, entered the field through the corn when Junior looked at Senior and said, only partly puckishly, “Hey, Dad, you want to have a catch?”

Dad did. Father and son tossed a ball back and forth in the outfield, joined soon enough by other such parents and children playing catch from center to right field. And, by Reds manager David Bell, himself a third-generation Show player, with Athletic writer C. Trent Rosecrans, a longtime Reds beat writer for the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Rosecrans’s father once longed for a certain nine-dollar baseball glove growing up and finally got it by saving for it. The glove was a model for Bell’s grandfather, 1950s Reds All-Star outfielder Gus Bell. It went in due course to someone else, Rosecrans writes in a lyrical ballad about his own relationship with his late father, but it found its way back to his parents in due course.

In Dyersville, Iowa before Thursday’s game, Rosecrans writes, “Gus’ grandson looked at me and told me he was thinking of me and my dad. I told him I brought my glove. He asked me, ‘Want to have a catch?'”

That was far better to ponder than such doings as commissioner Rob Manfred present, accounted for, and even signing autographs at the fabled field. Or enough of the Twittersphere demanding to know why Pete Rose wasn’t invited for the pregame hoop-de-do. You’d have had a hard time pondering which would have been more absurd.

It could have been Rose’s presence in the immediate wake of his disgraceful dismissal of a Philadelphia reporter’s question about his ancient dalliance as a thirtysomething with a short-of-legal-age girl. Not to mention his well-deserved banishment from the game and from Hall of Fame candidacy for violating the rule written and imposed in the wake of the 1919 World Series gambling scandal tainting that year’s Reds’ Series triumph.

It could have been Manfred, whose love of the game is questioned often enough and with justification enough. Bleacher Nation on Twitter asked respondents, “Fox shows Rob Manfred signing baseball at the Field of Dreams Game. What is he writing as his personalised message? Wrong answers only.” One wag, mindful that Rose’s autographed baseballs often include small gag apologies such as “I’m sorry I shot J.F.K.,” replied, “I’m sorry I shot R.F.K.”

Manfred seems to have done everything except think about the one thing tied to the game that would have made him seem a baseball statesman. Apparently, it never crossed his mind to declare, once and for all, that the 1919 Reds were (are) legitimate World Series champions who could have and just might have beaten the Black Sox if the latter had played the entire set straight, no chaser.

Assorted Reds and Cubs past and present took in the locale, its history, and the penultimate message of the film lending the event its name. (The Cubs’ Hall of Fame pitcher Ferguson Jenkins threw a ceremonial first pitch to the Reds’ Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench.) Particularly Reds star Joey Votto, remembering to Rosecrans how the film bonded him to his father even further.

“I wish he was here,” Votto said. “I wish I could bring him to tonight’s game, we go out on the field and do something that we did from when I was eight or nine years old. It’s really eerie how much the movie allowed me to look back on that experience.”

If you build it, he will come, whispered the Voice of the late Ray Liotta’s disgraced-turned-romanticised Shoeless Joe Jackson to Kevin Costner’s Ray Kinsella in the 1989 film. They built it. (Actually, Chris Krug, once a Cubs catcher, built the original, with his Athletic Turf outfit.) But it cost a minimum $501 to be there Thursday. Fans in Iowa and some surrounding areas who couldn’t come couldn’t see the game at all, either, thanks to baseball’s arcane and insane broadcast blackout rules. Some dreams.

Putting the Reds into replicas of their 1919 uniforms should have been cathartic considering the 1919 Reds’ Series triumph was tainted too long by the disgrace of the Black Sox bent on throwing the Series for gamblers’ payoffs. Unfortunately, the catharsis wasn’t to be thanks to what the Reds couldn’t do Thursday evening.

Putting the Cubs into replicas of their 1914 hats and late-1920s uniforms, a mismatch not unlike many a Cub loss from 1909 through 2015, said little more than “That’s just so Cubs” before the game began. So, naturally, they went out and beat the Reds, 4-2. Only the Cubs could display a fashion fail and win regardless.

That was a century plus three years ago: Black Sox pitcher Eddie Cicotte hit Reds second baseman Morrie Rath with Game One’s second pitch to let the gamblers know the Series fix was on. This was Thursday, opening the Field of Dreamers Game: Reds starter Nick Lodolo got two quick enough outs before hitting Cubs third baseman Patrick Wisdom with the fourth pitch on a 1-2 count.

That’d teach him. Neither this year’s Reds nor this year’s Cubs are going to finish the season anyplace near the postseason. But after Wisdom took his base, the Cubs behaved like contenders for a change. Seiya Suzuki whacked an 0-1 pitch to the rear of left field to send Wisdom home, Nico Hoerner singled to more shallow left and took second as the Reds tried futilely to keep Suzuki from scoring, Ian Happ doubled to center to send Hoerner home, and just like that the Cubs had a 3-0 lead that proved just enough to count.

Cubs starter Drew Smyly could have seen and raised when he plunked Reds second baseman Jonathan India on a 2-1 pitch. Instead, he like India shook it off, survived a one-out base hit, then consummated five innings of four-hit, nine-strikeout ball before handing off to his bullpen

“The first couple of innings,” Smyly told reporters after the game, “it took me a little bit to kind of get into, like catch my sights. Just a whole different feel than pitching in your usual major league baseball stadium. But I caught a little groove there at the end and that’s just a lot of fun. It just was so unique and different than what we’re used to.”

These days winning is unique and different for a Cubs team stripped of almost all the last remnants of their 2016 World Series conquest. They may be in third place in the National League Central but they have a 46-65 record after Thursday’s win. The Reds are in the division’s rock bottom at 44-67 with the fans they have left still smarting over last winter’s before-and-after-the-lockout final tear-down.

This game didn’t have a fragment of the pennant race significance last year’s Field of Dreams Game—with the White Sox’s Tim Anderson winning an 8-7 triumph over the Yankees with a bottom of the ninth home run into the corn.

But it couldn’t hurt to watch. Not really. Not even when the Reds got just frisky enough against the Cubs bullpen to open the bottom of the seventh with a double (Jose Barrero), a walk (pinch hitter Jake Fraley), and a two-run double (Mark Reynolds), before Cubs reliever Michael Rucker got the next three Red batters out in order.

Not when the Cubs threatened to actually blow the game wide open in the top of the fourth, with back-to-back inning-opening singles setting first and third up for Nick Madrigal to send Nelson Velazquez home with the fourth Cub run.

Then Willson Contreras—the veteran catcher who may not be a Cub after this off-season, and who had a scare an inning earlier when he dinged his left leg running around second on Wisdom’s base hit, tumbling to the ground as he was thrown out at third—flied into a double play when Reds right fielder Aristides Aquino caught his opposite-field drive and gunned Cubs first baseman P.J. Higgins down as Higgins dove futilely into third.

Meanwhile, somebody had the bright idea to plant a hologram of longtime Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray in the booth for the seventh-inning stretch, from which emanated Caray’s once-familiar bellowing of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” The crowd in the stands sang along but they all but ignored Harry the Hologram. Except perhaps to shudder.

“Creepy,” tweeted another Athletic writer, Eno Sarris, uttering perhaps the most polite way to put it. “Please don’t make a hologram out of me when I’m dead.” Sarris probably has no worries on that score. But if anyone gets the bright idea to do a Vin Scully hologram for a future Field of Dreams Game (it won’t be played next year thanks to adjacent youth sports complex construction), there’s liable to be a war broken out.

Party like it’s 1919?

1919 Cincinnati Reds

The 1919 Reds’ threads . . .

Remarkable. Today’s Field of Dreams Game will feature the Reds vs. the Cubs, each wearing throwback replica uniforms. The Cubs will mix it up a bit: their jerseys will be replicas of their later 1920s jerseys while their hats will reproduce their 1914 hats. The Reds will wear reproductions, hats and jerseys alike, of the uniforms they wore in 1919.

On the Iowa field across which the fictitious Shoeless Joe Jackson (played by the late Ray Liotta) trod in the film after which the game is named, the true victims of that tainted World Series will wear the uniforms in which they became the game’s most tainted Series winners through absolutely no fault of their own. Cincinnati baseball doesn’t have it tough enough this year?

“Party like it’s 1919!” the Reds tweeted when the threads were revealed. Some party. And they’re going to play the game against a team so legendary as putzes between World Series championships that, whomever chose their threads, they couldn’t even get the eras coordinated. Their 1914 hats above their late-1920s jerseys? Is that so Cubs, or what?

For now let’s forget that both teams elected to, shall we say, rebuild last year. The Cubs pushed the plunger on their 2021 at the trade deadline; the Reds re-pushed one during the off-season before and after the notorious owners’ lockout. Let’s ponder instead whether the geniuses behind today’s Field of Dreams throwback uniforms really comprehend how the 1919 Reds were robbed.

Yes, it does sound strange to think of a World Series winner as a victim. Especially since it managed to go to fifteen postseasons, win ten pennants and five World Series, over the decades to follow without scandal attached. (The 1990 Reds had one in their rear view mirror, namely Pete Rose the previous year, but there was nothing like sweeping an American League behemoth to ease that pain.)

But for a century plus three years, and despite the best efforts of people to whom history has its proper truthful claims, the Reds have lived with the notion that their 1919 edition would have been squashed like house pests if the White Sox had played it straight, no chaser. I wrote of it approaching the centenary season and on the anniversary of Game Eight of that Series: those Reds weren’t the poor souls portrayed too often.

Contradictorily, the Reds approached the 1919 Series as 8-5 favourites to win the set overall but 2-1 underdogs in the first two games at Cincinnati’s Redland Field. While White Sox manager Kid Gleason trumpted loud and long his squad full of battering rams, Reds manager Pat Moran made a prediction that proved only too chilling: the Reds had a shot at winning the set if they could beat White Sox starting pitcher Eddie Cicotte in Game One.

Going into the Series the Reds actually had the better pitching picture: five healthy and solid pitchers who hadn’t been overworked: Hod Eller, Ray Fisher, Jimmy Ring, Dutch Reuther, and Slim Sallee. The White Sox had two great starters (Cicotte and Lefty Williams) but a rookie named Dickey Kerr who was considered promising but a bit of a wild card. Injuries left their Hall of Famer Red Faber out of the Series picture entirely.

There was also the little matter of the Reds actually out-pitching the White Sox on the regular season. The Reds entered the Series with a team 2.23 ERA and 2.81 fielding-independent pitching (FIP) rate; the White Sox, a team 3.04 ERA and 2.88 FIP. The opposition averaged 2.8 runs against the Reds but 3.8 runs against the White Sox. I still have a tough time with arguments that the White Sox were that much of a 1919 powerhouse.

The 1919 Reds finished the regular season with a .686 winning percentage, the best single-season win percentage in the Show that decade except for the 1912 Red Sox’s .691. The 1919 White Sox finished with a .629 win percentage. Those Reds also went 47-19 in the second half of the season compared to those White Sox going 41-26. On the full season, the Reds went 38-22 against other National League pennant contenders while the White Sox went 35-25 against other American League contenders.

Down the stretch? The Reds faced other NL contenders ten times and won eight; the White Sox faced other AL contenders twelve times and went 6-6. Now you should have a tougher time hearing arguments that those White Sox, who did out-hit the Reds but weren’t that much better at scoring (4.8 runs per game to the Reds’ 4.1), were so formidable as to have the Reds reaching for the tranquilisers.

1919 Cincinnati Reds

. . . and the actual 1919 Reds, whose World Series title remains unfairly tainted.

Cicotte, of course, hit Reds second baseman Morrie Rath with the second pitch of Game One, the tipoff to the gamblers that the fix was on. He would have been suspect even if he hadn’t thrown in with Chick Gandil to seek financial backing for the Series fix from bookie Sport Sullivan and pitcher-turned-gambler Sleepy Bill Burns before bringing in more teammates: Cicotte entered the Series with a barking shoulder and arm thanks to a 306.6 inning regular season.

Two years ago, I wrote elsewhere having as close a look as possible at Jackson’s 1919 Series performance. There remain those who say his .375/.394/.563 Series slash line is evidence that he didn’t take a dive with assorted mates in the Series. It is if you don’t look deeper. If you do look deeper, you’re going to find more question marks than exclamation points.

I looked. And, as I wrote then, Jackson batted six times in that Series with men on base. He had one base hit and reached on an error in those six situations, for a .167 batting average with men on base. By the end of Game Five, the Sox were in a 4-1 Series hole and Jackson factored in the win by scoring the first of three Sox runs after he led off with a base hit.

I continued: “Then the White Sox played three straight elimination games and won the first two. Jackson batted ten times with men on base in those three games, got five hits, and reached on an error once. But in [Game Eight]—the absolute last chance for the White Sox to stay alive—he went 1-for-4 with men on base and drove in two runs with that hit when the game was still far enough beyond reach.”

Nine years ago, former New Jersey prosecutor Bill Lamb published Black Sox in the Courtroom: The Grand Jury, Criminal Trial, and Civil Litigation. “That Joe Jackson was a likable fellow and persistent in his claims of innocence does not change the historical record,” he wrote therein.

On the evidence, the call is not a close one . . . As he admitted under oath after first being confronted, Jackson was a knowing, if perhaps unenthusiastic, participant in the plot to fix the 1919 World Series. And damningly, Jackson was just as persistent in his demands to be paid his promised fix money as the Series progressed as he would later be in his disavowals of fix involvement. In the final analysis, Shoeless Joe Jackson, banished from playing the game that he loved while still in the prime of his career, is a sad figure. But hardly an innocent one.

If you seek those for whom the gamblers’ promises and shenanigans meant little to nothing, be reminded if you will that the Reds shook one off near the end of the Series. According to his granddaughter Susan Dellinger, Ph.D., in Red Legs and Black Sox, the Reds’ Hall of Fame center fielder Edd Roush told Moran he’d heard whisperings that gamblers tried getting to one or more Reds prior to Game Eight. Oops.

No oops, Dellinger exhumed. Moran called a team meeting before the game and the scheduled Reds starting pitcher, Eller, spoke up. A gambler tried to buy him off, but he’d told the gentleman firmly enough to go jump in the lake, or the Ohio River, whichever one was closest. Then, Eller went the distance for the Reds while his mates trashed Williams in the opening rumble of their 10-5 blowout.

“A nation whose citizens empathise with victims real or imagined should hark heartily to the real victims of baseball’s two most notorious gambling scandals,” I wrote in 2018. “The first compromised the integrity of the Reds’ first World Series winners through no fault of their own. The second cost the Reds a franchise icon and manager through all fault of his own.”

Surely I asked too much when I suggested the commissioner’s office might issue at least a proclamation that the 1919 Reds were (and should remain) legitimate World Series champions on the centenary of that event. I’d probably ask too much, too, if I ask for one today, before today’s Reds tangle with today’s Cubs in the Field of Dreams game. (It’s probably asking even more to ask how on earth the game can sell—so help me God—“tickets as low as $501.”)

As the teams walk onto the field across which the fictitious Black Sox were romanticised without warrant in an otherwise charming film, it would be nothing less than their due, for a Reds franchise that’s suffered enough self-inflicted indignity as well as several equally grand triumphs. It won’t help the team’s prospects for the rest of this season, but it might give Cincinnati itself a hard-earned gift.

“Hey, Dad? Want to pitch me a walk-off?”

Tim Anderson

Tim Anderson, finishing the hype-busting Field of Dreams Game with a two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth Thursday night.

The game finished by crossing its original protagonist, Field of Dreams, with The Natural. The most poetically inclined screenwriting/directing team in film couldn’t imagine climax that surreal.

A pair of two-run homers in the top of the ninth to yank the Yankees back into the lead at 8-7. A two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth to win it for the White Sox, 9-8. This wasn’t the way they won ballgames during the 1910s evoked by the special uniforms the two teams wore for the occasion.

Hey, Dad? Want to pitch me a walk-off?

It was as jolting a climax as ever provided by David Freese, Aaron Boone, Joe Carter, Kirk Gibson, Chris Chambliss, Bill Mazeroski, or Bobby Thomson. Even if it didn’t win a World Series, push a Series to a seventh game,  send a team to a Series, or put them in the postseason at all in the first place.

It defied the game’s subtexts. The ones not spoken often if at all in the hype. The ones involving Field of Dreams‘s unlikely turning of baseball’s worst gambling scandal into a fantasy of reconciliation; and, The Natural‘s study of a live young prospect shot Eddie Waitkus-like, into long, long wandering, into a haunted elder returning to prove neither he nor his old dream died, for however long it still had to live.

No volume of pre-game hype—this game’s tribute to artifices of fantasy was as hyped as any sports event could be—could have promised and delivered that kind of a ninth inning. Even Field of Dreams star Kevin Costner, escorting both teams onto the field from the corn beyond the wall, asking the crowd, “Is this heaven?” with the crowd hollering back, “No, this is Iowa,” wouldn’t have dared demand that in a script.

But there was Liam Hendricks, the engaging White Sox relief pitcher, looking made for wraparound sunglasses thanks to being endowed with wraparound eyes, working the top of the ninth, shaking a leadoff single off to strike Yankee veterans D.J. LeMahieu and Brett Gardner out swinging on four pitches each.

Then there was Hendricks at 2-1 to Aaron Judge. He threw Judge a high fastball and watched it sail far enough into the right field corn. Following which Hendricks wrestled Joey Gallo—the former Ranger whose stock in trade is either home run feast or strikeout famine, but who has the odd discipline of working walks (he averages 94 per 162 games lifetime)—into a walk after starting him 1-1 without throwing another strike.

Up to the plate stepped Giancarlo Stanton, a former National League Most Valuable Player and one of the game’s more formidable bombardiers until injuries began to grind away at him in earnest. Stanton hit Hendricks’s first service into the left field corn.

Even the somewhat partisan, small audience—savouring a game on the field built adjacent to the famous Field of Dreams farmhouse field, many paying through the nose secondarily for tickets with face values of $375 or $425, Iowa fans and White Sox season ticket-holders, the latter by special lottery—roared when that fabled Yankee power detonated in the top of the ninth.

It was nothing compared to what happened in the bottom, when Yankee reliever Zack Britton, himself having been in the top tier of his particular profession before injuries began shaving him down, too, took the role normally assigned to the injured Aroldis Chapman. He opened by luring White Sox pinch hitter Danny Mendick into a ground out to first but walking White Sox catcher Seby Zavala—who’d hit one into the corn himself in the bottom of the fourth.

Up stepped Tim Anderson, the lively White Sox shortstop. Britton pumped and pitched, a fastball right down the pipe. It was too fat a pitch to resist. If the White Sox have a classic kangaroo court in their clubhouse, Anderson would have been fined for malfeasance.

It didn’t win a pennant. It was more out of The Natural than Field of Dreams, whose co-protagonist by default Shoeless Joe Jackson had only one known walk-off hit in his entire career. (For the White Sox, against the Yankees, in July 1919.) But when Anderson hit it out, it won a ball game keeping the Yankees from gaining on the second place Red Sox in the American League East and fattening the White Sox’s AL Central lead to eleven and a half. Slamming an exclamation point down for baseball itself.

What began with Field of Dreams star Kevin Costner escorting the Yankees and the White Sox through the corn and down across the field ended with an African-American man from Alabama, who wouldn’t have been admitted to the 1910-1919 Show because of his race, channeling his inner Roy Hobbs, The Natural‘s psychically-buffeted protagonist.

Hobbs in the film version was down 0-2 and struggling mightily with an ancient bullet lodged in his insides, causing him to bleed through his lower stomach, when he hit the pennant-winning bomb that also shot the ballpark lights out. Anderson had no such encumbrance when he sent Britton’s canteloupe into the left field corn.

Until that ninth inning viewers at home and the fans who’d paid into the field saw a very reasonably played game. They saw White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu hit the first major league home run ever hit in Iowa in the bottom of the first. They saw Judge become the first Yankee to go long in Iowa when he hit a three-run homer in the top of the third.

Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees

Wearing 1910s style uniforms, the White Sox and the Yankees entered the Field of Dreams Game through the corn Thursday evening.

They saw White Sox starter Lance Lynn nail the first major league strikeout in Iowa when he froze Gardner on a high called strike, on a night when plate umpire Pat Hoberg was as generous with the strike zone ceiling as he was skinflint about proper strikes on the sidewalls of the zone.

They saw the early 3-1 Yankee lead disappear in a four-run White Sox third, when Anderson doubled center fielder Adam Engel home with one out, and recently-restored-from the-injured-list designated hitter Eloy Jimenez cracked a three-run homer into the right field corn.

They saw Gardner put a number on Lynn’s pitching evening when he hit the second pitch of the top of the sixth not too far from where Jimenez’s bomb landed. They saw Yankee infielder Tyler Wade, one of a host of spare parts coming into regular service thanks to the Yankees’ ongoing shuttle back and forth from the injured list, drop one of the only bunts that should be allowed in a game.

With one out, nobody on, and the non-shifting White Sox infield playing deep enough to prompt calls for sending a search party out to find them, the lefthanded Wade saw enough delicious open real estate to push a bunt to the left side, just enough to the middle to keep third baseman Yoan Moncada from doing anything more than grabbing the ball on the run in.

No wasted out. Nothing but a versatile enough utility infielder, who inclines toward hitting line drives (he has four doubles out of 24 hits this season), not feeling he was going to get something to hit on a line, seeing a free gift and pouncing on it before the supply expired.

Then, Wade stole second while LeMahieu occupied himself with working his way into a walk. Then, a ground out pushing second and third and Judge accepting a walk from White Sox speed reliever Michael Kopech after opening with strike one but seeing four straight balls, including a ball four which should have been called strike two.

No matter, far as the White Sox were concerned. Up stepped Gallo, flashing his usual all-or-nothing style at the plate, swinging mightily enough but whacking a pitch a little up out to shortstop to force Judge for the side.

From the moment Lynn started the game with ball one to LeMahieu and LeMahieu nailed the first major league base hit in Iowa baseball history, to the moment Anderson sent everyone home with his corn ball, the game told the hype to take a shower. Even if the live Fox Sports telecast referenced Field of Dreams to a fare-thee-well.

“I knew it wasn’t over,” Anderson said post-game. “The game’s never over. And once Britton walked (Zavala), I knew there was a chance to start something real dope.” So he finished something real dope with something as dope as it gets. In the immortal words of Hall of Fame baseball writer Jayson Stark, “Because . . . baseball!

Of fathers, sons, dreams, rapproachment, and baseball

Kevin Costner, Dwier Brown

Kevin Costner and Dwier Brown play extraterrestrially reconciled son and father, respectively, in Field of Dreams.

So the Yankees and the White Sox will play the so-called Field of Dreams Game Thursday. They’ll play on the Iowa field rolled out and planted inside an eight thousand feet grandstand, adjacent to the field-in-the-cornfield that was actually built and used to make the film after which the game’s named.

“How,” asks Athletic writer Richard Dietsch, “do you capture the essence of a famous film on a live broadcast between Major League Baseball teams? That’s the question Fox Sports production staffers have been contemplating for months.” The answer may well depend on how you define the essence of Field of Dreams.

I read the original short story, “Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa,” turned into the novel Shoeless Joe, by W.R. Kinsella, back when both first appeared. I saw the 1989 film when it first appeared and a few times to follow when it was delivered on videotape, then DVD. The fantasy in print and on film had a particular resonance for me.

What began as an Iowa farmer lured to plow two-thirds of his corn, to build a major league-size field onto which Jackson and his fellow Eight Men Out might return to the game from which they were banished eternally, concluded (spoiler alert, to those few who haven’t seen it) with an estranged son (the farmer) and father (presented as a one-time New York Highlanders player) reconciling as time, illness, and death once denied.

Just like any son first misinterpreting a heavenly voice’s instructions to welcome Shoeless Joe Jackson, kidnap a renowned but reclusive J.D. Salinger stand-in, then do likewise to the elderly doctor turned eager youth who’d once been a single-appearance New York Giants right fielder. Then, bringing the latter two to his fresh field to witness games between the Black Sox and assorted deceased baseball stars

(Don’t bother. IMDb lists those cast members only as “additional ballplayers.” It’s up to you whether you think you see Walter Johnson, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Honus Wagner, or Cy Young—though the young Moonlight Graham points to and mentions Smokey Joe Wood and a pair of live-ball legends, Mel Ott and Gil Hodges.)

The story has its charms above and beyond capital crime on behalf of the greater good of the game. Above and beyond the very idea that you could turn into heroes eight men who disgraced the game with their World Series tanking for fun and profit or (in the case of infielder Buck Weaver) refusing to blow the whistle on the tank when it might have made a truly significant difference.

And, above and beyond the implication that there but for the grace of the gamblers to whom two or three of the Eight Men Out reached would the White Sox have steamrolled the inferior 1919 Cincinnati Reds. The actual record shows that implication as false as the still-holding idea that Jackson was entirely innocent, to say nothing of whether Jackson really did play to win in that Series. (Says the actual record: he didn’t, quite.)

For me, the film’s climax is the charm that hits too close to home. The adult, fictional Kinsella gets to reconcile with his father on the field, the father frozen by death in his young adulthood, wearing a Highlanders uniform, with a catcher’s chest protector and shin guards.

Father and son in Field of Dreams were estranged by disputes including the one in which the son chastised the father for worshipping a badly tainted baseball hero. Father and son in my case were estranged by contradictions that would be called child abuse today, followed by the ten-month battle against cancer that my father lost in 1966, when I was ten and he, thirty-nine.

My parents were foolish enough to believe nothing but physical discipline, with no concurrent attempt at real teaching, applied to mere human childhood mistakes the same as to real misbehaviour or disobedience. Confirmed decades later by an unimpeachable source (my father’s sister), my parents wanted children in the worst way possible—only to have no patience for children merely being children.

My father, alas, was even more foolish for believing the way to teach a son who didn’t know how to fight was to beat him even more violently, accompanied by every demeaning insult he could throw. The thought that a son needs to be taught to defend himself, that it isn’t knowledge with which you’re born, was never programmed into his software.

My father’s death stole any hope of eventual rapproachment in this world from me. Fantasy thought it is, the rapproachment between John and Ray Kinsella to conclude Field of Dreams was and remains something I envied every time I watched the film. The few things I had in common with my father included baseball. (And, in fairness, music, my interest in and facility for which my father encouraged but my mother rejected.)

I don’t remember whom he declared to be among his baseball heroes, other than his having been a Dodgers fan since their Brooklyn years. He spoke of various players without singling one out as a particular favourite, at least within my earshot, while I had as heroes assorted hapless 1962-66 Mets plus Sandy Koufax, Willie Mays, Juan Marichal, Henry Aaron, and Bob Gibson, among others.

But I do remember numerous catches, a few trips to the Polo Grounds and then Shea Stadium to see those embryonic Mets, and, in one fathers-and-sons game, my ripping a line drive off his crotch when he deliberately lifted his glove above it because (he admitted it later) he didn’t want to be the reason I made a hard out.

For all the contradictions and abuse, whenever I watch the Field of Dreams climax I’d give whatever I have to give to see my father walk toward me one more time, whether or not he wore a baseball uniform, and slip a baseball glove onto his left hand when I slip mine on and say, “Dad, want to have a catch?”

How do you capture the essence of a famous film on a live broadcast between Major League Baseball teams? Asking demands we ask just what that essence really is.

Is it giving eight disgraced baseball players a new home and a chance to recover by the gods what their misbehaviours—ranging from the morally criminal to the complicit to the willfully silent—stripped from them in the mortal world’s furies?

Is it the old, long-gone fans who refused to believe those men could have been anything other than victims of their own caprices, married to those of a purportedly unscrupulous baseball owner (and that theory has been debunked, too) and the professional gamblers a few sought to finance their intended subterfuge?

Is it re-discovering a truth enunciated in short form and long double-negative by Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson? We try every way we can think of to kill this game, but for some reason nothing nobody does never hurts it. Or in long form by James Earl Jones as Salinger’s stand-in Terrence Mann?

People will come . . . they’ll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters . . . America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past . . . It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again.

The author's son

Photographed by his father through a fence, my son ends his first-ever national Special Olympics plate appearance with a home run. (Yes, he back-flipped his bat away!) My fortune includes that we will never require reconciliation.

Is it an otherwise composed, ordinary Iowa farmer compelled to restore an un-restorable purity to men who could have destroyed baseball but engaged his lost father enough to return to earth, fostering the rapproachment too many fathers and sons—including mine, wherever he is in the Elysian Fields, with me—wish with each other but never find?

My own fortune includes being a father myself. By marriage and mutual engagement, not biology. The marriage is long past; my fatherhood, never. We made each other father and son. I did my best with whatever I had, for a son whose intelligence and will overcomes his compromise by a speech and language impairment, and whose heart is too large to be contained.

He joined his southern California softball team winning silver at the national 2018 Special Olympics. (His first plate appearance in that event: a healthy home run.) During the tournament, his coach told me and he affirmed: he credited me with teaching baseball and softball to him. There was no one more proud of my son at that Special Olympics (except his mother, surely) than his father.

All I ever did was observe, see what he had beyond the love of baseball we shared at the outset, then let him develop what he had on his time, through his eyes, ears, and hands, through his heart, never once imposing mine upon him. (He imposed one of his own: his boyhood heroes were Shawn Green and Vladimir Guerrero.) I’d learned the hardest way how damaging the other ways around could be.

The pan-damn-ic has prevented in-person time with my son since last year. We’ve missed the pleasures of going to Angel Stadium, sharing a game, sharing an atmosphere, with accompanying talk, theory, and hopes of catching a foul ball. It may well do so again before this season ends. I’ll talk to my son on the phone and in instant messages, as always we do. No one needs to tell either of us it isn’t quite the same as direct human engagement.

Neither of us are Yankee or White Sox fans. My son is a die-hard Angel fan. His father is a Met fan since the day they were born, a Red Sox fan since the 1967 pennant race, an Angel fan since the first day I took him to an Angel game. (They beat the Yankees and The Mariano in extra innings.)

We will probably each watch the Field of Dreams Game, thinking our own thoughts while the Yankees engage the White Sox, adjacent to where a novel was made into a film of fantasy that raises questions not always simple to answer. When not contemplating the good, the bad, the excellent, the dubious, about the play of the actual game.

Far simpler to replay the fictional Ray and John Kinsella reconciling with a simple game of catch. Even more simple to remind myself how much more fortunate I am, for having overcome my own parental estrangement and bereavement. For knowing I can still talk to, counsel, listen to my now-adult son, and play catch with him when conditions allow—for pleasure, not atonement.