Why the Reds’ Field of Dreams Game Was Must-See TV

The dreadful 2022 season took a detour to baseball heaven in Iowa, and all was right with the team and the world for one night.

Beneath a gorgeous blue sky on a magical day in Dyersville, Iowa, a baseball legend emerged from the corn planted in left field. There was a soaring soundtrack playing and the line from Field of Dreams floated on the air, “Hey, Dad, wanna have a catch?” But this wasn’t Hollywood magic, that legend wasn’t Shoeless Joe Jackson, and Kevin Costner was nowhere to be found.

No, the particular baseball legend on this evening was Ken Griffey Jr., and he was shortly followed by his father, Ken Griffey Sr., a fellow Cincinnati Reds Hall of Famer. Dad carried two baseball gloves as they made their way onto the almost-too-green outfield grass. He paused just a moment, and said, “I’d like that, son.” Then father handed one of the gloves to his son, and they proceeded to do just that: Have a catch.

Sure, it was a schmaltzy moment that was made for television. And if you didn’t get at least a little emotional, then I have to question whether you really love baseball.

If you weren’t paying attention to the world of baseball last week—and you could be forgiven if you’d already checked out—the Reds and Cubs squared off in MLB’s Field of Dreams game, the second installment in what is destined to become an annual event (though the future is a bit murky at this time). The field is located adjacent to the filming location of the 1989 film of the same name, and much like the movie the entire evening was a celebration of what was once called our national pastime.

The night before the contest, Reds first baseman Joey Votto watched the movie and tweeted out his thoughts on the film, on baseball, and on the memories of his father that came flooding back:

From 8 or 9 years old, my father and I would play catch together. In retrospect, to me, it was the most important thing we did together. It strengthened our bond. In Field of Dreams, the movie ends with the main character, Ray, and the ghost of his father having “a catch.” My father passed away 14+ years ago. So it is impossible for me not to feel an emotional connection to the moment where Ray asks his father for a catch. One more moment together.

Getting the opportunity to play a game at the mythical field that sowed the seeds of hope for a Major League Baseball career is a significant moment for me. Couple that with the father/son connection, and this game is an exceptional moment in my life.

Both teams wore throwback uniforms for the contest, and Cincinnati’s 1919-inspired duds looked particularly sweet. The Reds social media team spent days sending out videos showing how excited all the players were for this opportunity. “It was a great experience,” said manager David Bell. “I heard so many people throughout our clubhouse saying it’s something they’ll remember for the rest of their lives.”

That’s part of what made the night so special. In the middle of a disappointing season, with two teams that are fighting to stay out of the cellar in their division, every single player seemed to be having the time of their lives. Whether it was Cubs pitcher Marcus Stroman wandering around taking candid photos of everyone and everything, Votto’s entertaining mid-game interview, or just watching the players emerge from the corn surrounded by baseball legends, you could see the joy and wonder on everyone’s face all game long.

For the first time in a while, it seemed like Major League Baseball had actually figured out something important. The game isn’t about launch angles and exit velocities, defensive shifts, and 100-mph fastballs. No, it’s about much more. It’s about nostalgia, history, and family. Perhaps, you say, this game is just a novelty, but it’s a novelty that hit all the right notes. Maybe this version of baseball isn’t what the public wants in a TikTok world, but for one night MLB certainly seemed like they had cracked the code.

As Terrence Mann, James Earl Jones’ character in Field of Dreams, says in the movie:

People will come, Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn into your driveway, not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door, as innocent as children, longing for the past.

“Of course, we won’t mind if you look around,” you’ll say, “It’s only $20 per person.” And they’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it, for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they’ll walk off to the bleachers and sit in their short sleeves on a perfect afternoon. And find they have reserved seats somewhere along the baselines where they sat when they were children. And cheer their heroes.

And they’ll watch the game, and it’ll be as they’d dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick, they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come, Ray.

The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and that could be again. Oh, people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come.

People will come, indeed. Last year’s game was the highest-rated regular season broadcast in more than two decades. This year’s broadcast was not quite as high, but it was still this season’s most-watched game so far. And how’s this for a metric: My in-laws watched the game for the second straight year, and I don’t think they have ever watched a game in which one of their grandchildren wasn’t in the lineup.

Listen, I’m the most cynical Reds fan on earth, but as the broadcast began I turned to my brother and said, “I’m legitimately excited for this. I can’t believe it, but I’m genuinely excited.” And I was. I don’t have to tell you how difficult this season has been for Reds fans. There will be no playoffs for us, and it’s more than a little sad when you know the highlight of the season is happening in August. And, of course, the Reds lost the actual game.

But the night was about more than just a box score or a team’s place in the standings. It was about the romance of a sport that’s meant so much to so many. It was about a game that, at its best, is the most beautiful game on earth, one that has captivated us all. And yes, Terrence Mann, the night reminded us of all that once was good and could be again.

Chad Dotson and his children at a minor league park.

Photograph by Sabrina Dotson

During the game, I found my mind wandering. I recalled all the times I was lucky enough to “have a catch” with my own father in the front yard when I still believed I was going to be the next Barry Larkin. I remembered the catches I’ve had with my own children, including a particularly special Father’s Day on a minor league field after a game.

You know, I think I’m going to see if my daughter and my son want to have a catch with me right now. And then maybe I’ll see if my own father wants to have a catch, for old time’s sake, while we still can. Because, for better or for worse, this game connects us in ways that we don’t always understand until we see some 30-year-old guys running around a cornfield in throwback uniforms or when we watch a gooey, overly sentimental movie from the 1980s.

Baseball can be very special if we, like the movie, believe in the game’s magic, even just a little bit. How can you not be romantic about baseball?

Chad Dotson authors Reds coverage at Cincinnati Magazine and hosts a long-running Reds podcast, The Riverfront. His first book, The Big 50: The Men and Moments That Made the Cincinnati Reds, is available in bookstores and online.

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