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The “Field of Dreams” game fails to appeal to a wider audience

It’s a gimmick proposed by white men, based on a film about white men who yearn to play catch with their emotionally-distant fathers.

MLB: New York Yankees-Media Day Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

Major League Baseball announced yesterday that the “Field of Dreams” game between the White Sox and Yankees is tentatively scheduled for August 12, 2021. The game will be played in Dyersville, Iowa. The event was originally slated to take place this year, to mark the 100th anniversary of the 1919 Black Sox Scandal, but had to be rescheduled due to the pandemic.

Is Field of Dreams your favorite baseball movie?

If you said yes, I would bet lots of money that you are a white guy. Let’s consider, for a moment, what Field of Dreams is about:

  • Iowa. Rural cornfields. Farmers.
  • Father/son relationships
  • Nostalgia for 1910s-1920s America
  • Nostalgia for 1910s-1920s baseball
  • Watered down, rose-colored accounts of MLB history and scandals
  • A magical baseball field
  • Men
  • Fathers playing catch with their sons, who in turn will play catch with their sons
  • White Sox players who were accused of gambling and subsequently banned from their segregated, all-white league.

After MLB issued the announcement on Monday, a Fox Sports promo for the game on Twitter caught my eye. A graphic in the tweet pays homage to the Field of Dreams film poster from 1989 and features Aaron Judge and White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson in lieu of Kevin Costner.

I don’t have anything against the movie, but Field of Dreams, like many classic baseball flicks, doesn’t represent my own relationship to our national pastime. For me, baseball is a passion I inherited from my Mom. Images of boys and their dads playing catch don’t resonate with me. They don’t reflect my own story and experiences.

I’m not alone.

That Fox Sports chose to spotlight Anderson on the poster is ironic. It’s a logical choice, seeing as Anderson is one of Chicago’s young, talented and exciting players. But Anderson has admitted he’s never seen Field of Dreams. Back in March, Ryan Ruocco asked Anderson about his relationship to the movie when he appeared as a guest on an episode of R2C2, the podcast hosted by Ruocco and CC Sabathia. Here’s how the conversation unfolds:

Ryan Ruocco: You’re gonna play in the “Field of Dreams” game this year. With the Yankees and White Sox. What are your thoughts on it?

Tim Anderson: I don’t know much about it. I haven’t seen the movie or nothing.

CC Sabathia: That’s what I keep telling this m-f*cker! Black people don’t give a f*ck about Field of Dreams. Playing in no f*cking corn.

TA: For real, man.

CC: We don’t care about none of that shit, bro.

TA: We don’t. Yeah, we don’t.

CC: Like AT ALL. I keep trying to explain to him. I’ve never seen Field of Dreams in my life.

TA: Me neither, me neither. I don’t really know what to expect. But I’ll be ready to play when it’s time, when the lights come on.

CC: Never seen that movie in my life, bro. Never. [Laughter] I keep trying to explain - -

TA: Nah man. Never seen it.

The “Field of Dreams” game is one of several initiatives that MLB has launched in the last few years in an effort to grow the game. Events like the “Field of Dreams” game in Iowa and Players’ Weekend aim to make baseball more fun and appealing to younger fans, as well as to drive the sport’s growth internationally.

The idea to stage a game in Iowa stems from MLB commissioner Rob Manfred’s efforts to make the regular season more exciting. Together with former MLB chief operating officer Tony Petitti, the two men began to explore the possibility of hosting games in areas where MLB doesn’t usually play.

I believe the league’s efforts to engage younger fans and a broader demographic are in the right spirit, but they’re fundamentally misguided. Think about it: the league wants to appeal to younger and more diverse audiences. But instead of creating events that represent and resonate with those audiences, Manfred and MLB executives are trying to win over potential fans around the world with the kind of pandering, manufactured nostalgia catered almost exclusively to middle-aged white men.

Many fans won’t see anyone who looks like them in the Field of Dreams cast, especially not playing on the movie’s titular field. Many fans are unlikely to wax nostalgic for a decade they didn’t live through. The most sentimental people in the world can’t connect to a story in which they’re excluded.