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by John Cardullo, sportswriter
“Is this heaven?” “No, it’s Iowa” and with these words one of the greatest baseball games to be seen in a very long time played out like a classic game of days long ago.
The statement came across an Iowa cornfield back in 1989, “If you build it, they will come.” The movie Field of Dreams has become a classic and helped launch its star, Kevin Costner, on the road to Hollywood superstardom. The backdrop of the movie was Costner who was a corn farmer (hard to imagine seeing that Iowa is the nation’s largest producer of corn in the country). Costner’s character worshiped his deceased father who he idolized as he was raising a family of his own. One day he heard the words come to him “on the wind”.
He did build the field and they did come. Walking out of the grown corn stalks, members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox, the team that was forever banned from professional baseball for throwing the 1919 World Series after they were overwhelmingly favored to win. If you want that story ,well, rent the movie Eight Men Out, to learn the entire story.
Professional baseball fell in love with the movie. Its wholesomeness and feel-good emotions quickly made it to the top of baseball’s all-time favorite movie. So, with little fanfare and even less exposure, primarily due to the worldwide pandemic, on a hot and sticky August night, and what seemed like a made for television event, the Chicago White Sox wearing throwback uniforms of those same 1919 uniforms and everyone’s favorite team to hate, the New York Yankees, squared off in a dog days of summer game that normally would get little notoriety.
The White Sox are in full season mode leading their division and looking like the team to beat in the American League. The Yankees after a terrible first half of the season have been playing lately like the team predicted, before the season began, as the team to reckon with. Dealing with Covid-19 team related issues and just playing poor baseball, it looked like the Yankees season was lost. However, things turned around when players returned from injuries and quarantine and the Yankees have climbed back into contention and are making a run for a playoff position. So, it was game-on for this glorified exhibition event.
Another baseball field was constructed opposite to the field that Costner’s character built back in 1989. But this one had a temporary seating capacity of 8,000, state-of-the-art lighting, padding around the field made to look like the wood that was used to build those old ball parks at the turn of the century. Chain link fence was used to enhance the backdrop and always kept the corn stalks in view. Even the scoreboard was a throw back to those days when scores were displayed and hung by hand on what appeared to be the side of a barn by a scorekeeper dressed in a style of someone from 1919. In a page ripped out of Hollywood, the players from both teams entered the ballpark from centerfield as they came out of the cornfield. Both teams walked out to the infield and stood along both base paths. Kevin Costner himself entered onto the field. After Costner addressed all in attendance with an emotional tribute to the original movie and the game of baseball, it was game on.
Little did the Fox Network expect that when the game began was one of the most epic battles that you just don’t see in the sport nowadays. Baseball has been criticized for games being too slow and too boring. That fans are not like they used to be, not engaged, and not loyal because the league has become more about the individual players, and not the teams. Well, on this night, all of that was thrown out the window. The game not only lived up to the hype but exceeded it as the Yankees and White Sox hooked up and brought to those 8,000 plus fans in attendance and the millions that tuned in out of curiosity a Summer Classic. The Yankees star outfielder, Aaron Judge, who hit two home runs, the first gave the Yankees an early 3-2 lead and the second tied the game at 7-7 in the top of the ninth inning, after trailing 7-4. The next Yankee batter Giancarlos Stanton hit another home run to put the Yankees on top 8-7. Both home runs came off White Sox’ shutdown reliever Liam Grissom, who has been virtually untouchable all season long. In the bottom of the ninth inning, Chicago’s first batter hit a ground for the first out. With one out a runner on first base by virtue of a walk, the White Sox’ Tim Anderson drove the first pitch that was thrown to him deep into the centerfield corn stalks for a dramatic walk off Home Run and giving the White Sox’s a 9-8 win.
The whole event played out like it was written in Hollywood, with eight thousand screaming fans, a high scoring game worthy to be known as a modern classic and the Fox Network bringing the whole event into millions of living rooms across the globe. It came as no surprise that the Commissioner of Major League Baseball’s office announced that MLB will return to these cornfields in Iowa next season. It’s not hard to imagine both Babe Ruth and “Shoeless” Joe Jackson smiling down from somewhere and in a whispered voice they were the ones who said, “if you build it, they will come – and if you give them a classic game like this, they will come back!”
John Cardullo, sportswriter
Great story, John. I hope MLB continues with it. Very entertaining and I liked the nostalgia.