Culture

Why the 'Field of Dreams' Game Propelled MLB to Its Best One-Game Ratings in Years

AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

“If you build it, they will come.” That enigmatic prediction brought the Field of Dreams to life about 30 summers ago now.

If you tear something down, will they come back?

The other night I texted my mom about something or other and she mentioned that she was watching the Field of Dreams baseball game. I could feel the excitement in her text message.

MLB moved a single game away from politics and divisiveness, away from hype and taxpayer-funded palaces, and into a balmy summer night under simple lights in an Iowa cornfield. It could have been hokey and maybe it was, but it was also magical. Listen to what actor Kevin Costner does and doesn’t say in his game intro — “a tale of love, family, and character.”

“Come to our field of dreams,” Costner said, “and play ball.” And so two of MLB’s most historic franchises, the Chicago White Sox and the New York Yankees, did. The White Sox won by a run, but that’s incidental.

It’s fair to say that excitement hasn’t been associated with MLB for a season or two, not with the crowds being kept away by COVID and the league’s poor decision-making. As the nation has undergone a massive moral panic over the past year, MLB took sides rather than transcend. MLB’s decision to allow player protesting and wokeness, and its still staggering capitulation and decision to move its all-star game from Atlanta to Denver, made baseball much less than a dream. Many fans tuned out and it showed in the ratings.

Ratings have risen in 2021, and the Field of Dreams game promised to give America’s pastime a shot in the arm. It delivered.

Costner’s video intro has been watched nearly 900,000 times.

Outkick gets why the special game in a cornfield resonated. “I’ve done something totally illogical,” Costner’s character says in the movie. That’s the point.

The oft-maligned league, known more for steroids and BLM pandering of late, finally appeared to understand the gravitas of baseball itself as a cerebral, beautiful social experience. The movie was about baseball, yes, but it was really about family, and the power that a simple game has to heal deep-seated wounds and soothe regrets in life.

That’s true and I’d extend it past baseball to whatever sport or laconic pastime one enjoys. The Olympics suffered in the ratings this year for several reasons, one of which is surely the perception that too many athletes were woke and were not competing for America — they were competing for themselves and the opportunity to denounce America on the world stage. Some Americans snickered and cheered when the woke Megan Rapinoe-led U.S. women’s soccer team got hammered in its first Olympics match and ended up finishing with bronze, not the expected gold. Rapinoe has come back to the United States to be greeted by Subway franchisees protesting her use as the chain’s spokeswoman because she’s so divisive. Personally, I stopped caring about the team when it continued to elevate Rapinoe ahead of its play on the field.

I do watch a lot of soccer, though, and celebrated when the U.S. men’s soccer team won not one, but two major cup competitions over the same summer in which the women’s team collapsed. The men won the inaugural Nation’s Cup in June and then the Gold Cup on August 1, propelling them into the top 10 in world rankings as they captured cups few expected them to win. They received and will continue to receive less sports media coverage than Rapinoe despite their success.

Even quilting has gone extremist political. No space is safe from politics anymore. Sports, unfortunately, led the way.

Win or lose, sports should be a distraction from the realities of life. Sports should be unifying, about history and connections and family. The movie Field of Dreams understood this fundamentally and told this story beautifully. The film about building a baseball field in a cornfield wasn’t really about that at all. Outkick is one of the few sports media outlets that understands that and never lost sight of it.

Field of Dreams is far more than an ode to baseball. It’s an ode to America, to family, and to life in a free republic. That’s why a weird little movie about a man teetering on the edge of bankruptcy who builds a baseball diamond in a cornfield to watch ghosts emerge and play still resonates.

Mainstream sports media lost sight of the real purpose of American sports long time ago. Bob Costas infamously ranted about gun control in 2012 and ESPN went woke several years back as sports journalists began taking themselves far too seriously as agents of change, not chroniclers of scores, stats, and trades — and ultimately, fun. In attempting to transcend sport they have done much to destroy it. This politicization of sport has surely contributed to an overall loss of interest in sports across the board. It’s almost impossible to watch a sports highlight show now without getting some kind of predictably leftwing political messaging, from pundits who have less credibility to lecture anyone than your average amateur anonymous tweeter. It’s all but certain that someone will use a game to protest against America, and sports journalists will clap like trained seals. No one in the big leagues or mainstream sports media anticipated the consequences of making sports no longer fun or unifying.

MLB got it right by taking the hype and politics out of a regular-season game and making it beautiful and fun again. They built a game in a cornfield and American fans came back.