To Him, Baseball is Still America’s Game

By Joe Darby

It’s 6:15 p.m. on a Thursday evening as I write this. A few minutes ago I watched some of the pre-game ceremonies for this year’s Major League Baseball’s Field of Dreams game. If you’re a fan, you know what I’m talking about. If not, let me explain.

In 1989, Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones starred in what is probably the best baseball movie ever made, with some arguments perhaps being made for “The Natural.” Field of Dreams, if you didn’t see it, it involves an Iowa corn farmer, Costner, who hears voices that direct him on amazing quests to build a ball field in his corn field, track down a mysterious, reclusive writer, and finally search out an old physician (Burt Lancaster) who in his youth appeared on one major league game only.

These quests are fulfilled and all come together in a way that makes for such a heart-warming ending (also involving Costner’s deceased dad) that this film has become almost a cult favorite over the years. I know I love it and have seen it many times. “If you build it, they will come,” the voice told Costner’s character.

And come they did. One of the great scenes in the movie is when the disgraced 1919 Chicago White Sox, who threw the World Series that year to the Cincinnati Reds, emerges from Costner’s corn field in wonderment, to play a game. This is a chance to redeem themselves for the greatest sin ever committed in baseball. And they do so. It’s a beautiful moment.

So, Major League Baseball, always open to finding ways to promote the game, has initiated an annual Field of Dreams game, played in a specially built ballpark adjacent to the area in Iowa where the movie was filmed 33 years ago. This year the game was between the Reds, who wore replicas of their 1919 uniforms, and the Chicago Cubs, who donned uniforms that the pennant-winning Cubs wore back in 1929. Both teams, rather than running in from their dugouts, came onto the field from the corn patch. Another very special moment for ball fans.

I love this game. I will acknowledge that football is consistently more exciting than baseball, although the diamond game does have its moments. And baseball cannot compete with basketball for speed and action..

But, by gosh, baseball is still America’s game. It’s part of our history. Soldiers from the Revolutionary War played primitive forms of the game, with many men on each side, and the game was even more popular in the Civil War, taking the soldiers’ minds off the war for a couple of hours of fun and exercise.

Pro football didn’t get started until the 1920s, and then it was pretty primitive. The NBA came along even later. But the National League got underway in 1876, for gosh sake. That’s 146 years ago! The American League, a comparative baby, started big league games in 1903. There’s a connectivity to this game that runs through generations.

My grandfather Tom Armstrong was born in 1880. I played catch with him when I was a lad in the late 1940s and he was in his 60s. He also loved baseball and had what he called his special Lollapalooza pitch. It wasn’t easy for a little boy to catch, I can tell you. He would have been in his 20s when the early greats like Ty Cobb, Hans Wagner, and Christy Mathewson were playing. He was already in middle age when Babe Ruth was flourishing in the 1920s.

My dad was a fan of the stars of the 1930s and ’40s. I fell in love with the game in the early ’50s, becoming an instant fan of the great New York Yankees teams of those years, with Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford. I still love the sport and I’m still a Yankee fan, although I just like to watch the game. I am getting ready to go back and watch the contest between the Reds and Cubs. I hope you saw it too.