Field of Dreams Game Was Baseball at Its Most Romantic, Cubs Should Take Notes

Even with the blatant commercialism and an ill-advised singing hologram, MLB’s Field of Dreams Game remains one of the few things the league has gotten very right. They can’t figure out the baseballs or how to keep the commissioner from sticking either his foot in his mouth or his head up his ass, but I’ll be damned if this corny showcase wasn’t the most fun I’ve had watching baseball in a long time.

Too bad it won’t be back next year, though perhaps Frank Thomas and his business partners will be magnanimous enough to allow the game to return in the future. He could even line up Nugenix or Big Hurt Beer as the title sponsors. Even then I think it’d be near impossible to screw up the vibe MLB has been able to tap into out in Dyersville.

Part of that is the novelty of the whole thing, just a single game played in the literal middle of a cornfield before a small crowd. The throwback uniforms, players walking out of the rows like Ray Liotta’s Shoeless Joe Jackson or Courtney Gaines’ Malachai, Hall of Famers throwing out and catching the first pitch…even a moderately reasonable facsimile of Harry Caray leading the stretch. It would feel entirely artificial if the game was played at Wrigley, but all the contrivances just work in this setting.

It certainly helps that the Cubs won the game, especially against a Reds team that has given them fits, but that was hardly the driving force of my enjoyment. Even Willson Contreras suffering what looked at first like a nasty ankle injury wasn’t enough to dampen the mood for long because he ghost of Dr. Archie “Moonlight” Graham apparently patched the catcher up so he could continue. For my money, that’s far more impressive than slapping a girl on the back to dislodge a chunk of hot dog.

I think what really strikes me about the Field of Dreams game is how much better it is at synthesizing the ideal fan experience than we’re seeing at Clark and Addison. While I understand it’s far easier to tug at heartstrings and lean into uniqueness when it’s just one game, it still feels as though the folks putting it together really know what they’re doing.

The Cubs’ business operations department, on the other hand, is basically outsourcing the interpretation of what fans want to a marketing firm. They take what they think being a Cubs fan is about, then sanitize and mass-produce it for an audience that continues to shrink due to poor planning on multiple levels. It’s as though they listened to that iconic monologue from James Earl Jones and got hung up on two lines.

They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it. For it is money they have and peace they lack.

But maybe, just maybe, that latter phrase can be applied to the Cubs as an organization. Crane Kenney said payroll funds would roll over to next year, which, inaccurate as it is from an accounting perspective, seems to line up with what others are saying. Parting ways with Jason Heyward is a signal that the team is finally willing to move forward in a meaningful way.

It’s funny how much easier it is to swallow even the driest wad of manufactured nostalgia when the product at the center of it is worth experiencing. Winning will wash things down a lot better than a $13 beer, so here’s to hoping we can once again feel as if we’ve dipped ourselves in magic waters here very soon.

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