I begin this column with a question: Do I write about baseball or Kevin Costner? And either way, why?
I’m not a baseball guy. I played tee ball at Humboldt elementary for one season and remember staring at my feet in the outfield wishing it was over. I didn’t own any baseball board games…don’t laugh, there’s always Strat-O-Matic baseball; And the only baseball video game I own is “Baseball” for my Game Boy, a game so bare-bones you only get two teams, both spinach-green.
I’ve actually had “Write about Kevin Costner” in my idea notebook twice now, once when his band, yes you read that right, played Decatur a while back; and then again when I had every intention to celebrate the Fourth with a review of his bizarre, yet strangely compelling, 1997 movie “The Postman,” where he played a drifter who saves a post social-collapse America from savage right-wing militia rule by…reinstating the post office.
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When it comes to Kevin Costner, I wasn’t exactly begging my parents to stay up past my bedtime to watch “Fandango,” “Silverado” or “The Big Chill” (he’s in it for a second), but the night they came home from Broadway Video with “Field of Dreams,” I remember thinking it was the first movie I had ever seen that I could recognize as “good” because it was well-written and not because it featured robots, lasers or robots who fired lasers .
On paper, a heartfelt American fable about our nostalgia for old-timey baseball stuff might have seemed out of place at a time when we were just barely done flexing our muscle with Rambo and Rocky and just about to do the same with peak Arnold coming down the line, but you’d be underestimating just how we talked about baseball back then.
For an example, look up the first few minutes of ABC’s coverage of game three of the 1989 World Series, the one that got knocked off the air during the opening nightlights when the Loma Prieta earthquake hit. You’ll be treated to James Earl Jones reading a positively goopy poem about baseball that then drop kicks into the drippy 1974 James Taylor deep cut “Hello Old Friend” overlaid on top of footage of grumpy old baseball managers looking off into the middle distance, hazy sax solo and all, even though the song doesn’t appear to be about baseball beyond a loose cribbing of the phrase “say I can stay ’till October…and play,” probably the most egregious example of such things since “Walk of Life” by Dire Straits.
You’ll get a lot of that in “Field of Dreams.” Even today, it’s hard for me to sit through that “America and Baseball, Ray…it’s like a blackboard” speech although, yes, I suppose it’s a nice contrast to Cletus the Fox Sports football robot smashing through the NFL shield to spike a steel football down your face.
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A few years ago, MLB held something called a “Field of Dreams Game,” an attempt at stoking up some of that old nostalgia by having an actual game on the same field from the movie that’s still out in that Iowa corn somewhere, and with Costner himself standing under those lights to dole out some old-timey hokum before current players walked out of the stalks.
Even I must admit it was kind of a cool moment, even though it didn’t actually take place on the real “Field of Dreams” field. Such a production also overlooked that the film’s real nostalgia was actually for the lead character’s fading dream of his ’60s hippie-change-the-world youth, something which has always resonated with me even though such concerns are slowly fading in favor of my generation’s desire to flood all culture with products of our youth. And just in case you “Stranger Things” fans were wondering, yes, I was into “Running Up That Hill” before anyone.
I’d love to believe folks from the ’60s are still trying to stand up to book-bannings the way Amy Madigan does in “Field,” but it sure doesn’t seem like it. We all know what happened. It started with tie-dye and free love while grooving to The Flying Burrito Brothers and then they grew up, made Wall Street money and now instead of standing up to censorship they’re going to Neil Young concerts and booing when he gets political.
Where was I? Oh yeah. Baseball and Kevin Costner. Baseball’s not going anywhere, not as long as there are small towns like ours with enough diamonds to support 27-some games at once, I suppose. And hey, I can pick up a vintage Bases Loaded cartridge for the Nintendo for pretty cheap, so maybe I will stay for a while and play.
Costner did pretty well for himself. He made two more baseball movies, “Bull Durham,” which to this day feels too grown-up for me, and “For Love of the Game,” which would have been an amazing movie if they hadn’t of put the love story in there. He even made a football movie a few years ago, “Draft Day,” a really bad movie I watch every time it comes on, just so I can do the math to figure out if a woman Jennifer Garner’s age is too young to be his girlfriend.
These days I’ve heard he’s all the rage in “Yellowstone,” a modern-day frontier-drama on a network I don’t get that’s apparently a big hit among the demographic who’s biggest dream is being locked in overnight at a Cracker Barrel .
Actually, that’s kind of a good idea. Anyone remember that movie where the dork gets locked in the Target overnight with Jennifer Connelly? I mean, she was just in the new “Top Gun” for crying out loud, and everyone loved that.
Excuse me everyone. I’ve got to figure out how to trademark an idea real quick.
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“The Throwback Machine” is a weekly feature taking a look back at items of interest found in the JG-TC online archives. For questions, comments, suggestions, or his “Song of the Day” recommendation, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.