Noted: A story in today's New York Time's sports section on how the couple who own the Iowa farm where "Field of Dreams" was filmed are selling it. Selling it for several millions dollars to an investment group from Chicago that will preserve the field shown in the movie and, elsewhere on the 193-acre property, create a baseball complex with a dozen fields and an indoor training center for youth baseball and softball competitions. One of the sellers says "we really have been aware all these years that the field needs to grow in some capacity." And one of the buyers says of the movie that it "has this sort of bucolic, magical sense to it. It seems to transport you. It has a certain sensibility about it that we'd like to raise more."
Not to judge the sellers or the buyers, but I don't think the the way to enhance the "bucolic sensibility" of the place is to turn it into a commercial enterprise. There's something a little grasping, not to say cynical, in putting up a large for-profit enterprise to trade on the gently anti-establishment, gently anti-materialist tone of "Field of Dreams" and "Shoeless Joe," the book that was the source for the film.
On one level, the novel extols the magic of baseball and suggests that it carries the power to heal the deepest hurt. On another level, the book is about the power and the cost of an ordinary person pursuing a vision even when (or especially when) it defies logic, the expectations of others, and financial reality. In the book and movie, the villains are bankers and their cohorts waving demands for payment as the hero tries to make sense of seemingly ruinous mystical imperatives. The bankers want an asset to perform; the hero and his family are struggling to understand the value of what appears to others to be only a farm.
Late in the novel and movie, one character (J.D. Salinger in the book, "Terence Mann" in the film) relates a dream in which the farm's future has been revealed.
Late in the game, Salinger suddenly taps me on the arm. "I've had a dream," he says when I turn to look at him. "I know how things are going to turn out."
"Things?" I say.
"The farm. Listen! It will be like this …" He moved down and sits in front of us, so he can deliver a lecture, like a professor with five graduate students who has been assigned an amphitheater for a classroom.
"It will be almost a fraternity, like one of those tiny, exclusive French restaurants that have no sign. You find it almost by instinct.
"The people will who come here will be drawn…" He stops, searching for words. "Have you ever been walking down the street and stopped in midstride and turned in at a bookstore or a gallery you never knew existed? People will decide to holiday in the Midwest for reasons they can't fathom or express.
"They'll turn off I-80 at the Iowa City exit, drive around the campus, get out and stroll across the lawns, look at the while columns of the Old Capitol Building, have supper at one of the tidy little restaurants, then decide to drive east for a while on a secondary highway. They'll watch the hawks soaring like Chinese kites in the early evening air. They'll slow down when they see you house, and they'll ooh and aah at the whiteness of it, the way it sits in the cornfield like a splotch of porcelain. They'll say how beautiful it is, and comment on how the flags snap in the breeze. At this point they won't even realize that the flags fly over a centerfield. They'll be hypnotized by the way the corn sways in the breeze.
"They'll turn up your driveway, not knowing for sure why they're doing it, and arrive at your door, innocent as children, longing for the gentility of the past, for home, canned preserves, ice cream made in a wooden freezer, gingham dresses, and black-and-silver stoves with high warming ovens and cast-iron reservoirs.
" 'Of course, we don't mind if you look around,' you'll say. 'It's only twenty dollars per person.' And they'll pass over the money without even looking at it–for it is money they have, and peace they lack."
"I don't have to tell you that the one constant through all the years has been baseball," Salinger also says. "America has been erased like a blackboard only to be rebuilt and then erased again. But baseball has marked time while America has rolled by like a procession of steamrollers."
A succession of steamrollers has trundled across Iowa and the rest of the country since the late '80s, when the movie came out. Farming has become more industrialized than ever, and the financial pressure to turn the landscape into a performing asset is greater than ever, too. The most recent steamrolling we've gotten involves bankers, property, and demands for payment. But this isn't "Field of Dreams." The struggle for many people is not about the loss of something mystical, but about something immediate and concrete. For many, the struggle is for survival. For now it's both peace and money we lack.