“Ray, people will come Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won’t mind if you look around, you’ll say. It’s only $20 per person. They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they’ll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh… people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.”[Italics added]
Now as anyone who has read this blog for a while knows, I am less than thrilled with most team sports. I perfectly understand playing them, but most of the time they make no sense to me…I just do not find the fascination in watching a ball or puck moved back and forth on a field. And then add to the fact that almost every professional sport exists almost entirely by sucking off the government teat at taxpayer expense (if schools started making sports paid for only by ticket sales and parent contributions, and cities no longer offered sweetheart deals on taxes and built stadiums at tax payer losses do you really think most professional sports would last for long?)…and then there is the philosophical aspect of sports. The reason Miracle did not make this list of patriotic films, even though it’s on every other list of patriotic films, is because it glorified subverting the individual for the whole…which I fully admit is the central idea of all team sports…but while that is the philosophy that leads to successful teams in sports it is antithetical to the very core of the American spirit and poisonous to the fabric of society. Rational self-interest, not subversion of the self, is how societies grow and prosper, that is not necessarily the idea behind winning teams. So like I said, not a big fan of team sports…
…except for baseball. Now there is a sport that perfectly models the nature of America. Yes we are individuals out for our own ends, which are hopefully fully rational, but even the most rationally self-interested person out there realizes that they are in a society and do need to work with others; it is that what is good for us is good for society at large, not the other way around—when you begin thinking of what is good for society must be good for me, well look at Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, LBJ’s Great Society and tell me if that line of thought works. And no sport exemplifies this focus on the individual working within a society as well as baseball.
Every pitch begins as a battle between only two individuals, the batter and the pitcher, and it develops into a larger struggle of the batter versus the rest of the opposing team. It is only when you take a further step back to a whole inning that it ceases to be strictly about the individual and achieves the level of one team versus another. Hell, while I’m not sure it will ever be done, the two grandest achievements theoretically possible in baseball, a perfect game or batting 1.000 could theoretically be done by a single individual (it’s all but impossible you’ll ever get a professional to bat 1.000, but it is theoretically possible, though highly unlikely, for a single person to pitch a perfect game without the help of his team). The importance of the individual is never far from any moment in baseball.
I can find no better metaphor in sports that balances the American emphasis on the individual than baseball. And thus at least one baseball movie had to be in this list…
And while I think For the Love of the Game might be the greatest baseball movie of all time there is no denying that in addition to being a wonderfully patriotic film, it is without a doubt one of the greatest and most moving films of all time.
So what makes Field of Dreams so patriotic…I mean besides that James Earl Jones speech about how baseball and America are inextricable from each other.
The first are concepts of faith and will. Americans have always been a more spiritual people than our counterparts in the old world that we left behind. Not necessarily more religious, we often have no respect for the hierarchy of religion, but we are a very spiritual people. And we may not be big on doctrine either, but we believe. In any other country in the world a person hears a voice telling them “If you build it, he will come” if they are sane they’d probably check themselves in for observation…but here we have faith that there is a higher power out there guiding us. Cynics, liberals, and skeptics might take this whole paragraph glorifying a weakness of America, but in reality, it is our faith and willingness to believe in something not only greater than us, but that we are a part of that infinite greatness, that makes us an exceptional nation. And it is not only a quiet faith that sits in churches and prays but doesn’t act. Part of America’s strength lies in the fact that we marry our beliefs and faith to our actions. We actually don’t just hear the voice, we take the time to plow under the corn and build the baseball filed.
There is the repeated line “Is this Heaven? No this is Iowa” (I even have a T-shirt with that on it that was bought at the field they built for the movie, which as far as I know is still there). What is interesting about that line is that they later clarify it. “Is there a Heaven?” “Yes, it’s the place where dreams come true.” Now stop me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that America? The America Dream? The idea that this land above all others, that if you work and strive you will achieve your dream. “Then maybe this is heaven.”
One of the lesser known points about this film (and the book it was based on) is that the character of Dr. Archibald “Moonlight” Graham is a real person. And I don’t’ mean they loosely based him on a real person, I mean that with a few date changes, every fact they mention about the man is an actual fact. He had one of the shortest careers in baseball, the way they described him is taken from real interviews, he apparently really did have a closet full of blue hats he didn’t get around to giving his wife, and the passage they quote from his obituary in the film is from the real man’s obituary.
“And there were times when children could not afford eyeglasses or milk or clothing. Yet no child was ever denied these essentials because in the background there was always Dr. Graham. Without any fanfare or publicity, the glasses or the milk or the ticket to the ballgame found their way into the child’s pocket.”
Now I’m not going to go as far as to say that America is the only nation that breeds people of a saintly nature, as Graham appears to have been…but we do it with a greater propensity than others. We’re the most charitable nation on Earth. And rich or poor we give more in money and in personal time volunteering . Liberals hate the fact that the only nation founded on the individual and what was once the most capitalistic nation on Earth is also the most giving. On his own Doctor Graham is admirable, but it is the fact that the character of Terrance Mann observes that “half the towns in America have a Doc Graham” and more or less he’s right, that makes this a very patriotic idea.