After Watching “Field of Dreams,” TGD Pits Costner’s Baseball Skills Against Sheen, Quaid, and … Freddie Prinze Jr.?

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Get a haircut hippie!

Kevin: With Labor Day behind us, Major League Baseball is now in its final stretch before the October playoffs. To get in the mood, CJ and I caught a recent screening of a film that may not have as much on-the-field action as other baseball classics like “Major League,” “Eight Men Out,” and “Bull Durham,” but probably contains more stirring soliloquies about the glories of our national pastime than all of them combined: 1989’s “Field of Dreams”:

Even if you have never seen “Field of Dreams,” you are probably familiar with the broad strokes:  farmer (Kevin Costner) hears voice saying “If you build it he will come,” constructs baseball diamond in the middle of his cornfield, meets the ghosts of “Shoeless Joe” Jackson (a pre-Chantix Ray Liotta) and the rest of the disgraced 1919 Chicago White Sox team, and eventually makes a major contribution to Iowa’s tourism industry. And if you have a Y chromosome then you also probably know that it has been scientifically proven that you will cry at the end of the film, whether you are closer to the Hulk Hogan or the Andy Dick side of the male spectrum.

Now I didn’t see if CJ himself was shedding any tears in our theater, since some dust or something must have gotten in my eyes at the same time, but I can say that even after nearly 30 years “Field of Dreams” still holds up. Although the movie is definitely of its time in that it places a big emphasis on Costner and his wife (Amy Madigan) being former hippies, making them part of that annoyingly prevalent group in the 1980’s known as “adults with kids and boring jobs who REALLY need you to know how wild they were in the sixties, man.” Seriously, if you grew up anytime around that period you probably lost track of how many people over the age of 40 claimed to have been at Woodstock.

Hey I think I do see my 10th grade English teacher in there!

Anyway, apart from that there were a couple of other things that jumped out at me during our re-watch:

– The cost of two hot dogs and two beers at Fenway Park in 1988 was apparently $7. I can’t decide what seems like a bigger fantasy to me now, that or the idea that any woman I’ve ever known would be as patient and supportive as Madigan is of her husband’s increasingly insane whims as their savings go down the drain.

– Speaking of money, I liked how capitalistic these progressive ex-hippies become as soon as they get the chance to exploit people’s hopes and dreams. James Earl Jones is all, “People will come to relive a special moment in their lives, they’ll be fulfilled in a way they could never imagine … and they’ll also fork over $20 for the privilege, or else fuck ’em.”

– I also liked that while everyone else talks about how people will be drawn to the field because of its mystical power, Costner’s daughter has a much more realistic reason, which is that when they get to Iowa City and realize it’s boring as shit, they’ll just swing on by the baseball field because what else is there to do?

– It would be hard enough to buy the idea of Frank Whaley as a younger version of Burt Lancaster, including apparently growing from 5-foot-7 in his twenties to 6-foot-2 as an old man, if it weren’t for the fact that we already know what a young Burt Lancaster looked like, and it ain’t Frank Whaley:

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– Costner acts like the fact that Shoeless Joe took the gambler’s money but didn’t help throw the World Series absolves him of any wrongdoing. I don’t know, as far as I’m concerned, throwing the World Series is less egregious than taking money out of the hands of honest hardworking mafia members and then not fulfilling your side of the deal!

– While I was watching I also wondered, if they made “Field of Dreams” today what real-life baseball scandal would it revolve around? Pete Rose getting banned for gambling? Mark McGwire using steroids to take the home run record? Roseanne Barr butchering the National Anthem before a Padres game in 1990, which led Iraqi despot Saddam Hussein – seeing this as a sign of American weakness – to invade Kuwait just a week later?

Either way, if nothing else “Field of Dreams” shows that Kevin Costner is the rare celebrity who can convincingly throw a baseball, something that is obviously harder than it looks for even the greatest basketball player in history or – depending on your political persuasion – the best/worst president in history:

Among his fellow thespians, off the top of my head I would think that Costner’s closest competition for the award of “Best Pitching by an Actor” would be Charlie Sheen (“Major League,” “Eight Men Out”) and Dennis Quaid (“The Rookie”). But to really put their skills to the test, I asked our resident baseball expert CJ to evaluate those three in terms of who he would most want on the mound for his favorite team when the pressure was on:

CJ: After breaking down some film, here is what I would rank them in my scouting report:

1) Kevin Costner

Effortless, looks like he’s played ball since he was six, and if you asked him right now to have a catch he could do it no problem.

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2) Charlie Sheen

Again, fairly effortless. His initial start to his windup is odd, so I will blame that on the coke. Other than that, it’s what a righty looks like. Love the whip action on his arm after he slings it back, clearly a guy who played ball growing up as well. Even the way he shakes off Berenger didn’t look dumb. One funny thing to note is everyone getting riled up at him hitting 97 mph, which severely dates this movie, as every reliever now regularly hits 97.

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3) Dennis Quaid

Looks like he never threw a ball until this movie and had to be taught how. Every time you look at his release point, that ball should be shooting 15 feet wide of the plate and into the stands, yet he somehow “throws” strikes. This leads me to one of two conclusions: 1) They hid his shortcomings better than we realized (they show a few behind-the-back shots, which could mean it’s not always him), or 2) He’s right-handed and tried to learn throwing lefty. Either way, you can’t fool me Quaid!

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Kevin: Wait a minute CJ, I just realized there is one more actor that we should seriously consider adding to our roster. I can’t believe we almost forgot about this lighting-bolt-thrower, the man they call Mr. January (on account of his movies always being dumped in that month):

Freddie Prinze Jr.

CJ: HAHAHAHAHAHAHA, good one Kev!

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Kevin: Yes on the complete opposite extreme of Costner you have Freddie Prinze Jr., and as I said about “Summer Catch” in our breakdown of how 2001 was the worst year ever for movies, I love the lengths the filmmakers go to avoid showing that their star – playing a hot young pitching prospect mind you – can not throw a baseball to save his life. For instance, in the above clip and the one below …

… rather than seeing Prinze throw a pitch in one uninterrupted shot, every time he’s about to release the ball in “Summer Catch” we instead get: a shot of his feet, a shot of a ball hitting a batter in the back, or several shots from behind of someone who is clearly not Freddie Prinze Jr. But don’t worry Freddie, maybe decades after you’re dead your ghost can return in Costner’s cornfield, and maybe then you’ll finally be able to throw a baseball with more speed and accuracy than my five-year-old nephew!

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Just don’t bring Matthew Lillard with you.

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