Matt Gangl vividly remembers the first time he laid eyes on the Field of Dreams.
The lead director of Fox Sports’ MLB coverage was making the 4 ½ - hour drive last year to Dyersville, Iowa, from his home in Minnesota. He saw on his GPS that the site of the beloved 1989 movie was just a bit farther.
“You take a corner, and all of a sudden you can see the light stanchions for the fields, and I literally got chills,” Gangl said. “I’m like, This is exactly why we’re doing this, to provide that moment of wow. You get those goosebumps. It’s like nothing I can fully explain as you drive up the first time.”
The fields Gangl referred to are the movie site, now a tourist attraction, and the nearby pop-up stadium that will host the “Field of Dreams” Game on Thursday between the White Sox and Yankees. “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and other players from the 1919 Sox were featured in the movie. Hence, the Sox’ inclusion in the game. Fox will broadcast the game, and Gangl will direct.
“This game is not only gonna draw baseball fans, but fans of the movie and people who are just intrigued to see how they put a baseball field in the middle of a cornfield,” Gangl said.
Not just a baseball field, but a full-on TV production. Just as the stadium was built from scratch, the broadcast will be, too.
“There’s no obvious stadium infrastructure there. Everything’s being built,” said Judy Boyd, senior vice president of Fox Sports productions. “So you get some things as simple as how do we get a broadcast signal out of there. You’re working in a cornfield. It’s a testament to our tech side.”
Gangl said the broadcast was budgeted roughly to that of a division-series playoff game. The production crew will include just short of 30 manned cameras, a lot for a regular-season game. And because of the bare-bones stadium and remote location, Gangl said Fox will run thousands of feet of cables.
With only 8,000 seats available, the game is truly a made-for-TV event. Both Boyd and Gangl used the word “cinematic” to describe their plan for the broadcast. Gangl said he lost count of how many times he has watched “Field of Dreams,” trying to devise ways to incorporate the movie into the broadcast. The last time he was on site, Gangl visited the house where Ray Kinsella (played by Kevin Costner) lived.
“I’m thinking, What kind of shots could I use that take us the same paths that they did when [Kinsella] goes over and looks out the window to see the first time Ray Liotta, ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson, is on the field,” Gangl said. “There’s fun stuff in the works.”
That includes keeping the aesthetics of the era. Boyd said Fox told MLB that it wanted hard advertising signage behind home plate as opposed to virtual or rotating signage. A crew will swap out the sign manually every inning. Fox also altered its graphics, which will have the appearance of an old-time scoreboard. But the network still will use the technology baseball viewers have become accustomed to.
“It is an interesting balance because everything we do as we move forward in sports television is advancing technology,” Gangl said. “More super slow-mo, more big lens, higher-speed camera. To me, it’s using those things in a way that is a little more cinematic than standard game coverage.
“As much as I love great tight shots, and we’ll find those emotion shots, but I think there’s gonna be a lot more resetting grander shots, sweeping motions, things that give us place and proximity of where this event is taking place.”
All that said, Fox knows there’s a game to cover. Coverage begins at 5 p.m. with a one-hour pregame show with host Kevin Burkhardt and analysts Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz and White Sox Hall of Famer Frank Thomas. Tom Rinaldi also will be on site to deliver one of his fabled features. Joe Buck and John Smoltz will call the game, and Ken Rosenthal and Tom Verducci will serve as reporters.
There will be surprises along the way, but Boyd said viewers can expect to see members of the “Field of Dreams” cast in some capacity, as well as Sox and Yankees players sharing their thoughts on the movie.
And if the last shot of the broadcast looks familiar, that’s because it probably will be.
“It’s that iconic shot,” Gangl said. “There’s the low shot where they’re in the field having a catch, and then it goes to that aerial where you see all the cars coming into the field. I think Dyersville in the background will be cool because I want to replicate that shot at the end of the night.
“There’s things that you want to pay homage to from the movie, and there are things that we can do that can bring some of those moments and memories from the movie to the game. I wanna try to take advantage of as many of those as you can.”
Where to watch and listen:
TV: Fox-32 (coverage starts at 5 p.m., game starts at 6 p.m.)
Radio: WMVP-AM 1000, WRTO-AM 1200