The Cubs’ rainout-induced doubleheader last week in St. Louis set a couple of “Field of Dreams” Game storylines in motion.
First, it gave Cubs pitcher Adrian Sampson a chance to watch the movie for about the 10th time, in between games. Next, it pushed lefty Drew Smyly’s start this week to Thursday in Iowa among the storied corn stalks.
“Probably a game that I can always look back and remember on in my career, even though it’s just one regular-season game,” Smyly said. “It’ll be special just to be part of that, a one-of-one game every season.”
The Cubs and Reds star in the “Field of Dreams” Game sequel. The White Sox and Yankees gave them a tough act to follow. Last year’s inaugural MLB game at the “Field of Dreams” movie site practically followed a Hollywood script, as Tim Anderson sent a walk-off homer into the cornfield beyond the outfield wall in the Sox’ 9-8 victory.
Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer was in attendance, so corner infielder Patrick Wisdom recently picked his brain about the experience.
“He was just saying the atmosphere there is different because you don’t have 40,000 people screaming at you,” Wisdom said. “It’s 8,000, it’s very intimate, they’re right on top of you. The lights are basically only on the field — or the stage, if you will. And so he said it’s a really good time.”
This iteration of the “corn game,” as Sox manager Tony La Russa coined it, doesn’t have strong ties to the movie, which centered around the Black Sox. And unlike last year, it’s between two teams that are out of playoff contention.
It takes on extra meaning, however, as another chance to celebrate the life of Ray Liotta, who played “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and died in May. And it’s another chance to bask in the nostalgia of a classic baseball movie.
“It’s one of my favorite movies,” Cubs second baseman Nick Madrigal said.
Pitching coach Tommy Hottovy, growing up in Kansas City, used to play in youth tournaments in Iowa. And he and his teammates would marvel at how close they were to the site of “Field of Dreams.” But he’d never been to the field.
“I’m excited,” Hottovy said. “We live in such a … almost monotonous world where it’s like the same day over and over. Having a little different routine and getting back to some basics, it’ll be fun.”
Manager David Ross rewatched the movie with his kids to get ready for the game.
“I think it’s good for baseball,” he said. “I think when you can travel around to different environments, it just makes you feel even more like a kid than we get to feel here at Wrigley Field in a packed house on a Friday day game. It’s just another one of those cool moments.”
The Cubs are scheduled to get in early, with photo ops and media availability lined up in the afternoon. But they’ll have enough time to wander the site.
Several players said they were most looking forward to walking through the cornfields. Sampson loved the way the teams took the field for pregame festivities last year, with Kevin Costner, the star of the film, leading the way out from the towering stalks.
“It was almost a continuation of him coming out of the movie,” Sampson said. “You see it on TV; it’s fake until you’re there.”
Wisdom said he’d been visualizing knocking down corn stalks with towering home runs. Smyly, when asked if he’d take a memento from the game, mused that he might snag some corn.
“I think my kids will have a lot of fun,” said Smyly, a father of three. “They’ll be like, ‘Where are we?’ A bunch of cornfields everywhere.”
Smyly’s routine before starts usually involves getting to the field as late as possible to get his body ready so his mind doesn’t start racing. That won’t be an option Thursday.
“I probably will go walk around and just see everything,” he said, “and just be like a Little League kid again and just take it in.”
As thrilling as last year’s game was, Smyly doesn’t want to replicate it exactly.
“Hopefully it’s a little more of a pitcher’s duel,” he said. “But I remember it being a very exciting game, so hopefully the Cubs and Reds can give the fans another special one.”