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Field of Dreams: From outfield windows to camera angles, how MLB will create baseball magic in Iowa  1 Month ago

Source:   USA Today  

James Earl Jones, playing the writer Terrance Mann, rises from the wooden bleachers in the final scenes of “Field of Dreams.”

He implores the bankrupt Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) to keep his magical baseball field carved into a cornfield on the outskirts of Dyersville.

“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball,” Jones intones in his unmistakable deep bass voice. “America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time.”

It won’t quite take an army of steamrollers to build a new Field of Dreams big enough to host an actual counts-in-the-standings Major League Baseball game between the New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox.

But before the first pitch the evening of Aug. 13, 2020, much earth will move — some 30,000 cubic yards, in fact.

By comparison, that’s about the same volume as the reflecting pool between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

The original site of the 1989 film wouldn’t do for a real big-league game, MLB officials said.

Movie magic might make the home runs of Shoeless Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta) into the cornstalks impressive, but baseball’s best sluggers could practically bunt over the movie site’s 314-foot center-field depth. Same goes for the 281-foot distance to left field and the 262 feet to right field.

Major League Baseball players need a major-league park. The field that will emerge from all that digging will be 335 feet down the left and right field lines, 380 feet in the power alleys and 400 feet to center.

Go the Distance, the private partnership that maintains the tourist destination, takes fine care of the movie site, but even its meticulous grooming is below the standard for a Major League field.

“Everything must be perfectly flat,” said Murray Cook, president of BrightView Sports Turf, a division of a massive corporate and sports landscaping firm headquartered in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania. “There can be no quirks or flaws.”

Cook’s history is colorful enough that he might have been a character in “Shoeless Joe,” the novel by the late W.P. Kinsella that inspired the film.

Cook’s path to MLB’s top field builder began as a boy in his native Salem, Virginia. In the early 1970s, he shagged batting practice balls that cleared the fence of Kiwanis Field, then the home of the Salem Pirates, a Class A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

“I guess I got so good at shagging balls outside the stadium that they brought me inside the stadium to shag,” Cook said.

Thus began a 17-year stint in the minors, doing everything from dragging the field to managing stadiums for minor league teams across the country.

He got called up the majors in 1994, managing the spring training field operations for the Atlanta Braves and the former Montreal Expos.

These days, when MLB wants a field built to its standards, they summon Cook from the bullpen like an ace closer.

Cook and his team at BrightView have built or improved fields for MLB games across the globe. They built the field for the Yankees' series with the Boston Red Sox in London earlier this year. Now they'll build one in a cornfield in Iowa.

The new Dyersville field will be most similar to BrightView’s work to build a field at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where the Atlanta Braves hosted the Miami Marlins in 2016.

Cook and crew had about five months from announcement to gameday to create the field for the first professional sporting event held on an active military base.

“We’ll have a full year this time,” Cook said. “That makes thing a little easier.”

While Cook’s team concentrates on life between the baselines, the Toronto company BaAM Productions focus on everything else — from the restrooms and showers in the team clubhouses to the stands, fences, press box and bleachers.

BaAM has partnered with major sports for special events for years. They help the NHL put on its annual outdoor game, the Winter Classic. They worked with MLB on the Fort Bragg game.

The company plans every detail: concessions, power, water needs, and camera angles for the game, which will be televised on ESPN.

The pieces to make the stadium are gathered from a variety of contractors, and the temporary field is assembled like a kind of giant Lego set.

BaAM and architectural design firm Populous collaborated on the design of a temporary ballpark and event site for the Field of Dreams game with an eye toward preserving the “atmosphere of a Major League game without losing the sense of place,” said Annemarie Roe, BaAM president.

To that end, the original movie site will be lighted and visible for fans during the night game. They sought to incorporate Iowa’s natural beauty with windows in the outfield wall to show the cornfield from which the stadium will be carved.

MLB officials declined to say how much the operation will cost. Reports indicated the Fort Bragg Game cost about $5 million to produce.

The temporary stadium will host 8,000 fans. Ticket prices and distribution methods have not been released. MLB started receiving calls and messages about how to acquire tickets moments after the Field of Dreams Game was announced.

It’s almost as if James Earl Jones’ monologue 30 years ago presaged the coming event:

“People will come, Ray,” he said. “They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it; for it is money they have and peace they lack. … They’ll watch the game, and it’ll be if they’d dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick, they’ll have to brush them away from their faces.”

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