MLB’s ‘Field of Dreams’: Is This Hybrid Heaven?

Photo: Getty Images

Finally, the first truly great hybrid event of the pandemic

In 2019, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the release of “Field of Dreams” (Kevin Costner, Amy Madigan, James Earl Jones, Ray Liotta, “If you build it…,” you know the rest), the MLB announced plans to build a park in Dyersville, IA, where the movie filmed. After a pandemic delay, the game finally took place on Aug. 12, 2021. Many called it corny — it did take place in a cornfield — so we expected that. But we didn’t expect it to be the best hybrid event we have experienced.

According to “Since 1989, the Lansing Family Farm, which was used in the movie, has been a popular tourist attraction, now known as the ‘Field of Dreams Movie Site.’ In 2011, the field was purchased by Denise Stillman and a group of investors to create a special place for baseball fans, tournaments and families. Stillman partnered with MLB in 2015 [with her company, Go the Distance], which has now culminated in this special game.” 

Who says baseball is dead? Who says TV is dead?

This made-for-TV event was created for baseball lovers, movie lovers and basically anyone with a soul. And the dream game majorly paid off for MLB and FOX. According to USA Today: “The game, with its Hollywood ending and setting within America’s heartland, was the most-watched regular season MLB game in 16 years, with 5.9 million viewers across FOX and FOX Deportes.”

Oh, and don’t forget the 8,000 fortunate (and affluent) fans who got to see the game IRL. Iowa-based fans paid $375 to $425 for tickets, as well as lottery-winning White Sox season ticket holders. On the secondary market, tickets were going for an average of $1,400. Yikes.

That was as special and breathtaking a setting for a baseball game that I can ever remember… When we walked out through the cornfields and saw the stadium, just the perfection of the night, with Kevin Costner standing out there in short center field, that’s a moment I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”Yankees’ Manager Aaron Boone in the New York Times

“The Field of Dreams game was more than unbelievable. It was perfect.”Randy Peterson writing for the the Des Moines Register

“It’s nuanced, and it’s with love, you can see it… I think ‘Field of Dreams,’ all the way through, from the movie to this moment, has had the benefit of people who are very careful.”Kevin Costner in the New York Times

The home run

It was a full-on love-fest from nearly every media outlet, even beyond sports. From an experiential standpoint, it was hybrid perfection, built for both the fans there IRL and the fans at home. But — importantly — built differently for each. And with a very thoughtful approach that began with how each audience would want to experience the game.

For the IRL folks: There was a pathway to the park among the cornfields and the adjacent ball field from the movie was a spot to play catch. There was also a replica of the movie house, a watch party in the town square and an old-fashioned scoreboard with scorekeepers in old-timey outfits. The event even sold hot dogs wrapped in apple pie, compliments of Guy Fieri and Chevrolet.

Those of us at home: We watched a cinematic close-up of Costner in his signature khakis and crisp white shirt, accompanied by the moving film score. He was soon joined by the real-life Yankees and White Sox from amongst the corn. Throughout the game, at-home viewers were treated to interviews with Costner, clips from the movie and factoids about the game. The camera angles caught the excitement of not just fans, but players, coaches and announcers, too.

You know you nailed it when your on-field talent is as excited about being there as your paying ticket-holders. David Ortiz was dressed in a sweater vest and pageboy cap, à la the movie’s character Thomas Mann, played by James Earl Jones.

The closer

The whole experience was one of those magical moments where life felt like a movie and actually exceeded expectations. And, it was helped along by a glorious sunset and a walk-off home run by Tim Anderson that gave the White Sox a dramatic win. It could not have been scripted better. When you’re careful, as Kevin Costner puts it, the universe conspires in your favor. And that’s what happened in Iowa last week, at a much-needed time for all of us.

As you know, one of our favorite rules of XP is, “always leave ‘em wanting more.” Nicely done, MLB. We do want more. And, this just in: Next year’s Field of Dreams will be between the Chicago Cubs and the Cincinnati Reds. Thanks to all the recent hype, “Field of Dreams” will be coming to a TV screen near you (no word on a release date, sadly).

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XP Land is for experiential creatives and experience-makers, brand leaders, and IP-owners, space stewards and venue visionaries — all those in the business of epic gatherings and live, immersive storytelling.