Wednesday, October 5 2022

By Jake Mintz
FOX Sports MLB Writer

Editor’s note: This story was originally published on Aug. 13, 2021, following the first Field of Dreams Game between the Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees

The second Field of Dreams Game is officially in the books.

Like the event’s first installment, the game Thursday between the Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds featured movie references, lots of corn, balls hit into the corn, a heavy helping of nostalgia, lots of corn, sweet throwback uniforms, lots of corn, Shoeless Joe Jackson stats, and lots and lots of corn. 

In and of itself, the visual of a Major League Baseball game happening among acres and acres of crop is pretty stunning.

How the Field of Dreams is prepared

Ken Rosenthal reports on the prep work required to make the Field of Dreams field look so nice and what changes were made this year.

The league has put on other one-off, special-event games before, including the Fort Bragg Game in North Carolina, the Little League Classic in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and the London Series in, of course, London. We’ve also seen games in Mexico, Puerto Rico, Japan and Australia and a spring training game in the Dominican Republic.

It all got me thinking about the future, the great beyond, the next frontier: Where else could MLB play a regular-season game? What other unique locations around the country and the world would make sense to host some big-league baseball?

While thinking about this, I gave myself three criteria.

1. It has to be a real place: As much as I’d love a game in Bowser’s Castle (Mario Super Sluggers) or Eckman Acres (Backyard Baseball), neither of those places actually exists, so that’s kind of a barrier. And there really aren’t any other baseball films that would make sense. The Durham Bulls already play in the “Bull Durham”-style stadium, and I guess you could build a big-league-sized version of the sandlot from “The Sandlot,” but isn’t a sandlot fundamentally a bad playing surface? You get my point.

2. Community impact/reuse: I thought about places that could make use of an MLB-built stadium or field for the 364 days of the year when there’s no MLB game going on. If the league is going to dish out the coin to build something spectacular in a new place, it should serve the community in question. Ideally, any playing surface would be accessible the rest of the season to local high school, college and travel teams.

3. It has to mean something … or just look cool: There needs to be a good story attached. It doesn’t need to be an actual movie or anything like the Field of Dreams Game, but there has to be a narrative or historical reason behind any one-of-a-kind game.

Let’s get into it.

There are 25 baseball/softball fields in NYC’s marquee urban park, none of which is nice enough, big enough or otherwise capable of hosting an MLB game. The logistical hurdles here would be absolutely enormous, and it’s obviously both financially and physically impossible and irresponsible to erect a full stadium on, like, The Great Lawn or something.

That said, check out this view.

Anyone who has played slow-pitch softball in NYC has probably played on the Heckscher Ballfields on the south end of the park at one point or another. It’s an iconic spot with an incredible view of the Midtown skyline in the background.

Maybe if MLB paid for a new playing surface and a few temporary sets of bleachers, like it did for the Fort Bragg game, you could have a MetsYankees game here. It’s very unlikely to happen because there’s probably not enough room, but imagine how cool it would be.

It’s certainly a less striking visual than the NYC skyline, but a game in Mobile would carry immense historical significance. The city of 200,000 was the childhood home of not one, not two, not three, not four but five Hall of Famers: Hank Aaron, Willie McCovey, Ozzie Smith, Satchel Paige and Billy Williams — not to mention Negro League legend Double Duty Radcliffe, who should be in the Hall.

The town lost its minor-league team, the Mobile BayBears, after the 2019 season, when the team relocated to North Alabama to become the Rocket City Trash Pandas. The BayBears’ old yard, Hank Aaron Stadium, no longer has a regular tenant. This is especially shameful when you consider that Hammerin’ Hank’s childhood home, which was converted into a museum commemorating his life, sits on the grounds of the stadium.

MLB should help renovate that field — which might assist in drawing Minor League Baseball back to Mobile — so it can be used for an annual big-league game. Call it the Hank Aaron Classic, have the Braves play the White Sox (Tim Anderson is from Tuscaloosa, which is a few hours north) or Cleveland (for Satchel) or the Giants (for McCovey), and use that spotlight to educate fans across the state and the country about the city’s pivotal role in the history of Black baseball and the sport as a whole.

I’m honestly pretty surprised this hasn’t happened yet. The NFL does a preseason Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio, so there’s no reason MLB couldn’t pull off a regular-season game in Cooperstown. You schedule the game a few days before Induction Weekend and have teams associated with the players being enshrined participate.

Imagine if the Mariners and Yankees had played a game there in 2019, a few days before Mariano Rivera and Edgar Martínez got into the Hall. Incredible. Admittedly, there’s a mountain of logistics here — it’s not exactly simple to get in and out of that tiny, upstate New York town — but MLB built a stadium in a cornfield. Let’s dream big.

The players would never go for this one — “Hey, Mike Trout, wanna fly up to Alaska for a one-off game?” — but hear me out. 

Fairbanks plays host to one of my favorite baseball traditions and one of the biggest remaining items on my baseball bucket list: The Midnight Sun Game. Because Fairbanks is so far north of the equator, there is no darkness during the height of summer. The sun sets beyond the horizon for an hour or two, but the sky remains light all night, light enough to play a baseball game.

Once a year, the Alaska Goldpanners, a college summer team in the Alaska Baseball League, host The Midnight Sun Game, which, you guessed it, starts at midnight. The special, once-a-season game tracks all the way back to 1906, and the Goldpanners have played in it almost every year since 1960.

Convincing MLB players to make the long journey, throw off their body clocks and play a game at midnight would be difficult, but I’d love to see this unique event get more time in the sun.

This next one is relatively similar to my Alaska idea, except exponentially more doable and not at midnight. Cape Cod is well known in baseball circles for hosting the Cape Cod League — known colloquially as “The Cape” — the nation’s premier collegiate summer league.

The alumni list is a who’s who of current and former big-league All-Stars, not to mention the five Hall of Famers who played in The Cape: Pie Traynor, Carlton Fisk, Frank Thomas, Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio. It’s a picturesque setting for a baseball game, with the evening sea air flowing in off the shore, fireflies everywhere and picnic blankets on a grassy hill.

If MLB helped upgrade one of the league’s 10 fields (most of the stadiums seat 2,000 to 8,000 people) and had the Red Sox play a game there, it would be both a chaotic mess (traffic on the Upper Cape in-season is notably bonkers) and an unforgettable scene. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, go watch “Summer Catch.” I’m sure it’s on MLB Network right now.

Hamtramck Stadium in Detroit is one of a handful of Negro League ballparks still standing in some capacity. The yard was home to the Detroit Stars, on and off, throughout the 1930s. At one point or another, it hosted future Hall of Famers including Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Turkey Stearnes and Cool Papa Bell. But as the Negro Leagues declined once MLB teams started signing the country’s best Black players, so did the stadium, which eventually fell into disrepair.

Fortunately, in summer 2021 it was announced that the stadium received $2.6 million in grant money and will soon undergo a renovation to restore it to its former glory. The Tigers host MLB’s longest-running and most extensive Negro Leagues celebration during their annual Negro Leagues Weekend.

Hosting a special game in a refurbished Hamtramck Stadium could be a very cool visual and a perfect way to pay homage to the Negro Leaguers who once played there. Hinchliffe Field in Patterson, New Jersey, which was home to the New York Black Yankees for more than a decade and is also being renovated, is another spot where MLB could pump some money into a worthwhile project.

Before the pandemic threw the world and the 2020 baseball season for a loop, there was a game scheduled to be played in Omaha, Nebraska, the site of the College World Series. And while that would certainly be a cool event, I think the league could go one step further and bring a big-league game to campus somewhere.

Starkville, home to 2021 CWS champs Mississippi State, would be a natural fit. Besides having one of the nation’s most consistent powerhouse programs, State boasts the rowdiest and most energetic crowd in college baseball. 

Maybe you rotate the site each year, depending on who won the College World Series the previous season. There’d be no real need to upgrade the facilities; most of the top programs have absurdly nice setups nowadays. And you know the fans would make it an incredible atmosphere.

What if every hit were a splash hit? Well, at least every home run. Imagine an outfield fence that literally butts up against the ocean, and the outfield seats are folks in boats and rafts catching dingers.

The growing baseball nation of the Bahamas already hosts an annual home run derby with some of the sport’s brightest young stars such as Bo Bichette and Jazz Chisholm — I went a few years ago, and it’s incredibly awesome — so why not take things one step further and play a game there in-season?

It shouldn’t be too difficult to convince a bunch of ballplayers to spend a few days in literal paradise, and the country’s baseball infrastructure is growing enough that MLB could actually pull this off. If the league splurged and helped improve the national baseball stadium, we might see even more Bahamian big-leaguers coming up the chain.

But again, splash hits into the ocean? Sign me up.

Jake Mintz is the louder half of @CespedesBBQ and a baseball analyst for FOX Sports. He’s an Orioles fan living in New York City, and thus, he leads a lonely existence most Octobers. If he’s not watching baseball, he’s almost certainly riding his bike. You can follow him on Twitter @Jake_Mintz.

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Source: FOX Sports


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