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The Field of Dreams game represents the future of baseball

Aug 12, 2021; Dyersville, IA, USA; Players enter the field thought the corn before a game between the New York Yankees and the Chicago White Sox near the Field of Dreams movie site outside of Dyersville, Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021. Mandatory Credit: Zach Boyden-Holmes-USA TODAY NETWORK

On Thursday night, the MLB hosted a game in the middle of a cornfield in Iowa. Inspired by the 1989 film Field of Dreams, the game represented a roadmap for baseball in the modern entertainment industry. Baseball is a long and slow-paced game. Dedicated fans can tell you about the beauty of the slower pace and the intricacies of the game. But the fact of the matter is that in a fast-moving world, fewer and fewer fans are eager to sit down and watch three hours of baseball. TV audiences are slowly shrinking. If the MLB wants to remain relevant and popular, more events like the Field of Dreams game are the answer.

Made for social media and TV

Aug 12, 2021; Dyersville, IA, USA; Orange hues paint the sky during sunset in the game between the New York Yankees and the Chicago White Sox near the Field of Dreams movie site outside of Dyersville, Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021. Mandatory Credit: Zach Boyden-Holmes-USA TODAY NETWORK
Zach Boyden-Holmes-USA TODAY NETWORK

Baseball tends to be a more enjoyable spectator sport in person. There is something about a day at the ballpark that can’t be captured through a screen: the energy of the crowd, the chatter with friends, the smell of the grass, and the taste of a delicious corn dog. However, for sports to be successful now, they need to cater to fans outside the stadium. The Field of Dreams game did exactly that. Players walked through the cornfield into the outfield for introductions. Those clips are built for social media. The photos taken from above capturing the scale of the field and the sunset would make any influencer jealous.

The MLB also made sure to turn the event into a television spectacle. They promoted the event until death. And then the broadcast itself made sure to have some fun. Kevin Costner, who starred in Field of Dreams, appeared at the game and joined the broadcast. And this game played out as well as any league executive could have dreamed, ending in a walk-off home run. And to celebrate the end of the evening, there were fireworks. Everyone loves fireworks. It captures the youthful joy of the night.

Play on nostalgia

Aug 12, 2021; Dyersville, Iowa, USA; Field of Dreams actor Kevin Costner walks onto the field before a game between the Chicago White Sox and the New York Yankees at Field of Dreams. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Baseball brands itself as America’s pastime. No American sport has a richer history. The MLB needs to continue to take advantage of its history and nostalgia. If fans remember a 1989 movie so fondly, recreate that moment. Baseball has plenty of flaws. There are issues with pitchers using sticky stuff and questions about PEDs. Analytics have shifted baseball into a home-run or strikeout kind of game, cutting down on the number of balls in play. And we are still only a few years removed from the Astros sign-stealing scandal. But when the game is presented in a manner like the Field of Dreams game, it becomes easier to forget about all that.

So what comes next?

The point of this article isn’t to suggest that the MLB should play all of its games at dusk in picturesque cornfields. Although… that doesn’t sound half bad. No, the point is that the MLB needs to preserve this forward-thinking attitude. At some point, it isn’t good enough to say, “We are America’s pastime, and we are steeped in tradition.” The MLB needs to continue to capitalize on these advantages. Here are a few possibilities.

First, turn the Field of Dreams game into an annual tradition. It was a smashing success. Fans loved it; players loved it; random viewers who accidentally turned to the channel loved it.

Implement new rule changes to shorten games

Second, and more importantly, there are plenty of rule changes the MLB can implement to create a more watchable product. The league has already begun taking steps down this path. Shorter attention spans require shorter games. How about less time between innings? Less time between pitches? No warm-up pitches coming out of the bullpen? No stepping out of the batter’s box mid-at-bat? There are plenty of possibilities.

Market the stars

Third, market the players, not the teams. Other leagues devise their marketing around their most popular players. LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Steph Curry are mega-stars. At least one of them will feature in nearly every NBA promotion. The same goes for Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes in the NFL. Meanwhile, the MLB doesn’t focus as much on building star power in its players. They have a bonafide stud in Shohei Ohtani, doing things that haven’t been done since Babe Ruth. Yet, the MLB hardly features him in advertising campaigns (ignore Stephen A Smith’s foolish point about language barriers).

Every sports league must constantly adapt to the changing world. Baseball and hockey have hit on something brilliant with their special-location games. Basketball should follow suit and head to Rucker Park. But the MLB is miles behind in many regards when it comes to modernizing. Hopefully, this represents a first step for the league. Because after last night, one thing should be clear about a better, built-for-the-modern-audience game. If you build it, they will come.

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