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Baseball gets so much wrong these days. They get this one right. They are playing a regulation game Thursday in Dyersville, Iowa, the Yankees and White Sox meeting on a field adjacent to the cornfield that served as the true star of the movie “Field of Dreams.”
The movie itself, for over 30 years, has been a polarizing one for baseball fans, some of whom believe it embodies every positive value the game has ever possessed, some of whom believe it is straight-up, saccharine, manipulative corn pone.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Those latter people have no souls.)
Even the haters will undoubtedly tune in to see what it looks like, though, and that’s the point, really: sports and movies have had an undeniable kinship from the start. The very best sports movies inspire the kind of devotion that fuel these kinds of real-life pilgrimages.
Baseball always seems to get the finest stages. Both Shea and old Yankee stadiums were settings for the 1973 classic “Bang the Drum Slowly,” the alternate homes of the New York Mammoths. The women of “A League of Their Own” tried out at “Harvey Field,” which was a fascinating pen name for Wrigley Field.
When Barry Levinson went looking for a home field for the New York Knights before filing “The Natural,” he walked into Buffalo’s old War Memorial Stadium, nicknamed “The Rockpile,” and said: “It was like walking into a time machine. It was like walking right into 1938.” Unfortunately, the Rockpile was reduced to rubble by 1987. So, really, Dyersville is it, the best make-believe field to hold a real-life game.
But there are other sporting places worth the same effort.
There is, at the top, the Hoosier Gym, located in Knightstown, Ind., (and yes, there is a certain perfection to a sacred basketball place in Indiana called “Knightstown,” even if the town was named after a 19th-century civil engineer and not a decidedly uncivil 20th-century coach). I’ve been to Hoosier Gym, located just off Highway 40, which attracts some 80,000 visitors a year, almost all of whom have their mouths agape the entire time they are inside.
After all, it’s probably the most famous basketball court in the world, all due respect to the Garden, the Palestra or Rucker Park. This is where the Hickory High School Huskers played their home games in the 1986 movie “Hoosiers,” where Shooter ran the picket fence. It is one of those old-school gyms so small there is no half-court line (CYO players surely remember the “forward time line” and “rear time line” of such courts) so it might be a stretch to have a regular-season NBA game here.
But wouldn’t you watch an exhibition game between the Pacers and the Bucks, see if Giannis Antetokounmpo could make it from baseline to bucket in three dribbles? I would.
Then there is the Cambria County War Memorial Arena in Johnstown, Pa., which is the functional 4,000-seat home of both the Johnstown Tomahawks of the North American Hockey League and the Pitt-Johnstown Ice Cats of College Hockey East but, for now and forever will be the home of the Hansen Brothers, Reggie Dunlop and the rest of the Charlestown Chiefs of the movie “Slap Shot.”
The NHL plays annual outdoor games now in football stadiums, to help recreate the feel of kids growing up in frontier hockey towns on frozen ponds; you’re telling me they couldn’t devote one regular-season Penguins-Flyers game to be played here, which is 67 miles from Pittsburgh and 93 miles from Philly? Get it done, NHL!
A new entrant for this is Selhurst Park in London, about an hour outside of Heathrow Airport, which is the real-life home of Crystal Palace of the Premier League and also, more relevantly, the fictional home of the AFC Richmond Greyhounds in “Ted Lasso.”
(Folks have looked for years for ways to make soccer a more permanent part of America’s daily sporting culture; I propose a match between NYCFC and the Red Bulls at Selhurst sometime in 2022, and I propose my sports editor send me to cover this spectacular event — especially since I just invented it.)
One last entrant: Notre Dame Stadium. Yes, yes, they already play six or seven real games a year there. But it’s pretty safe to say that “Rudy” has the most famous football footage ever used in a movie. Also, I’ve been there; it is a movie, from Touchdown Jesus beyond one end zone to the Golden Dome to the “Play Like a Champion Today” sign at the exit of the tunnel. Play a Bears-Packers game there someday. That would wake up plenty of echoes, shake down its share of thunder.
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