A week or so ago, I did a blog piece about the “Field of Dreams” ball field in Dyersville, Iowa, being up for sale for $5.4 million, and pretty promptly got a weblog comment from Randy Marks.
He was inquiring if I knew that “Field of Dreams” was an act of plagiarism, which is certainly a sufficiently inflammatory accusation to get my attention. Technically speaking, if such a charge were true, I suppose it would be directed at the novel Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella, rather than the adapted screenplay for the movie, but I don’t need to quibble.
Marks referred to Bob Feller’s 1947 autobiography Strikeout Story in noting that the ball field now being sold in Dyersville “wasn’t even the first ‘Field of Dreams’ in Iowa.
I’ll quote him directly:
“Strikeout Story” tells how Bob’s father (Bill) in 1931, during the height of the Depression, took some of their farm acreage, a corn field and some oak trees, if I’m not mistaken, and leveled it. The two of them proceeded to convert that land into a fine baseball field complete with a scoreboard and stands for the spectators. They named it Oak View Park … Their farm was just outside Van Meter, Iowa, a suburb of Decatur. Bob’s father, who was very involved in amateur baseball in the area for years, then organized a team, the Oakviews, as this park’s home team. He also recruited other area teams to come play the Oakviews there. Spectators came and paid 25 cents, I think, to watch the two teams play each other … lots of fans. The main attraction was little Bobby Feller, age 12, striking out men mostly in their early to mid-20’s.
I remember when I told Feller that I had just finished reading his book and he said to me something like, “What did you think of my boyhood ball field?” I replied that it sounded just like “Field of Dreams.” He got this big smile (Bob is a rather serious man most of the time) and said “That’s right!” He then told me how he almost sued when the movie came out in 1989 because they clearly had stolen the idea of building a ball field on a former Iowan cornfield from his book. But he didn’t.
I’m gonna give the Hall of Famer a call one of these days; I don’t want to do it now because as I write this it’s the start of the Memorial Day weekend. But my suspicion is that he didn’t sue because the prospects in court were probably iffy.
Even if Kinsella, a noted baseball fan, had read Feller’s autobiography – as I did many, many years ago – I don’t know if Feller’s dad’s plowing under a cornfield to make a baseball diamond is precisely the same thing as what the fictional Ray Kinsella did at the behest of an ethereal voice, which in turn provides the opportunity for the banned Joe Jackson and other Black Sox to get another chance to play ball, albeit in a ghostly fashion.
But that’s just me. I’ll try to get Feller’s take on it as soon as I can. I know he’s an SCD subscriber, but I haven’t gotten any phone calls from him in awhile now. It used to be he’d call from time to time, identifying himself on the phone with his gravelly, “This is Hall of Famer Bob Feller.”
It got to where I could do a pretty fair impression of the great hurler, but I don’t believe I could ever get up enough nerve to try it on him.