Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Lasting Message Too Real To Be Corny

From Sunday's TIMES and NEWS-STAR

You might not know who W. P. “Bill” Kinsella is, but chances are you’ve seen the movie one of his books became, a movie released nationwide on April 21, 1989 -- 25 years ago this past Monday.

“Field of Dreams,” starring Kevin Costner, Ray Liotta and James Earl Jones, began as a Kineslla short story, “Shoeless Joe Comes to Iowa.” In 1982, with that story as Chapter 1, “Shoeless Joe” became Kinsella’s first published novel.

As novels-to-books go, this one follows the author’s work closely. Since the novel is 300 pages and the movie is 107 minutes, some things had to be cut or condensed, including a wonderful character called The Oldest Living Chicago Cub. You can meet him if you read the book.

If you liked the movie, you might also enjoy Kinsella’s “Iowa Baseball Confederacy” and a book of baseball short stories, “The Thrill of the Grass.” Good spring reading from the mind of a remarkably imaginative man.

The theme and storyline of “Shoeless Joe” is satisfyingly true on film. Though baseball is a main player, the themes involve injustice, the dynamic of fathers and sons, and how sacrifice is stitched throughout the honest pursuit of any dream.

Often I receive by email a Business Development Thought of the Day from my friend Tom Arceneaux, something you can sign up for by sending a note to (It’s free!) He reminded me in his latest that to see his vision fulfilled, Ray Kinsella, the movie’s main character, had to sacrifice:

“His finances, by plowing under productive acres of corn;
“His time, by taking off on a journey whose end he did not know;
“His reputation, because the folks in his community, and his lenders, thought he was crazy;
“His comfort, because following the vision required him to do strange new things;
“His choices, because once on the journey, he went through doors that limited his options.”

One of the reasons the movie remains popular is because we pull for people who sacrifice to make a worthwhile dream come true.

Plus there is an amount of redemption for Shoeless Joe, unfairly banned from baseball, and for Ray’s father, a catcher whose baseball life for the most part ended  due to unfortunate circumstance and timing.

Finally, there’s the possibility for both a son and a dad to play catch together one more time. That makes some guys cry – unless they’ve already cried because Ray wasted all that corn, cutting it down for a baseball field, way back at the movie’s beginning. Some of us pro-corn people find that hard to deal with, even though we love baseball. Creamed corn, corn on the cob, kernel corn, cornbread, corn casserole … To paraphrase the movie’s most famous line, “If you grow it, we will eat.”

I know Kinsella loved the movie, (maybe as much as I love corn). He told me so on one of the two lucky occasions I got to be around him. Both times he was quiet and kind, humble, an observer and thinker. The second time we talked was not long after the movie was released, one early-’90s spring day when he spoke and read on the Northwestern State campus in Natchitoches on the opening day of the Demons’ baseball season.

But the first was before that, at a book signing in a Shreveport bookstore. I got him to sign copies of “Shoeless Joe” for maybe a half-dozen friends. I bought a couple of his titles I didn’t have. And since no other customers were there at the time, I got him to sign a baseball for my son, who I carried into the bookstore in one of my arms. My boy is 25 now; he was not quite 2 then. Still have the baseball, of course:

“To Casey: Go the distance, Bill Kinsella”