DYERSVILLE – Matt Gangl walked around the “Field of Dreams” movie site Thursday thinking what the scene may look like on Aug. 11 when the Cincinnati Reds and Chicago Cubs come to town to play a regular season Major League Baseball game.
Gangl, along with other representatives from FOX Sports and MLB, were back in Dyersville Thursday planning for the tough task of matching last season’s memorable matchup and surreal show between the Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees. The game was played in the stadium located near the iconic diamond from the 1989 movie that starred Kevin Costner. Costner played an Iowa farmer who plowed over his corn and built a baseball field for the spirits of Joe Jackson and other members of the banished 1919 White Sox team to play on.
And like the movie, the game was a huge hit.
PREVIOUSLY: How Kevin Costner’s timeless tribute in Dyersville came together
“That’s the million-dollar question,” Gangl said on how he plans to top last season’s game. “We’ve got some things up our sleeves.”
Everything went according to plan during last year’s event, which included a picture-perfect Iowa evening, a touching tribute and a thrilling game. It began with Costner walking out of the cornfield and onto the field while music from the movie blared. Both the Yankees and the White Sox followed him out of the corn as part of the timeless tribute. Then there was the epic game that included a back-and-forth home run derby that ended with Chicago’s Tim Anderson belting a walk-off home run into the corn.
A sellout crowd watched in person. Nearly 6 million viewers tuned in that evening, making it the most watched regular-season baseball game in the previous 16 years at the time. It was also the most streamed regular season baseball game in FOX Sports history. The game was named SportsBusiness Journal’s Event of the Year. And FOX Sports won an Emmy for Outstanding Live Special.
“If we would have sat down and thought about, ‘How do we want this game to play out,’ I don’t know if we would have changed much from what actually happened,” Gangl said.
PREVIOUSLY: “Field of Dreams” tourists, officials mourn Ray Liotta
But things may not go exactly according to plan this year. That’s life. That’s baseball.
There are two new teams playing, the Reds and the Cubs, who are both in the middle of rebuilding their rosters. Then there’s the weather, which may not be perfect. Or the game, which may not have the entertainment it had last year. But Gangl and his colleagues at FOX are still hoping that, even if those factors don’t fall perfectly into place, they can still put on a good show. Part of that means incorporating some things that worked in last year’s broadcast, but also adding some wrinkles.
“You have to approach it a little differently,” Gangl said, “because you can’t come back with the same exact formula.”
Gangl said planning for this year’s game began around Christmas. They started with both FOX and MLB throwing out ideas. Those talks have intensified with the game rapidly approaching. About 35 members of FOX, MLB and even the Marquee Sports Network, which broadcasts Cubs games, were on hand looking around the site Thursday to see what may and may not work for this year’s big game.
SEA:5 things to know about the ‘Field of Dreams’ TV series, which will be filmed in Iowa
Gangl said many specifics for the broadcast are still being ironed out. And other things are being kept quiet to keep fans at the game and at home surprised on Aug. 11. Could Costner and other cast members make an appearance? What about a special first pitch? Gangl didn’t say. But he did say they hope to take advantage of the historic pasts of the Reds and Cubs in some way.
“Maybe playing off some of the Hall of Famers that are on both of these clubs,” Gangl said. “Being able to utilize some of that storied history of those two franchises that have been around for a long time and have a lot of great players.”
Gangl hopes to utilize some of the game’s popular drone shots even more this time around. The family storyline from the movie is something he’d like to hit on even more, too. Things that got left on the cutting room floor last year could make their way into the broadcast this year. Gangl added there are already plans in the works to honor actor Ray Liotta, who died this week at 67. Liotta played Jackson in the movie. And like last year, there are plans for what they hope is another memorable intro to the game.
RELATED:When is the 2022 Field of Dreams Game? What you should know about this season’s MLB game in Dyersville
“I would say, if you didn’t get a chance to watch last year, tune in this year,” Gangl said. “You never know what’s going to happen. We have lots of good things in the work as far as plans.”
Tommy Birch, the Register’s sports enterprise and features reporter, has been working at the newspaper since 2008. He’s the 2018 and 2020 Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Reach him at [email protected] or 515-284-8468. Follow him on Twitter @TommyBirch.