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MLB Has Other Opportunities for Special Games
MLB should look beyond the Field of Dreams and the Little League Classic to provide unique opportunities to grow the game
Tonight the Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds will play in the second Field of Dreams Game in Dyersville, Iowa. Last year’s game between the New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox was one of the more eyeball-catching sports spectacles of last season.
While the Field of Dreams game won’t be played in 2023 as
Frank Thomas ruins the place construction occurs1, there are other meaningful games that MLB plays and has played at neutral sites that honor the history and spirit of the game.
MLB played the Civil Rights Game at Autozone Park in Memphis in 2007 and 208
One game was played in conjunction with the 2019 College World Series at TD Ameritrade Stadium in Omaha.
One game a year has been played at Historic Bowman Field in Williamsport, Pennsylvania since 2017 in conjunction with the Little League World Series.
MLB of course has played numerous neutral site games both inside and outside the United States. But few provided the backdrop and the context that the Field of Dreams and Little League Classic games provide.
MLB should continue to embrace this history, and there are plenty more places they can play one-off or once-a-year neutral site games to embrace the richness of the game.
Durham Athletic Park; Durham, NC: Not the new park. The old one. The DAP was the filming site of the 1988 classic Bull Durham which practically saved Minor League Baseball in the U.S.2 Seeing as Bull Durham is in the conversation for best baseball movie of all time, why not celebrate that history? You can even send the Braves (the Bulls affiliate at the time the movie came out) and the Rays (the Bulls current parent club) there to play the game.
Growden Memorial Park; Fairbanks, AK: I had the opportunity to see an Alaska Goldpanners game here back in June. It is a small ballpark, full of the charm and character that Rob Manfred really doesn’t like. Once a year though, it gets national attention for the Midnight Sun Game, when game time isn’t until 10:30 PM local time and they never turn the lights on since the sun does not set since it is played on the first day of summer. MLB of course couldn’t exactly replicate that feat since the game would not start until 2:30 AM Eastern Time, though that has not stopped games in Tokyo and Sydney from starting in the middle of the night. But the Midnight Sun Game is pure Americana.
Hamtramck Stadium; Hamtramck, MI and/or Hinchliffe Stadium; Paterson, NJ: Many of you have probably not even heard of these ballparks. But they are two of the last surviving Negro League ballparks left in the country. It would take a lot of investment to use these ballparks for anything, much less a Major League game for TV. But considering MLB paid to build and then deconstruct a temporary ballpark at Fort Bragg for a one-off game there, the investment would be well worth it. Since MLB now considers the Negro Leagues for record-keeping purposes, it would be a good homage to the players of those leagues to play a few games at these facilities.
Rickwood Field; Birmingham, AL: Rickwood was built in 1910. It is the oldest professional baseball facility still standing. The Birmingham Barons still play a game here every year, so it’s still functional. It hosted Negro League games. Movies like Cobb were filmed here. Even Michael Jordan played here. So why not let it host the first MLB game in the Deep South outside of Atlanta?3
Historic Dodgertown; Vero Beach, FL: It has to be historic because it was in the name, right? The Brooklyn Dodgers established Dodgertown in 1948 on the site of base housing for the recently closed Naval Air Station Vero Beach. The Dodgers continued to train there, long after their move to Los Angeles, until 2008 when they decamped to Arizona to
chase the almighty dollar train closer to home. Sinc then Dodgertown has been purchased by the O’Malley Family, former owners of the Dodgers, and been redeveloped as a sports training facility.
Doubleday Field; Cooperstown, NY: This is a unique situation, considering MLB used to play a Hall of Fame Game for 68 years, from 1940 to 2008 in Cooperstown. This was an unusual mid-season exhibition game between an American League team and a National League team. That became less interesting after Interleague Play started in 1997. The game was stopped after the scheduled 2008 game due to “the inherent challenges of scheduling teams in the modern day”. But those travel challenges of an exhibition game can be mitigated by building a regular-season game into the schedule as is done with the Field of Dreams Game and Little League Classic. The challenge comes with trying to, if possible, figure out which players are going into the Hall of Fame in advance. The MLB schedule is released late in the previous season. For example, Adrian Beltre, Joe Mauer, and David Wright are all eligible in 2024. Knowing that Adrián Beltré is a likely first-ballot Hall of Famer4, the Texas Rangers could be scheduled in that game.
Labatt Memorial Park; London, Ontario: The only Canadian location on this list is special because it is recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the Oldest Baseball Field in the World. It’s still used today as the home of the London Majors of the Intercounty Baseball League. Baseball could honor its long-distant past in a way to look toward the future. Seeing as London is halfway between Detroit and Toronto, it would be a perfect site for a Tigers-Blue Jays game.
I’m certainly not suggesting that Major League Baseball go to all of these sites, certainly not all of these sites every year. But these sites would provide additional visuals and celebrations of the game every year, the kind of celebrations that draw attention to the game.
There is a place for the continuation of the Field of Dreams Game and the Little League Classic, much like there is a place for the continuation of regular season games in London, Sydney, Tokyo, and Monterrey. But there is also a place for additional celebrations of the game. And since Rob Manfred ostensibly claims he wants to grow the game, this is a way to do it.
Though MLB has done their best to kill it.
Atlanta is less southern than any other city in the South, and it’s not close.
If he’s not, Hall of Fame voters will have completely sunk their credibility.