Baseball is synonymous with family. Often that means fathers and sons sharing moments together that help forge strong relationships.
Perhaps no film has sent a more powerful message about fathers, sons and baseball than Field of Dreams, the 1989 film starring Kevin Costner. I had the opportunity to get to talk to an actor from the film...and one that you may not expect. Dwier Brown played the father of Kevin Costner's character, John Kinsella. His role in the movie lasted about 5 minutes at the very end, but it remains one of the most iconic scenes from any sports movie, where his son Ray (Costner) asks, "Wanna have a catch?"
Brown turned his experience on-set and there-after into a book titled, "If you build it..." which was recently released and allowed him to share the incredible stories he's been told by fans of the movie whose lives were profoundly changed by watching it. If you had a father (or are one), you will enjoy this interview and the book.
I wanted to reveal some of the funny and amazing things that happened while we were shooting Field of Dreams and to share the incredible stories I’ve been told by fans of the movie whose lives were profoundly changed by watching it. I was amazed while writing If You Build It…, how sometimes when you are working towards a goal, the process takes you to a destination you never imagined, but is somehow perfect—a little like Ray Kinsella’s journey in the movie. The book is for anyone who loves Field of Dreams, loves baseball or likes to remember growing up in a simpler time. If you had a father (or are one), you will enjoy the book.
You say the first thing people ask about is Kevin Costner…ok so I will, too. What was working with Kevin like?
We had a lot of fun shooting that movie. Kevin was great to hang out with. He has that amazing ability to make you feel like you’re the only person in the room when he’s talking with you. He’s also a very good baseball player who routinely hit fly balls into the cornfield for laughs between takes. But the ball field was very quiet when we shot that last scene. I think everyone in the cast and crew felt their fathers’ presence on the field for our final scene together and Kevin and I were very focused on making it as powerful as possible.
I loved the part of the book where you introduced hugging to the family. Please explain the hug.
My parents were part of a generation of Midwestern Protestants that were taught to keep their feelings to themselves. I knew they loved me but we never said the words or hugged each other. When I started my career, I found out quickly that actors are a “huggy” bunch. I began to wonder why I was hugging these strangers and not my own family. So, next time I went home, I held a “hugging seminar” with my family. It was extremely awkward at first, but now, we can look back and laugh.
"You wanna have a catch?” is one of the most recognizable movie quotes ever. At the time of filming, did you think it would mean so much?
Kevin and I both had trouble with the phrase “have a catch.” We had both grown up saying, “play catch.” The director, Phil Robinson, insisted that “have a catch” was the way they had said it on Long Island, where he was a boy. Despite my early reservations, I think it is a more poetic phrase and probably helped to make it more memorable and iconic. I almost named my book Wanna have a catch? because telling my story and sharing others’ stories over the years has felt a little like a game of catch.
How has the line changed your life and people’s relationships with their dads?
That line has given a universal appeal to the idea that playing catch is a legitimate means of communication between fathers and sons. Whether it’s with a baseball, football, soccer ball or whatever, the movie has immortalized the value of tossing a ball back and forth with your dad. It makes it harder to say “no” when you’re asked, “Wanna have a catch?” In my life, the line has a provided a simple way for fans to start a conversation with me and has allowed me to share some very personal moments with people. I’ve had a lot of tearful hugs with sons and daughters and fathers everywhere.
What’s your favorite memory with your dad?
My dad taught my brother and I how to catch with his old split-finger glove from the 1930’s. I still remember him doing an incredibly exaggerated pitcher’s wind-up to make us laugh, and he would taunt the batter with his favorite infield chatter, “You swing like a rusty gate!” Mostly, my father grew up on the Jersey shore, so he was a swimmer. In the water, Dad would turn into a boy again. In that way, I was given a chance to see my father as a young man, just like Ray Kinsella does in the movie. I have fond memories of swimming with my dad.
What do you say when people walk up to you and know who you are?
I’m always surprised when people recognize me from playing John Kinsella in a movie that’s 25 years old. But isn’t that what we all want—to be remembered for doing something we love to do? For fans to remember me for that long, I know that they must have a deep, emotional connection to that movie. So mostly, in those moments, I try to listen. I feel very lucky—like I’m a traveling priest, hearing people’s confessions about their dads, in airports and restaurants all over the country. It makes me think of my father and my only regret from Field of Dreams—that I never got to watch the movie with him.
Your reaction to all the media attention the movie still gets?
The fact that Major League Baseball used cornfield images from the movie site for last season’s playoff promos and then used James Earl’s baseball speech as this year’s Opening Day pitch is amazing! Kevin and I were on the Today Show and “had a catch” with Bob Costas on an MLB documentary. I’ve been invited all over the country to promote If You Build It... and I’ve gotten to throw out first pitches at Fenway, Kauffman, Tropicana, etc. People who have read the book, come back and buy another one for their dads for Father’s Day. It’s been magical—like a perfect Summer day at sunset, walking out of the cornfield all over again...
Dwier Brown played Kevin Costner’s father for five minutes at the end of the movie Field of Dreams. Despite being an actor for 35 years and performing in hundreds of other films, plays and television shows, it was those five minutes that changed his life. Since the movie’s release in 1989, Brown has been recognized by hundreds of fans who have told him poignant stories about their fathers and how watching the film changed their lives. Their touching stories helped Brown put into perspective his own father’s unexpected death just a month before he began filming Field of Dreams.
If You Build It... is a funny and moving memoir about Fathers, Fate and Field of Dreams.
You can read the first 30 pages of If You Build It…for free on amazon.com.
Purchase autographed copies at DwierBrown.com.