- Associated Press - Saturday, June 24, 2017

AKRON, Ohio (AP) - Does playing catch with Kevin Costner in a movie brand you for life?

For Dwier Brown, his brief but electric appearance as John Kinsella in the final frames of “Field of Dreams” in 1989 has made him a touchstone for people wanting to share stories of their fathers.

Brown, who grew up on a farm in Sharon Center, was in “Field of Dreams” for only about six minutes. But for many, his profound father-son screen moment with Costner stirred tears and shook the fault lines of lingering paternal scars.

The iconic quote from the film is: “If you build it, he will come.” But it’s other words people want to repeat when they approach Brown.

They remember the film’s closing exchange, when Costner’s Ray Kinsella calls out across a ballfield at dusk: “Hey, dad . you wanna have a catch?” And Brown’s character turns around and answers simply, “I’d like that.”

“For people who had a difficult relationship with their dad, that scene kind of got tattooed on the back of their retina,” said Brown.

Strangers come up to him in airports, restaurants, at the hardware store and, most recently, at Aultman Hospital in Canton, where Brown was visiting his ailing mother.

“Some people come up and literally cry on my shoulder,” he said. “If someone is open to it, I can talk to them about their dads and go as deep as they want to go. With others, we just joke around, they take a picture with me, put it on Facebook and that’s it.”

The series of touching encounters inspired him to write a memoir, “If You Build It. A Book about Fathers, Fate and Field of Dreams,” published in 2014 to coincide with the film’s 25th anniversary.

In addition to behind-the-scenes glimpses of how “Field of Dreams” was made (it was shot in 1988 in Dyersville, Iowa), Brown shares tales of growing up in Ohio, his relationship with his own father, and the stories collected from strangers in sometimes awkward, sometimes cathartic moments.

A man once confessed to Brown that “tears were pouring down” his cheeks during the pivotal scene: “Here I am, this big guy, a lawyer no less, and I’m blubbering like a baby. And I don’t care. I can barely breathe because I’m crying so hard.” The man said he realized he had made himself miserable trying to please his father and that the film provoked major changes in his life.

Brown jotted down the more compelling stories over the years, but wondered if he should share them. “Is a priest allowed to write about all the things he’s heard in confession?” he asked. “By sharing the experience of my own dad, I felt it was okay to do it. It’s sort of like a game of catch - you tell me your dad story, and I’ll tell you mine.”

It certainly belongs to Kevin Costner, who played Ray Kinsella, the wide-eyed Iowa farmer with unresolved father issues who hears a voice and carves a baseball diamond out of his corn field. It belongs to Amy Madigan, who played Ray’s wife Annie, and James Earl Jones, who played reclusive writer Terence Mann, and Burt Lancaster, who was Doc Graham (aka Archie “Moonlight” Graham, who dreamed of one major league at bat). And it belongs to Ray Liotta, who magically emerged from rows of corn as Shoeless Joe Jackson, the great hitter who was banned from baseball for life, with seven fellow Chicago White Sox, for allegedly throwing the 1919 World Series.

But fans could approach those stars about a wide range of roles. For Brown, even though he has acted in dozens of films, TV shows and stage productions, it keeps coming back to fathers and catch. (He has also learned that, depending on where you grew up in the country, it’s either called “playing catch” or “having a catch.”)

Though “Field of Dreams” is a beloved classic now, back in the 1980s, no one wanted to make a movie about baseball ghosts in an Iowa cornfield. The project languished for years before Universal Studios gave it a green light.

The casting director’s description for the role of John Kinsella called for a “serious, handsome, charismatic, magical young man with clear wisdom beyond his years. One look in his eyes and it’s clear that he is a very special, old soul.”

Brown, then 29, was thrilled to beat out hundreds of other actors for the part. But a month before he reported to the set in the summer of 1988, his father died. Walter Brown was 67, and had worked for years at Firestone in Akron.

“Even though I had held my father’s hand when he died, I hadn’t been able to ‘feel’ his death because it didn’t seem like he was really gone,” Brown writes in “If You Build It.” ”When I pictured him, he felt free. I just couldn’t cry about it. And that worried me.”

Brown brought his dad’s ancient, fat-fingered baseball mitt to Iowa, hoping to use it in the movie as an homage.

The film was originally called “Shoeless Joe” after the book. But following test screenings, Universal discovered that too many people were confused by the title. Apparently, audiences thought it would be a movie about a homeless person. (Kinsella’s original book title was actually “Dream Field.” His publisher changed it to “Shoeless Joe.”)

Even though it has been more than 28 years since the film hit theaters, Brown still gets the occasional odd stares, the “Don’t I know you from somewhere?” head tilts.

For some, he will re-enact the iconic scene and play catch, as he did recently for a professor in Illinois.

Years ago, at the request of a father in the Mansfield area, Brown walked out of a cornfield and surprised a 5-year-old boy on his birthday. The boy, a big fan of the movie, was bouncing on a trampoline at his party. Brown, hidden in the corn, unleashed an “If you build it, he will come,” then emerged, startling children and adults alike. The birthday boy fell into tears and tried to hug Brown through the safety mesh of the trampoline.

Brown’s own childhood did not include a lot of physical affection. “My dad was Depression era, you didn’t get emotional about anything,” he said. “It was, ‘Don’t cry, or I’ll give you something to cry about.’ In my family, it was this . ” (he acts out frozen arms held tightly at his sides). “Why hug? Why say I love you? My dad was like hugging a brick.” Years later, Brown was able to tell his father he loved him.

I caught up with Brown recently at a restaurant in Canton. In addition to tending to his mother and moving her to a rehab center, he was heading to a few minor-league ballparks for some “Field of Dreams” nights and book signings.

Later, we drove to some ballfields to snap photos, and he had his gear with him: A jersey, a baseball, and his dad’s old mitt. It’s the puffy mitt his dad used when he taught Dwier to play catch in the 1960s; the mitt Dwier took to the film set in Iowa a month after his dad died (though in the film he used a catcher’s mitt).

Brown, 58, went to Highland High School in Medina and majored in theater at Ashland University. His first real break came in 1983 when he landed a part in the TV miniseries “The Thorn Birds.” These days, you can catch him on TV guest spots (“CSI,” ”House,” ”Rizzoli & Isles”) and in the occasional film and play. One of his biggest roles and biggest paydays was starring in William Friedkin’s horror movie “The Guardian” in 1990. It allowed him to buy his first house. He has two grown children, Lily and Woody, and now lives in Ojai, Calif., with his wife, Laurie Lennon.

Although the end of “Field of Dreams” has become a defining moment in his life, Brown had no clue what kind of impact it would have when he first read the script, or even during shooting. (The final scene was actually shot multiple times over two weeks from different angles in an attempt to capture “magic hour” light, the glorious but fleeting colors of the sky just after sunset.)

It wasn’t until he saw the finished film and heard people crying that it started to register.

The fantasy heightens when Ray Kinsella realizes he is seeing his father before he was “worn down by life.”

Brown still marvels at the possibility. “To have that chance? Wow. What if you could meet your dad when he was young? Would you be friends with him? Would you hang out?”

He thought he was playing a minor character tying up loose ends, not the embodiment of archetypal father-son redemption.

“Movies at their best are about moments that you never, ever forget,” Costner told NBC’s Bob Costas at the field in Dyersville during 25th anniversary events. “A lot of times people say, movies don’t mean anything. This one did.”

If you’re celebrating Father’s Day and having trouble communicating with your dad, Brown has a suggestion: “Have a catch.”

There’s something about the crisp, rhythmic exchange, the smack of leather, the hand to glove to hand.

“You have this wonderful back-and-forth. Playing catch is just enough of a distraction, especially for men. They might start talking about things they wouldn’t normally talk about. When you’re playing catch, the words just kind of come out of your mouth.”

Postscript: Sadly, a few days after we met, Brown emailed to say that his mother had passed away. Elsie Jean Ferris Brown was 94. “She was a smart, funny, bright-eyed lady,” he wrote. She died at 11:30 p.m. on June 12. The date was significant, he added, because “my father died 29 years ago, on June 13th. I don’t think Mom could wait anymore and went to meet him half an hour early.”


Information from: Akron Beacon Journal, https://www.ohio.com

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide