'Field of Dreams' game: Smyly finds comfort zone amid the corn, leads Cubs past Reds
Most Cubs players have passed through Iowa before, since the team's Triple A affiliate is in Des Moines.
So maybe they had a home-cornfield advantage against Cincinnati on Thursday in MLB's second "Field of Dreams" game in Dyersville, Iowa.
The Cubs scored 3 runs in the top of the first inning and made it stand up in a 4-2 victory. The star of the game was starting pitcher Drew Smyly, who threw 5 shutout innings with a season-high 9 strikeouts. Smyly also had a solid description of the setting.
"I caught myself in between every inning when I wasn't pitching just staring out into the cornfield, just looking over the left-field wall," Smyly said. "It was something I'd never seen before. Just thinking about sitting in a major-league dugout trying to pitch a game for the Cubs and all I'm looking at is endless cornfields.
"It's an image I'll always remember. It was awesome, it was a great experience."
Before the game, Smyly walked around the field taking it all in. He said Thursday was also his daughter's birthday.
"The first couple innings, it took me a little bit to get in a groove, catch my sights," he said. "It's a whole different feel than pitching in a usual major league baseball stadium. I caught a little groove there at the end. It was just a lot of fun. It was so unique and different than what we're used to."
This game didn't quite match the fireworks of last year's White Sox-Yankees game, which began the Iowa tradition. Those teams combined for 8 home runs, including a walk-off by Tim Anderson. The Cubs and Reds hit no home runs into the corn.
The pregame ceremonies began with Ken Griffey Sr. and Jr. walking out of the cornfield to play catch. Or "have a catch," if you use the language from the movie.
The first pitch featured a pair of Hall of Famers with Cubs legend Fergie Jenkins tossing it to former Reds catcher Johnny Bench. Bench and Griffey Sr. were members of the famed "Big Red Machine" that won two World Series titles in the 70s.
Other Cubs Hall of Fame members were on hand -- Billy Williams, Andre Dawson, Ryne Sandberg and Lee Smith. Some other ex-Cubs spotted at the field were Carlos Zambrano and Ben Zobrist.
The Fox broadcast promised a surprise for the seventh-inning stretch, which turned out to be a weird, animated Harry Caray singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" from the press box.
Before the game, Happ talked about the experience of re-creating the 1989 film "Field of Dreams."
"It brought me back to a lot of days in high school and summer ball, traveling around," Happ said. "Being from Pittsburgh, you make a lot of drives through Indiana and Illinois and Michigan, and you pop out from a cornfield into a place where there's a bunch of fields and you go play for three days in a row and three games a day.
"That's what this feels like. It feels like one of the reasons why I fell in love with the game in the first place. All those times my parents drove me and spent the days with my mom in the back of the minivan working while we're playing baseball."
It looked like the top of the first inning would end quickly as Reds starter Nick Lodolo coaxed two ground outs on six pitches, then went 0-2 on Patrick Wisdom. But then Wisdom was hit by a pitch that was nearly a swinging strike three.
Seiya Suzuki followed with an RBI double to left-center field. Nico Hoerner followed that with a single to bring home Suzuki and Ian Happ's RBI double made it 3-0.
There was a scare in the top of the third, when Willson Contreras walked, then rounded second base on a Wisdom single. When Contreras stopped and tried to get back to the back, he rolled his left ankle and was tagged out as he rolled on the ground in pain.
Contreras got to his feet, tried to walk off the injury, then slowly limped off the field. In the bottom half of the inning, though, he was back behind the plate at catcher.
The Cubs made it 4-0 in the fourth when Nick Madrigal's single drove in Nelson Velazquez. Madrigal stayed hot, going 3-for-5.
Reliever Michael Rucker gave up 2 runs in the seventh after throwing a scoreless sixth. But Brandon Hughes and Rowan Wick closed it out.
Both teams flew into Dubuque on Thursday morning and bused roughly 30 minutes to the field.
"I think the coolest moment for me so far was driving in, seeing fans on street corners, with their lawn chairs outside their houses, just waiting to see the busses go by and wave," Cubs manager David Ross said. "You can tell something's a really big event when people are that anxious about just a drive-by."