In the spring of 1973, Highland High School freshman Dwier Brown raced to the locker room with his friend Jim Kelly, anxious to see his name included on the list of students who would be playing freshman baseball that year.
But his name wasn’t on that list.
“That coach is going to regret this,” he told Kelly. “One day my picture’s going to be in the hall of fame.”
Sure enough, Brown’s picture did show up later in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., but it wasn’t because he was very good at playing baseball; it was for his role as John Kinsella – Kevin Costner’s character’s father – in the 1989 blockbuster “Field of Dreams.”
“It’s kind of a backwards way of getting into the hall of fame, but, hey, I’m wearing pinstripes,” he said.
Now, coinciding with the 25th anniversary of the movie, Brown is releasing the book “If You Build it...,” through Ingram Publishing.
Brown said the book details his relationship with his father, who died just 36 days before Brown began filming his part in “Field of Dreams,” the experiences he’s had as an actor, what it was like on set in Dyersville, Iowa and even a little bit about growing up on his family’s farm in Sharon Township.
Brown said since the age of 8 he was raised on his family’s 52-acre plot of land on the south side of Sharon Township near Wadsworth, and as a boy he would bale hay and pick strawberries for neighbors and other farmers when he needed pocket change. He spent much of his time planting and harvesting various vegetables and caring for a few horses. It’s also around the time his acting “career” began.
“My mom was a movie buff, so she encouraged (me to act) in a way,” Brown said. “My brother and I used to do puppet shows and my brother started the Sharon Center Youth Theater when I was in my early teens. It was just something I kind of did for laughs. It was all pretty fun.”
Brown went on to act in high school, like in the school’s production of the musical "South Pacific." He donned his cap and gown in 1976 and, after graduating from Ashland College (now Ashland University), he said his plan was to work in advertising in New York City and perhaps act on the side, but decided to move to Chicago for a chance at getting into the famous Second City improv theater.
His first big (or in his words, “lucky”) break came when his agent in Chicago called him with the part of Stuart Cleary in the 1983 mini-series “The Thorn Birds,” which required him to move to Los Angeles. This led to several more gigs for Brown, but his most memorable will arguably always be “Field of Dreams.”
There was no way he could have understood the impact the part would have on America, though.
“Looking back, I just had this five-minute part. I thought it was another small role I would be doing. I didn’t realize until I saw the screening that the movie points relentlessly towards me and my relationship with Kevin Costner’s character,” Brown said. “Over the years people have come up to me and bring up that moment in the movie that really opens up the audience’s heart. Sometimes they’ll talk about their own relationship with their fathers and I just listen. It almost feels like a priest hearing a confession. I usually end up giving them a hug.”
Brown said because the passing of his father was so soon before shooting the final scene in “Field of Dreams,” he wasn’t really able to apply his emotions to his on-screen character. In fact, he said what he most focused on was not necessarily the sentiments of the scene, but on the game of catch with Costner.
“Playing catch seems like the simplest thing. I played catch with my brother a billion times as a kid, but when you have a helicopter flying next to you and for one take they’re probably paying $5,000 a minute to everybody involved, and there are about 3,000 extras on the set and maybe 1,500 cars driving away from you, the added pressure of a simple game of catch becomes a lot more difficult and was really compounded by the complexity of the shots. I also had a 1950’s catcher’s mitt with no flexibility at all; it was like playing catch with a bagel,” Brown said. “We ended up taking three takes. It turned out the first two came out black when we processed the film, but we got really lucky that the third one, the best one, was great.”
He added because the crew decided to shoot the scene at “magic hour” – the approximately 15-minute-interval after sunset when the glow of the sun is still barely visible – each take was a contest against time to cram in as much filming as possible. The entirety of that one scene took about two weeks to film.
Although he’d been working alongside mainstream actors like Richard Chamberlain in “The Thorn Birds” for eight years before his role in “Field of Dreams,” he said meeting Hollywood greats like Costner, James Earl Jones and Burt Lancaster was nothing less than a dream come true.
“I think I’ve always been a little bit of a star-struck kid, always the kind of guy to walk up and ask ‘can I take my picture with you?’” Brown said. “Meeting Burt Lancaster was amazing, I talk about it in the book; I made an effort to say hello to him. James Earl Jones I was just afraid to talk to, but he’s just the nicest guy you could ever imagine. I mean his voice is Darth Vader! As much as you appreciate it on-screen, it’s just a phenomenon in itself. With Kevin, his career was really kicking off and everybody wanted to get to know him. He’s just a super nice guy.”
Brown said although meeting the stars in Hollywood is always fun, ironically most of his best friends he’s met while in Los Angeles are from Ohio, and parts of his life growing up in the Medina area always seem to seep into his lifestyle.
“There’s just something about good Midwestern people I gravitate toward. It just ends up being who I like to spend my time with,” he said. “One thing I’ve realized, too, is the benefit of being in the middle of nowhere. Growing up I had 52 acres to run around on, and I love the outdoors. So when I wanted to settle down I was yearning for the farm country of Ohio, and I’ve found that for the most part in the first house I bought out here.”
Brown said his plan is to officially release his book on Father’s Day, June 15, at the Lansing Road field where his scene was shot in Dyersville. However, the book may be released earlier, likely in late April or early May, on Amazon.com. For updates, follow Brown’s progress at his Web site www.dwierbrown.com.
Brown said although it depends on the finances raised from his Indiegogo campaign – a Web site that helps independent projects gain exposure and raise money – he would like to travel to minor league ballparks throughout the Midwest to share stories and sign books. Dates for the potential tour can also be found at www.dwierbrown.com.