Toward the end of 2019, I hinted on social media, as well as on the World Baseball Project Go Fund Me page, that I would soon be sharing some “big news”. I didn’t want to share the news before everything was confirmed, so I continued to casually drop hints in the weeks that followed. As the calendar turned to 2020, details were still being hashed out, but all of the pieces were nearly in place. By early March, it looked like it was all really about to happen.
And then, of course, the world slipped into a deep state of pandemic. While there are countless accounts of plans foiled by COVID-19, this one was pretty big.
So what was it?
What Dreams Are Made Of
In one of my first social media posts for World Baseball Project, in early 2018, I utilized a short clip of Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams, with a link to the project’s Go Fund Me page. At that time, the page included a list of celebrities and athletes with whom I would like to collaborate on advancing the mission of World Baseball Project. Kevin Costner was one of the names on that list.
Shortly after I made that post, I received a message from a friend in California, whom I’d met while serving as an Ambassador for the San Francisco Marathon. This friend also shared my affinity for baseball – we even attended a Giants/Dodgers game in San Francisco – and happened to notice my “Wish List”.
The message read:
“My nephew works directly with Kevin Costner. I may be able to put you in touch.”
I was floored even at the possibility of such a connection. Shortly thereafter my friend passed along an email address of Glen, the “producer” nephew, noting that he was currently in the company of Kevin Costner.
I hurried to put an email together, suggesting that Kevin Costner might be interested in World Baseball Project as a philanthropic venture to put his name on. I also suggested that perhaps we could discuss a documentary of our work that Mr. Costner could narrate. I felt the butterflies flutter in my stomach as I hit ‘send’. Could this possibly be the ‘big moment’ I’ve been waiting for?
Days passed. Then weeks. Nothing.
After about a month with no response, I stumbled across some raw, unproduced footage online from the Field of Dreams 25th Anniversary. The footage did not show Kevin Costner in a positive light, to put it lightly. I began to question whether this was somebody I actually wanted to work with, which made it easier to accept that I might never get a response on my inquiry to Glen.
Good Things Take Time
Almost exactly one year later, in late March 2019, an email notification popped up on my phone. The subject line of the email read, “Field of Dreams Documentary.” Despite whatever hesitations I had after seeing that footage, I could feel the excitement building in my chest.
“Is this actually it? Is this the moment?”
The email was from someone named Cale Glendenning. I didn’t recognize the name, but he claimed to be a “friend and business associate” of Kevin Costner and that he would be “working on a feature-length documentary exploring the deeper themes of his legendary film, ‘Field of Dreams’”. A quick review of Cale’s portfolio website showed him to be a capable albeit “up and coming” director; his Instagram account of over 12,000 followers corroborated this impression.
The guy was legit. Maybe this was finally that moment.
I sent back a quick reply and then began frantically writing out various details of my story to send along to Cale. We exchanged a handful of emails before moving the conversation to Instagram chat. Our conversation remained fairly lively for several months, with all indications pointing toward the inclusion of me / World Baseball Project in the documentary film.
Still, nothing really happened. As the months rolled on, I started to lose hope. Maybe it was all just Hollywood big talk…maybe it wasn’t that moment…
Pack Your Bags! (SIKE!)
As the year wound down, talks with Cale were rejuvenated. He and his team were working to finalize funding on the documentary. Things were looking up.
Suddenly, in December of 2019, Cale sent me an email asking whether I would be available to come to East Africa for filming in January 2020. The timing wasn’t ideal, but I would make it work. What worried me more was having the remotely coordinate people in Ethiopia and/or Kenya, from Vietnam, while also getting myself ready for the adventure.
We exchanged several emails in the days that followed, addressing various logistical questions and seeing whether it was a feasible plan. I started touching base with my contacts in East Africa and making arrangements to be away from Vietnam during the proposed filming period.
10 days passed and I hadn’t heard anything. I decided to check in with Cale. Plans had changed.
“It’s highly unlikely now we will be coming to Africa or Vietnam. We can coordinate with you if you plan on coming to the US later in 2020.”
At that point, I was fed-up. I sent a reply that conveyed my aggravation, saying things that could have easily destroyed any chance of being part of the documentary in any way.
Fortunately, Cale is an understanding guy. We smoothed things out and continued to discuss possible options for the year ahead.
It's Really Happening
One month after our dialog reached that heated peak, I received a message from Cale that was by far the most encouraging to date:
“We restructured our budget and got a producer to invest so we can afford to come to Africa and Vietnam to tell your story.”
More promising conversation followed. The next day, I popped the big question.
“So…is it safe to say, at this point, it’s happening?”
“Yes,” Cale replied, “We announce the film Wednesday.”
A Novel Case
Over the course of the weeks that followed, the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus – not yet known as COVID-19 – had all of Asia on high alert. Given that my visa expiration was fast approaching, it was unclear whether remaining in Vietnam would be a wise choice. I related my concerns to Cale, who in turn arranged a video conference between myself and the production team to hash out the direction of my part in the documentary.
About a month after Cale’s “announcement” message, I was on a call with two established film producers and the head of the film’s production company. If there was ever a moment where I felt like “it’s on”, this was it.
The producers picked my brain about the various baseball communities I’m invested in and what stories might best play out on screen. After more than an hour of discussion, it was determined that Ethiopia would be the primary filming target, and that filming in Vietnam was highly unlikely, thus simplifying my decision whether to stay in Vietnam or head back to the States.
Case numbers of this new, mysterious virus were on an exponential rise, adding uncertainty to flight availability as governments an airlines began implementing precautionary measures. With two weeks to go before my visa expired, I made the decision to book a one-way flight to Los Angeles in late February.
Pulling Out the Rug
When I arrived at LAX on 21 February 2020, there were around 50 total reported cases in the US. While I was alarmed by the caution-free immigration procedures, after seeing much stricter protocols in place throughout Asia, I was relieved to be away from the “hot zone” and back on home soil.
Since I was going to be in LA for a couple weeks, I had already suggested to Cale that we could schedule a meeting – a chance to finally meet face-to-face after nearly a year of correspondence. We ultimately arranged to meet in Santa Monica at the beginning of March, and would by production company head, Matt Pfeffer.
We met over brews at an Irish pub on Santa Monica Boulevard to get acquainted and clarify more details around the work I’ve done with World Baseball Project thus far. We even settled on a tentative filming window for Ethiopia in mid-July. Our little conference was full of nothing but good vibes, laying the foundation for a strong working dynamic for what lay ahead.
The following week, with nationwide reports of COVID-19 cases beginning to mount, I arrived in Phoenix for stop number 2 on a slow meander across the country before finally returning to Philadelphia. I also had intentions of making it to a spring training game and meeting up with a couple baseball industry contact whom I’d met through Instagram.
But tension around the spreading virus was rising and talks of various degrees of shutdowns were starting to circulate. I decided to cut the trip short and fly home.
Cale and I continued to exchange messages throughout the early months of the pandemic. As the situation escalated, it became clear that the documentary project was in jeopardy. Cale feigned optimism, noting that all funding agreements were finalized prior to the start of the pandemic, but I had a feeling in my gut that, like everything else at the time, the outlook was not good.
And then, in July, with the US nearing 200,000 coronavirus deaths, came the crushing blow:
“So the bad news is one of our investors fell through due to the virus. And currently we are looking for another as the market is returning.”
Like Cale, I also believe “it will come in time,” but I also have to be realistic and accept the possibility that the opportunity has passed, as is often the case in life and in baseball. All we can do is keep pitching – and keep swinging – and trust that our time, our moment, will finally arrive.
If nothing else, the fact that World Baseball Project garnered such interest from ‘Hollywood’ is yet another indicator that the right people are starting to see the value of the impact we are making. So even if this particular documentary project doesn’t pan out, it just means something bigger is waiting for us down the road.