by Editor Rick
marks the 25th Anniversary of Field of
Dreams, a movie that introduced to the American lexicon the mantra, “If you build it, he
Sacramento enjoys a direct
connection to the film through actor / director / producer Timothy Busfield, who started Theatre
for Children in Sacramento in 1986 (popularized under the name Fantasy Theatre) and along with
his brother Buck formed B Street Theatre in 1991.
On the weekend of June 14,
the Dreams cast and crew congregated in Dyersville,
Iowa to commemorate the 25th anniversary on location at the “Field of Dreams” complex. In
between organized games, people played catch with dads and ran the bases on the iconic ballfield
to create their own special memories. “That movie means a lot to a lot of people,” remembers
Busfield, who played the antagonist, Mark (“Ray, you have no money!”). “It turned out to be a
film where all the elements really worked and affect people as you would hope films would
Tim Busfield (left) and Kevin
Costner being interviewed by NBC's Bob Costas regarding the 25th Anniversary of the
film, Field of
Photo Robert Ciridon/TODAY
At nightfall, everyone
gathered on the field to watch the film on an outdoor screen. “We were all crying at the
end of the movie,” Busfield says. “It was really great.”
When the movie was released
in 1989, Busfield was riding high in film and television, and bringing live theatre to Northern
California school children at the rate of 200,000 per year. Three years later, B Street
Theatre had been up and running for more than a year.
The Busfields had
established their theatre in a tin building on B Street between the ballfield at 28th and C
Streets and the train tracks. The Sacramento Smokies, a semi-pro team established by
local baseball legend Larry Manuian, worked out on diamond adjacent to the theatre's parking
lot. Tim would watch them practice, and the baseball juices began flowing again.
One evening as the Smokies
were working out, Busfield asked Manuian if he could throw batting practice. “Get away from me,
kid,” the manager said brusquely. Unfazed, Busfield countered “Well, you’re parking in
my parking lot here, pal. I would hate to have to move ya.”
As Busfield turned to go
back inside the theatre, someone whispered to the Smokies manager that the redheaded actor had
appeared in the film Field of Dreams. Manuian called
him back and discovered Tim had played high school, American Legion and semi-pro baseball and
had been keeping in shape consistently since then. Manuian thought he caught him offguard when
he asked if Busfield had “a cup” with him. To the manager’s surprise he did and Busfield was
allowed to toss batting practice that evening. That performance earned him an invitation to come
out to the team’s next Sunday game where he would pitch a couple innings, Manuian told him, “as
a publicity stunt for us.” Busfield, who threw with a submarine delivery went five innings,
allowed just two runs, and sufficiently impressed Manuian who brought him back in a recurring
role as a Sunday starter.
pitchers—former major leaguers Butch Metzger (Kennedy High) and Steve Brown (UC
Davis)—eventually helped Busfield refine his slider and changeup. “His slider actually was more
like a Frisbee slurve,” Metzger laughs. But after
their tutelage “he started getting more downward action to it. He didn’t have D-1 (collegiate)
or pro stuff, but it was the kind that would mess up really good college hitters,” says Metzger,
a Texas Rangers area scout and the 1976 National League Co-Rookie of the
Tim Busfield (left) and Steve
Brown share a laugh on the Sacramento Smokies bench.
Photo courtesy John Storey
Over the next 10 years,
Busfield says he started 50 games for the Smokies, posting a 30-12 overall record. “It turned
out to be a good experience for me and (Manuian),” Busfield says.
~ ~ ~
Busfield always played “up”
in youth baseball with older brother Buck and his friends. By his senior season at East Lansing
High he was a frontline pitcher, posting an ERA “under 2,” he recalls. He enrolled at East
Tennessee State with the hope of playing collegiate baseball. But a shoulder problem prompted
the coach to declare him a redshirt. At that point, Busfield asked for directions to the
school’s theatre department and recalibrated his future. It shouldn’t have taken much
convincing, for his father Roger Busfield was a playwright and taught in college drama
Early on at East Tennessee
State, Tim approached theatre department founder Harold “Bud” Frank and requested one-on-one
personal training. There he learned “the Stanislavski system,” an approach that calls for an
actor to develop a character from “the inside-out.” After college, Busfield’s first professional
acting job was with The Green Mountain Guild’s Theatre for Children, which planted a seed that
would blossom in Sacramento.
While he delved headlong
into theatre, he never lost his passion for baseball. In Los Angeles, while his acting career
took off, Tim played baseball in a men’s 18-and-over league. For exercise, he tossed a ball
against a wall, keeping his arm limber.
By the late 1980s, Busfield
had established himself as a working actor with numerous recurring roles on television,
including the series All My Children, Trapper John, M.D., Family Ties, plus he had occasional film roles
including the Bill Murray-led movie, Stripes (1981)
and Revenge of the Nerds (1984) and its
In the late 1980s, Busfield
landed the first of two big breaks: the role of Elliot Weston on the hit television series
thirtysomething established him as a
Also around that time
Busfield auditioned for the role of the brother-in-law Mark in Field of Dreams, the movie adaptation of the novel Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella. Kevin Costner, fresh off the
baseball movie Bull Durham was cast in the lead as
Ray Kinsella, with James Earl Jones playing the fictional American writer, Terence
Busfield almost didn’t get
the role because of the narrow time window in his summer schedule to shoot the film. But he
enjoyed a good relationship with the casting director, and writer/director Phil Alden Robinson
liked Tim’s ability to infuse “heart” in the antagonist’s performance. Plus he “had a few good
years rolling into Field of Dreams. It was a nicely
earned spot, but not a miracle,” the actor recalls.
Shooting on location in
Dyersville, Iowa a severe drought wiped out that summer’s corn crop, which was central to the
movie’s plot. Consequently, that delayed production and for a time, it appeared Busfield might
have to return to Hollywood and the role recast. But Fate intervened when
the Writers Guild of America strike lasted five months through August 1988, allowing Busfield to
remain in Iowa and finish the film.
While standing on the
ballfield one day, Busfield enjoyed a magical moment of his own when he learned he had won an
Emmy-award for his work in thirtysomething.
Ironically, in a movie
filled with dozens of ballplayers, Busfield wasn’t called on to demonstrate his skills on the
diamond. But the actor maintains that only a thespian with baseball experience could have pulled
off the scene where his character Mark storms onto the field and interrupts the game in
After two run-throughs,
Robinson the director wanted to compress the sequence. This required a much tighter window for
Busfield to complete the scene, escalating the stunt’s danger factor. “Now as a director, I know
that he was trying to commit me to a stunt that could have cost me my left ear,” Busfield says
in that famous sardonic voice. They worked out the blocking and in the final take the actor
improvised with a raised hand and the verbal greeting “Hi!” demonstrating impeccable timing as
he passed between the pitch and the batter’s swing. “That took (the skills of) a ballplayer,” he
says proudly. “It took confidence that you wouldn’t get hit by the ball unless you’d played
Busfield also shed light on
one of the script’s oddities. He explained when Ray Kinsella asks his father “’Dad, do you want
to have a catch,’ that’s a very Brooklyn way of
saying it,” Busfield notes. “That came from Phil (Robinson, who was raised and schooled in New
York). We would say, ‘Do you want to play catch?’”
the Michigan native explains. “But you don’t argue with the writer; it’s his vision.” Busfield
noted that Robinson was nominated for an academy award for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best
Picture, while the film garnered a third nomination for Best Original Score.
Whereas Costner and Jones
are frequently associated with their role in the iconic movie, when Busfield is recognized in
airport terminals and hotel lobbies, it is seldom for his part as the antagonist, Mark. “(It’s)
the ultimate honor, when you’re so pivotal to a movie they’ve seen 10 times and they say ‘No,
you weren’t in that movie!’” Busfield
~ ~ ~
Busfield remembers the day
when brother Buck showed him the inside of an abandoned tin building that once housed a roofing
company. Tim was brought there to consider the location for their future facility. He also
learned that once again the National Endowment for the Arts had turned down their grant
application. Tim became furious at the repeated rejection and told his brother they
would form a new for-profit theatre company targeting adults, in that very location, and
pronounced “We open Mass Appeal right here in one
Tim Busfield had performed
the two-person play Mass Appeal years before as a
fundraiser for his alma mater with another alumnus, Ed Claudio. Claudio agreed to reprise his
role in the play, and joined the Busfield’s production company as Artist-in-Residence. In one
month, they built the risers, acquired and installed the seats and lights, and converted the tin
building into a bona fide theatre in one month’s time. The play went on as scheduled and B
Street Theatre was born.
For their second project,
Tim Busfield brought to Sacramento a promising new playright, Aaron Sorkin. Tim had appeared on
Broadway in 1990 in Sorkin’s production of A Few Good
Men, playing Lt. Daniel Kaffee, a role Tom Cruise would popularize in the movie version.
Sorkin moved out to Sacramento and for several months wrote the play Hidden in This Picture. When cast, the play featured Tim
Busfield, Claudio, Amy Resnick and the author himself. Sorkin the scribe went on to spin
television gold writing such TV programs as Sports
Night, The West Wing and The Newsroom along with hit movies The Social Network and Moneyball.
The first two B Street
Theatre productions ran for 12 weeks to give the new theatre group a chance to grow an audience.
Claudio—who operates the Actor’s Workshop of Sacramento—has enjoyed a friendly, working
relationship with Tim Busfield for three decades.
“He’s one of the most
generous, open-hearted people you ever want to meet,” says Claudio, who came to Sacramento at
Tim’s invitation. “And I might add, he’s the best actor I’ve ever worked with, that’s for damn
During the early years the
theatre company relied on residuals from Busfield’s film and television appearances. Finally,
after they took B Street Theatre non-profit (folding both the original children’s Fantasy
Theatre under the same umbrella) and developed a subscription-based program, they became
financially viable. In 2001, Tim Busfield took on a producing opportunity in New York and
completely turned over the reins to his brother and the company’s board of directors. Tim now
resides in Howell, Michigan with his third wife, actress Melissa Gilbert.
The theatre company plans
to move into a new $26 million building that will house two state-of-the-art theaters (one with
350 seats, the other 250 seats). They just received an $8.4 million loan from
the California Infrastructure and Economic Development Bank, which allows them to break
ground on the new facility—located catty-corner from Biba Restaurant on Capitol Avenue—in October.
Busfield’s original long-term goal was “not to make it my theatre, but Sacramento’s theatre,” he adds.
The new facility culminates
a lifelong dream. Much like his goal of pitching pro baseball.
In 1993, Manuian fielded a
call from a professional team in Saskatchewan of the Northern League, dangling $500 per month
for the entertainer to pitch in Canada. “That was quite an honor to get that call from Larry
saying I had an offer from a pro team—at (age) 35,” Tim remembers with some
He finally hung up his
cleats in 2001 after pitching the Sacramento Smokies to the Western Baseball Association
But around the Capital City
region he’ll probably best be remembered for his contributions to the theatre community.
“It’s Sacramento’s B Street Theatre now, not Tim and Buck’s B Street Theatre. And we’re very
proud of that.”
If you build it, they will come.