Where I grew up, the saying was the corn should be “knee high by the Fourth of July.” It’s Independence Day in Dyersville, Iowa, and the corn is over my head. I can’t help but walk into the tall stalks, disappearing from sight like a whisper. It’s there, and I haven’t disappeared into a cornfield since I was a kid. This is, after all, the Field of Dreams.
Twenty-five years ago, this piece of Iowa soil was transformed into a movie set for a film that resonates with people to this day. Although Field of Dreams is a movie about baseball – based on the novel Shoeless Joe, it is also a movie about trust, about family, and about redemption. It’s about faith in the impossible, and making dreams come true.
In the movies, anything can happen. Field of Dreams is fiction, a celebration of magical thinking. Listening to voices telling him to “build it, and he will come,” Kevin Costner’s character Ray rips out a broad productive swath of corn and puts in a baseball field using the last of the family’s savings, putting the farm at risk. The tension of losing the farm over the craziness of listening to the voices in his head adds drama to the film, which mingles historical figures with fictional ones.
“Is this heaven?” asks Shoeless Joe, who walks out of the cornfield and starts practicing on a field distant in time and space from the world where he lost his baseball career.
“No. It’s Iowa.” says Ray.
After a few visits to Iowa, where John’s dad has roots, we know what he means.
Director Phil Robinson was roaming the backroads of Dubuque County when he saw the view of this farm from behind a hill. “That’s my farm!” he purportedly said, and negotiations were started with farmer Don Lansing. This farm had been in Don’s family since 1906, with the exception of 100 acres sold to Al and Rita Ameskamp. The director worked with them as well to ensure the placement of the ballfield. Less than a decade ago, the two properties came back together as the Lansing farm.
Before filming started, contractors remodeled Don’s house to make it easier for movie cameras to move around the rooms, extended the porch, and added bay windows. A fresh coat of paint made it gleam in the summer sun. He had to move into a movie trailer for the duration of the filming. But he roamed freely around their farm, of course, still tending to chores while meeting all the actors, and had a front-row seat for watching the film evolve.
In Iowa, corn grows fast. It was essential for the movie that Lansing’s corn be shoulder-high by the 4th of July. Unfortunately, it was a drought year. It took the approval of several state agencies to dam the creek running through the farm to irrigate the cornfield. The corn grew too high in time for filming, so a platform – which never shows up on-camera – was built for Kevin Costner to stand on for the shots where he’s immersed in the cornfield.
It took four days to build the ballfield, with seven semi-trucks of sod to cover the gaping hole in the cornfield. It’s been here, kept in immaculate shape, ever since. Two weeks before we arrived, there was a special event to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the film. Kevin Costner stood here, as did more than a dozen actors, ballplayers, writers, and celebrities to honor the movie and the game of baseball.
Preserving the Pasttime
As we arrived on that July 4th afternoon, the dirt parking lot was packed with cars, with license plates hailing from as far away as Texas, California, New Jersey, and Florida. A pickup game was on the diamond, as it always is. That’s the rule at the Field of Dreams: no reservations, no team play. Pickup games only. Bring your own equipment.
A small crowd sat on the simple stands, cheering on whoever happened to be at bat. The competition wasn’t very competitive. It was just about being there, standing on that spot, being in the moment.
In a world where major league players make millions, baseball doesn’t feel like its authentic self when it costs a family over a hundred dollars to take the kids to the stadium for nine innings. But “this field, this game” as “Terence Mann” – played by James Earl Jones – says, as part of an eloquent monologue at the end of the movie, “reminds us of all that was good and could be good again.”
At the Field of Dreams, it didn’t matter to people visiting if they were part of the game or on the sidelines. Some of the visitors, like me, felt a need to walk into the cornfield from which the ghosts of baseball greats past appeared and disappeared throughout the movie. Others sat in the shade of the trees by the farmhouse, enjoying their picnics.
Fathers and sons (and fathers and daughters) pitched to each other on the great grassy expanse in front of the old farmhouse. I asked one Dad, who was clearly much younger than me, why he was here.
“I saw the movie,” he said, “and I wanted to be here.”
Another couple came all the way from Japan. “We had to see it,” they said. “It was worth it.”
“It” is exactly what you see in the movie. A big farmhouse with cornfields wrapped around in every direction except out front, where a simple baseball field takes center stage.
It is simplicity. It is Americana. It is baseball. And I could think of no better place for us to be when in Iowa on the 4th of July, this little slice of heaven, where everyone wore a smile.
Visiting the Field of Dreams
Located 30 miles west of Dubuque on the backroads off US 20 outside Dyersville (28995 Lansing Rd, Dyersville, IA 52040), the Field of Dreams is maintained as a private park surrounded by working Iowa cornfields.
Opening on April 1 each year, they close by the end of November. Daily hours are 9-6. A small concession stand sells t-shirts, drinks and snacks, trinkets, and copies of the movie. It helps support the effort of keeping this site open and free to the public. Bring your bat, ball, and glove to join a pickup game in progress.
Every Sunday, the “Ghost Team” emerges from the cornfield to play. Check their calendar for exact times.