DYERSVILLE, Iowa - Spurred by a voice telling him, “If you build it, he will come,” the Iowa farmer played by Kevin Costner dutifully carved a baseball field out of his cornfield and then watched as Shoeless Joe Jackson and his Chicago White Sox teammates strode out of the stalks and onto the Field of Dreams.
Major League Baseball is building another field a few hundred yards down a corn-lined path from the famous movie site in eastern Iowa but unlike the original, it’s unclear whether teams will show up for a game this time as the league and its players struggle to agree on plans for a coronavirus-shortened season.
The owners of the Field of Dreams and residents of the farming community of Dyersville desperately hope so, saying that after months of isolation and loss caused by the virus, not only their area but the entire country could use a boost like seeing the scheduled Aug. 13 game between the New York Yankees and White Sox go ahead as planned.
“For both baseball and the general public, what a match made in heaven that would be for this year,” said Keith Rahe, now a tourism official but who previously farmed a half mile from the Field of Dreams and vividly remembers the scorching summer of 1988 when the movie was filmed. “Just to have something to feel good about -- how do you measure that?”
Major League Baseball announced plans for the game nearly a year ago, making it the latest regular season game held at irregular locations, from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, for a July 4th celebration to annual games at the home of the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. As Commissioner Robert Manfred said in announcing the game, “We look forward to celebrating the movie’s enduring message of how baseball brings people together at this special cornfield in Iowa.”
But more than two months after the league’s scheduled opener in March, no games have been played and no one knows for sure if there will be a season, much less a contest in a cornfield.
That has people like Dyersville Mayor Jim Heavens a little down, not only because of the missed economic boost for his city of 4,000 but because of the chance the game offered to show the world his town. Heavens notes the bustling community, bracketed by a grain elevator and the twin brick towers of the Basilica of St. Francis Xavier, is overwhelmingly Catholic, proudly frugal and always ready for some baseball -- though in describing Dyersville he quips that after 25 years there, “I’m fairly new in town.”
Heavens said a game at the Field of Dreams, officially within city limits but a few miles from downtown through farmland and past silver-domed silos, is just what baseball needs.
“Small town Iowa, baseball is still a big thing here,” he said. “It’s kind of like we’re right in the middle of Americana, in the middle of an Iowa cornfield and what better place to play baseball?”
The region is quintessential Midwest, with narrow roads cutting a circuitous path through fields of corn and soybeans that stretch over undulating hills, interrupted only by weathered barns and tidy farm houses. The farmland is among the most valuable in the nation, and much of the grain grown there is hauled only 25 miles east to the Mississippi River, where it’s carried on barges to points south.
The anticipated matchup, officially a home game for the White Sox 180 miles west of Chicago, was expected to be a $9 million economic windfall for Dyersville and nearby Dubuque with plans for four days of concerts, exhibits and other events. The twilight game was supposed to be played before 8,000 people and under lights erected solely for the event, and while the field will remain the rest is supposed to be removed.
The Field of Dreams site is open to visitors, who at no charge can run the bases and see if they can smack a ball into cornstalks that now stand about a foot tall. They also can sit on wooden planks where actor James Earl Jones playing a baseball-loving author watched Ray Liotta as Jackson, a real-life player who was banned from the game because of his role in the World Series-fixing Black Sox Scandal.
Lately, visitors also have been able to gaze across the corn at towering light stands and see the deep green of a professional-quality outfield.
Jeremiah and Janci Bronson celebrated their 15th anniversary by driving with their three young children more than two hours from Ames, Iowa, to the Field of Dreams. Their plans to attend an Elton John concert in Des Moines were thwarted when the coronavirus forced postponement of the show, so they instead drove to Dyersville to tour the farmhouse that overlooks the field and hit balls from home plate.
“James Earl Jones says in the movie that baseball is constant and this is an unchanging part of our childhood,” said Jeremiah Bronson, who intends to return if the MLB game is held, regardless of if he can get a ticket. “This is going to be here after we’re gone. This is going to be here for our kids to bring their kids to.”
For Go the Distance Baseball, the company that now owns the Field of Dream site and plans to build a complex of youth baseball and softball fields, the talk of playing a game began five years ago. Now, after an excruciating waiting game through the spring, a decision will have to come soon as the planned gameday approaches.
“These are uncharted waters for everybody,” said Roman Weinberg, the company’s director of operations. “We’re all in this together and we understand that. We understand the best choice for Major League Baseball in 2020 comes first.”