DYERSVILLE, Iowa — What first caught my eye were the wooden bleachers. The seats from which Terence Mann arises to deliver his “People will come” soliloquy. From which young Karin Kinsella falls moments later, requiring the services of Dr. Archibald “Moonlight” Graham — transforming from teenager to senior citizen — to save her life.
“They’re original,” Tom Mietzel, CEO of Go the Distance, which runs the facility, assured The Post later in a telephone interview. Same goes for the farmhouse behind them.
Perhaps if you somehow haven’t seen the 1989 film “Field of Dreams,” or if you watched it and it somehow wasn’t your bag, then setting foot on these grounds — on a movie set, let’s acknowledge — won’t get your geek on. The idea of holding an actual Major League Baseball game here might strike you as cheesy.
If you’re one of the countless people who bought into the film’s messages of hope and redemption and cried at the ending, however? Then Thursday night’s matchup of the Yankees and White Sox at a pop-up ballpark adjacent to the original movie diamond — just through a cornfield, naturally — will serve as a real-life sequel of sorts to the fictional original. Because, in a vacuum, holding a regular-season baseball contest on active farmland isn’t much more absurd than ghost ballplayers emerging from a cornfield.
“When you can hold dreams and memories back from movies, these things mean a lot,” YES Network analyst (and former Yankee, of course) Paul O’Neill said. “It’s such a great idea. Such a cool thing.”
“I would never have imagined they’d play a major league game there,” said actor Dwier Brown, who played John Kinsella in the movie, “and I couldn’t be more excited about it.”
Brown will join his cinematic son, Kevin Costner, the film’s star, in pregame festivities that surely won’t hold back on milking the movie’s most popular elements. Fans will enter the premises via the original field, a tourist site since the movie’s release and success, and walk through the corn to the Yankees-White Sox game. Those corn stalks, cultivated by MLB, will be as tall as 12 feet, which you’ll be able to see through the mesh of the right field wall. Don’t be surprised if the players themselves utilize the corn as an entry point, just like their fictional counterparts.
In all, MLB spent more than $5 million to construct and maintain the temporary ballpark, for which plans began last year, only for COVID-19 to cause a one-year postponement. Former Yankees general manager Murray Cook, who specializes in helping baseball put on these events, said he utilized the backstop and bullpen seats, among other supplies, from the Yankees-Red Sox London Series of 2019. The stands will hold 7,911 fans, with Iowans getting access to about 2,500 of them.
“We’ve been trying to find these really cool, iconic locations, places that don’t get to normally experience Major League Baseball,” said Chris Mar inak, MLB’s chief operations and strategy officer. “We had one in Omaha, and Fort Bragg, and now our first game in Iowa. This one has a special sort of feeling to it because the movie itself was such a widely appealing movie. Even non-baseball fans watch that movie and love that movie because of that message and storytelling in the movie.”
It should only enhance the site’s appeal that this remains an active farm, growing soybeans in addition to corn. Joe and Catherine Lansing purchased it in 1906 — the barn is believed to go back to around 1860 — and started a family there, although poor Catherine died during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 (talk about the circle of life), and Joe’s grandson Donnie ran the farm in the late 1980s when Sue Reidel, a volunteer for the Iowa film office, approached him with an idea: Universal Studios wanted to film a movie on his land, which they liked because of its look — especially that farmhouse — and because it was large enough to build a baseball field.
“He kind of looked at her and thought, ‘Boy, is she crazy or what?’ ” said Becky Lansing, Don’s wife.
She wasn’t, naturally. The studio performed some construction on the house to make it more film-crew friendly, knocking down some walls (the house scenes were actually filmed there), and Don Lansing relocated to a nearby trailer to let the Hollywood people do their thing. When the film connected with the masses, the Lansings retained the field and turned it into a tourist attraction.
“In the first year, we logged about 5,000 people,” Becky Lansing said. “It continued to double in size, from five to 10 [thousand], 15, 30, 40, 50.”
Other Iowans saw even greater potential in the land, in people’s thirst to connect with this film. In 2012, the Lansings sold it to a consortium of investors (called Go the Distance) led by Denise Stillman, who envisioned turning the field into a hotbed for youth baseball tournaments, with 18 fields added to the original (which wouldn’t get touched). A spark for that plan, Stillman thought, would be to hold a major league game there.
“The Field of Dreams isn’t as much of a baseball field as a feeling,” said Mietzel, who married Stillman in 2016. “It’s a place where family and friends come together. That’s how she got rolling on it.”
As Stillman engaged with MLB officials on this wild-card idea, though, she contracted liver cancer in April 2017. She died in November 2018, and just a few months later, MLB and Go The Distance completed the agreement to hold the Yankees-White Sox game there.
“Much of what we’re doing out here is her vision,” Mietzel said. “This was her dream.”
And for the Lansings, whose family lived and worked here for over 100 years, “The sentiment behind the move is a pretty strong bond for us. Most people look at it as a mecca for baseball and for many other things as well,” Becky Lansing said. “We have the added honor of having had it as a family legacy, which I’m hoping now is secure in the history books of the social fabric of our country.”
The Field of Dreams, boosted by MLB’s presence here, should welcome more than 200,000 visitors this year, Meitzel said, and there’s increased optimism they’ll accrue the necessary funds to put Stillman’s full plan in motion.
As for whether this game will be an MLB one-off or the launch to a tradition, Marinak said: “We’ll see how things unfold this first time around. Obviously it’s a lot of effort to keep the field up, plant the corn again. We’ve got to make the call on whether this is a one-time experience or we can do something more with it. We’ll figure that out after this week.
“But this is a good example of the type of thing we can be doing in the future, an off-the-beaten-path type of game.”
It required quite a path to get here, into the past, into such rich emotions. This will mark a rare occasion in which you root for the Yankees and White Sox themselves, not protected by a script, to live up to their surroundings and fanfare.