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White Sox pitcher Lance Lynn warms up in the outfield before a game against the Yankees, Aug. 12, 2021 in Dyersville, Iowa.
Chicago White Sox pitcher Lance Lynn warms up in the outfield before a baseball game against the New York Yankees, Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021 in Dyersville, Iowa. The Yankees and White Sox played at a temporary stadium in the middle of a cornfield at the “Field of Dreams” movie site, the first Major League Baseball game held in Iowa.
Charlie Neibergall, Associated Press

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MLB missed the message of ‘Field of Dreams’

What was done to stage a game between the Yankees and White Sox in an Iowa cornfield was typically American — loud, commercial, overdeveloped and overproduced

They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.

— Joni Mitchell

By now you probably know that Major League Baseball built a ballpark adjacent to the small, quaint baseball diamond that was carved out of a real Iowa cornfield to film the movie “Field of Dreams.” The new stadium drew a lot of attention — which of course was the intention — and the media at large, as well as MLB officials, waxed eloquent about what a wonderful thing this was.

Just one question: How did everyone miss the irony?

They not only built a stadium with 8,000 seats, they built a maze next to it. There already was a souvenir shop. After holding a real major league game on the field last week, there was a fireworks show.

So much for the pastoral setting. What’s next, a strip mall and a theme park? How about a putt-putt course in which each hole is a miniaturized major league ballpark?

Did the people in the front office of MLB even watch the movie? Did they understand what it was about? Do they remember these lines uttered by the Terrence Mann character in the movie?

“America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time.”

Major League Baseball paved a cornfield and put up a parking lot. It is typically American — loud, commercial, overdeveloped, overproduced. The stadium is described as temporary, but the field, dugouts, bullpens and fences will remain. One MLB official told USA Today that he believes the game will become an annual event and that the stadium will become the site for Little League, high school, college and minor league games.

The movie isn’t about baseball of course. Baseball is the medium for a lot of other things — a return to the simple, to the understated, to the basics, to relationships, to the real reason we do things, right down to playing a game simply for the joy of it. We’ve lost that.

Look at professional and collegiate sports these days as one example. The game isn’t enough; there must be dancers and mascots and loud entertainment on the big screen and half-court shots by fans and a barrage of loud music and fireworks. They give us overproduced variety shows because our modern attention span requires constant stimuli.

The movie was about the opposite of all that.

The movie resonated with audiences and played out long after it ended. In the movie, Mann says, “People will come, Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t fathom. They’ll arrive at your door, innocent as children, longing for the past.”

And that’s what happened in the movie and in real life. The movie ends but in Iowa it was just beginning. People visited the field from as far away as Mexico, Canada, Australia, Germany, Japan and from around the U.S. As many as 300 people came to the farm a day. Some 10,000 people came during the summer months.

As noted here in a 2007 column, children ran the bases, and fathers and sons played catch. They walked into the corn that borders the outfield, as if testing the magic of the movie. One couple came from Texas to renew their wedding vows on the field. Four brothers gathered from around the country to meet on the field. They played catch and roamed the field for three hours.

“I didn’t know it was going to turn out like this,” the farm’s owner, Don Lansing, told me in 2007, some 18 years after the movie was released. He said he fully expected to put the field back in corn the following year after plowing it up for the movie. His neighbor, Al Ameskamp, who owned the property in left field, did just that.

But then the people began showing up. Ameskamp restored the field. Lansing, who worked in the John Deere plant in Dubuque during the day, found himself mingling with visitors in the mornings and evenings and tended the field like a real-life Ray Kinsella. Each morning he dragged and raked the infield, swept home plate and set the bases. Twice a week he manicured the field and mowed the grass to playing length. It was a very impractical thing for a farmer to do, but there it is.

As I wrote in 2007, “Visitors were once so rare that Lansing suspected every car that drove to his farm carried a salesman. Now the visitors come in a steady stream. Only when the sun sets do they stop coming, but they wouldn’t if Lansing ever decided to turn the field lights on at night.”

They come to touch what they saw and felt in the movie. They come for reasons they couldn’t even fathom. They aren’t visits so much as pilgrimages. It was magical for many.

They lost some of that magic when they built the stadium and the 8,000 seats and the big lights and the maze.

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