Dyersville, IA — I was struck by an overwhelming fear, about 50 miles south of the Iowa-Minnesota border, that I might not make it to the Field of Dreams before the 6 p.m. closing time.
The iphone was continually out of service. The maps made no sense. My spirit was crumbling in the dreary mist of the hills of Iowa, where the road opened up into folds of green as far as the eye could see, so I stopped at the next junction and asked for directions.
I was wearing gym shorts—something I rarely do—and they got plenty of strange looks from the cadre of motorcyclists hanging outside of some scummy roadside tavern.
The clerk in the gas station had no idea where Dyersville was, nor had she heard of the phantom Route 358, which was supposed to slash through these hills and into the heart of Iowa farming land.
But when I said I was gunning for the Field of Dreams, a trucker perked up and told me to take the road by the river south; so I did, and I guess that made all the difference.
An hour later, the landscape gave way to rolling fields of corn and the gray drizzle that had been lingering for hours ceased. The smooth country roads were dotted with little except silos and the occasional bearded Amish farmer in a horse-drawn buggy.
At 4:30, I roared into town. Dyersville was about as small-town America as it gets, except for the stunning Roman Catholic basilica that shot up like a giant beanstalk next to its main thoroughfare.
A rural hamlet of approximately 4,000, it was known for years as the “Farm Toy Capital of the World.” Of course, that all changed in 1989, when Kevin Costner and a Hollywood movie crew swept into town to film the popular sports movie “Field of Dreams.”
The screenplay, based off the novel “Shoeless Joe” by W.P. Kinsella, called for a baseball field carved out of a cornfield—in addition to a healthy dose of magical realism.
In the Lansing family farm, the crew found what they were looking for and spent 14 weeks filming the movie over the summer.
Twenty years later, the field that spawned visions of the ghosts of baseball yore still stands, cornfield and all, and according to the Lansings approximately 65,000 visitors come from across the world to visit the site free of charge each year.
What are they looking for?’
Ghosts? God? Baseball?
Or, maybe that sweet, simple urge that Terence Mann, a 60s-era writer played by James Earl Jones, described in the film’s penultimate scene, right before the camera panned out on thousands of headlights heading down the lonely country road that abuts the farm.
A nostalgic urge, a pilgrimage for purity, a need Mann said would drive unsuspecting hordes to Iowa and to Kinsella’s door:
“They will come up your driveway as innocent as children longing for the past. It will be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they will have to brush them away from their faces….this field, this game, is a part of our past, it reminds us of all that was once good and could be again.”
When I walked across the foul lines, I couldn’t help but feel infected by the aura, catapulted back to little league. Those forever-ago summer days, so pure and simple, when the all the world’s troubles and triumphs existed in the spiral of a four-seam fastball or a lazy pop fly.
Half of the field was doused in sunshine and the other half cloaked in ominous grey, with the dividing line somewhere in center field. I jogged out into the outfield and, just as Kevin Costner had done twenty years ago, parted the leaves and strolled into the cornstalks.
Then back out, to lie on the neatly-manicured grass and listen to the wind rustle the leaves and watch those surrounding me.
A father hurled deep, soaring fly balls to his son, who made leaping catches, occasionally diving into the crops.
A pair of middle-age sisters stood over the bleachers and excitedly pointed out the “Ray loves Annie” carving that remained from the film over twenty years ago.
A youngster, no more than six or seven, furiously chugged around the bases as his parents videotaped him from home plate.
A college-aged couple rolled like lazy dogs across the left field foul line, caressing each other lovingly.
Yet having arrived without a ball or glove, I felt like an ill-equipped stranger in my own reverie. How could I come to the Field of Dreams and not have a catch myself?
Then, in cinematic fashion, an errant toss dribbled toward my leg. I went cold. Fate had smiled on me.
I hadn’t thrown a baseball in years, but with a fat grin slung the ball toward the oversized mitt of a ten-year old, where it smacked upon the leather successfully. I felt a surge of the most unadulterated happiness I could imagine.
In the aftermath, I sat paralyzed on the bleachers in the spiting rain, as the wind swept the water sideways and the remaining occupants of the field walked begrudgingly to their cars. Part of the outfield remained illuminated by the sun, a rogue piece of landscape combating the weather.
There was nothing to do, except reflect on how in an America where few icons remain sacred, the Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa feels unremittingly joyous and pure.
At 6 p.m, I left and drove into town, where I ate the All-American special (meatloaf and potatoes) at the only restaurant I could find. Then, back to Minneapolis to catch a red-eye flight the next day
It was announced a week later that the Lansing’s were putting up the farm and the baseball diamond for sale, at a price of $5.4 million.
While some interested buyers have professed a desire to keep the field intact, others are considering transforming it into commercial real-estate, such as a hotel or a waterpark.
Even in today’s America, I can think of few things more sacrilegious.