Field of Dreams still a hit with baseball fans

Iowa town also welcomes fanciers of farm toys

Destination: The Midwest

April 03, 2005|By Linley Wartenberg | Linley Wartenberg,Special to the Sun

More than 15 years after Ray Kinsella built it, people still come to the Field of Dreams.

Just like Shoeless Joe Jackson, throngs of baseball fans -- 65,000 a year -- are drawn to Dyersville, Iowa, to see the ballpark Kevin Costner's character built in a cornfield in the 1989 movie Field of Dreams.

The field reopened for the season April 1, two days before this year's first major league baseball game. But while the famous cornfield is by far the town's biggest attraction, there are many other things to do and see here.

Dyersville, in northeast Iowa, 25 miles west of Dubuque and 60 miles northeast of Cedar Rapids, calls itself the "Farm Toy Capital of the World." Here you'll find the National Farm Toy Museum, doll and woodcarving museums and several companies that manufacture die-cast replicas of farm equipment. Annual toy shows held in November, March and June also draw visitors.

"All the other attractions were here before the Field of Dreams," said Karla Thompson, executive director for the Dyersville Chamber of Commerce.

Dyersville is also home to the St. Francis Xavier Basilica, built in 1889, featuring twin Gothic spires, 64 windows and a marble foundation beneath the altar. Services are held every Sunday, including two in Latin.

"People come up from Des Moines [190 miles away] just for the Latin Mass," Thompson said.

The National Farm Toy Museum opened in 1986, three years before the movie. It features more than 30,000 toys and exhibits with tractors, implements, trucks, miniature farm dioramas and toy manufacturing information.

"The higher the detail, the less 'toy' they become," said Anne Reitzler, the museum's manager. "They become more collectible."

Last month, the museum welcomed the Midwest Toy Truck show, a smaller version of the bigger show held each November, which typically attracts 8,000 to 10,000 people. The Summer Farm Toy Show is scheduled for June 3-5.

Dyersville's Dyer-Bostford Doll Museum boasts a collection of more than 1,000 dolls as well as a German Feather Christmas tree and a hand-carved wooden circus model. The Becker Woodcarving Museum is just outside Dyersville.

But there's no denying that the Field of Dreams is why most people come to Dyersville. With the exception of a concession / souvenir stand down the left-field line and two movie-related displays, everything is as familiar to ardent fans of the movie as an old ball glove.

In the last 15 years, more than a million people have come to see the field. The first visitor, a man from New York, traveled to Dyersville after watching the movie.

"One morning when my brother was getting ready to go to work, he saw him sitting on the bleachers," said Becky Boeckenstedt, whose brother, Tim Lansing, owns most of the property that the field sits on. "After that, they slowly started coming. They played on the field that whole summer."

She estimates 7,500 people visited the first year, with the number doubling the next summer. Visitors come from all 50 states and dozens of countries.

"There's not a day goes by that a car doesn't come down the lane," Boeckenstedt said. "Mainly, they've seen the movie, love the movie and want to come to some quiet little place, and that's what this is."

There's often a game going on, but the lineup is never written down.

"It's just a pickup game from morning to night," Boeckenstedt said. "A family from California meets a family from New York and they all play together."

Denny Grall made the six-hour trip from Escanaba, Mich., with his family to see a fantasy game sponsored by Upper Deck, the sports trading card company.

"We had a chance to see [former Cleveland Indian] Bob Feller pitch for two innings, which was a big thrill," he said. "That's what Field of Dreams is all about -- living out a fantasy, living out a dream." Feller is a native Iowan.

Grall's teenage son Brian took the mound for about an hour.

"We enjoyed the opportunity for Brian to get on the field and pitch to all kinds of people," Denny Grall said. "To have them give him an ovation when he left was priceless."

Fans who bring gloves can take the field, but equipment can also be borrowed from the Left and Center Field shop behind the bleachers. The Lansing family, which has owned the farm for 98 years, operates a separate concession at the site.

Young and old line up, waiting for a turn to take an at-bat in the box where Archie "Moonlight" Graham winked at the pitcher and hit a sacrifice fly in the movie. Some at-bats take longer than others, since it's almost an unwritten rule that no one strikes out and there are no bases on balls.

Long balls to the corn are ruled as ground-rule doubles, but no one keeps the statistics. Instead, people talk about the movie and the magic of baseball.

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