In 1999, I went on a quest to watch a bunch of baseball movies I hadn’t yet seen. I watched Pride of the Yankees (“Phoebe, the guy WAS Lou Gehrig. Didn’t you kind of see it coming?”), Eight Men Out (a personal favorite), Bull Durham, and The Natural (having already seen other baseball gems, such as the hysterical Major League and the wonderful Sandlot, among others)
Eventually, I made it round to Field of Dreams. As movies go, it’s a bit of a slow one. Non-fans have been known to call it boring. Its most famous line is nearly always misquoted (the line is, “If you build it, HE will come,” not THEY). And the reality is, it’s not so much about baseball. But that’s actually what makes it so great. The story of family, redemption and forgiveness, of believing in the unbelievable and not giving up, is one that has touched many a movie goer for the last 25 years. With it being the 25th Anniversary of the film, I knew that little ballpark in the cornfield out in Dyersville, Iowa was a must stop for this road trip.
There are two ways into the Field of Dreams Movie Site. One way is pretty much right off the main road. The other, through a maze of unpaved dirt and gravel roads cutting between cornfields in the middle of nowhere. We were lucky enough to have taken the road through the corn, a far more magical journey in. We’d been in the Great Lakes area for 8 days, and then spent some time in the city. The scenery in Iowa was a welcome change. We found ourselves surprisingly drawn to it.
When we arrived at the farm we noticed one of the “Black Sox” sitting at a nearby picnic table, chatting with a few people. Moments later he would vanish. A bus was coming down the road, and soon enough he would emerge from the corn and greet them.
Before the site was inundated with tourists, I stepped behind home plate and took a picture of the famous field (though I couldn’t get a full shot)…
…and then another from third base with the white house (different from the movie only in that it’s missing the porch swing) in the background.
It turned out it wasn’t the bus he waiting for, so in the meantime he was available to chat and play. His name was Frank Dardis. Frank, a local guy, portrayed one of the ghost players in the original movie 25 years ago. He now greets tour buses and gives little talks. He signs autographs, and hands out old call sheets from the movie (with his name featured not quite as prominently as the likes of Kevin Costner and Ray Liotta). And he plays ball. Here’s Frank emerging from the corn.
He was really sweet, and it was such a fun, unexpected touch to the visit. We played ball for a while. First Sriram pitched to me for a bit, and then later Frank did (I got one decent hit, and whiffed a bunch of others – need to keep my eye on the ball). We sat in the bleachers, the ones that are still carved with “Ray Loves Annie” and cheered on others as they played.
We stayed for nearly an hour, reading up on the history of the movie, how the site was selected, how the corn almost didn’t grow, and how all these years later, the field still draws baseball-loving tourists from near and far. We also bought some memorabilia and learned that interestingly enough, the costs of upkeep come solely through concessions (admission is free). The studio has no part in keeping the site open; in fact, the farm has to pay royalties to the studio for the rights to the name/story.
But I’m glad that they have opted to keep things alive there in Dyersville as it’s a magical place. If you ever find yourself nearby, be sure to go explore a little bit of heaven.