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Thursday, September 11, 2003
'People will most definitely come'

By Jim Caple
Page 2 columnist

DYERSVILLE, Iowa -- One day, my drive down the length of the Mississippi River took me to the Metrodome. The next day, it brought me to the "Field of Dreams" movie site. This is like going from Angela Lansbury to Jennifer Garner.

Given that it was a weekday in September, I worried that I might be the only person there, but such was not the case. When I arrived, there were several people playing catch on the field, four people blissfully looking out from the bleachers and an entire tour bus pulling into the parking lot. Summer or fall, weekday or weekend, it doesn't matter. The field draws people. And it draws them from everywhere.

Jim Caple
We get teary-eyed just looking at this picture.
The person who'd signed the guest register just ahead of me was from Australia. The people I met in the gift shop were from Luxembourg, and they bought so many souvenirs that they'll have to buy another suitcase to ship them home.

And here's the amazing thing. The two guys from Luxembourg had never even seen "Field of Dreams."

I've been to every stadium in the major leagues. I've spent delightful afternoons with a beer in hand in the bleachers at Wrigley Field. I spent a game posting scores inside Fenway Park's Green Monster. I camped out overnight in Pac-Bell Park with a couple hundred fans who paid $300 for the experience, as "Field of Dreams'' played on the scoreboard.

I've been to bigger fields than this one. I've been to more luxurious fields. I've been to more authentic fields set smack dab in the Minnesota cornfields and lovingly maintained by local Minnesota townball teams. In fact, I drove by one in Miesville, Minnesota, on the way here.

But I've never been to a field that provokes emotions the way this little one does in an Iowa cornfield about 20 miles west of the Mississippi. The field is just as you remember it from the movie, with the added benefit that -- despite James Earl Jones' vision -- there is no admission fee.

SO FAR SO GOOD
Check out Jim Caple's stops along the way:
  • Lake Itasca, Minn.
  • Collegeville, Minn.
  • Bloomington, Minn.
  • "Do I ever see emotional responses here? Only every day,'' says Becky Lansing, who lives with her husband, Don, in the lovely white farmhouse where Kevin Costner's character lived in the movie. "The biggest emotional reaction I can remember was by this one man. He was a big, strapping guy, and I saw him down on all fours, sobbing at home plate. I gave him his space and then a little later I started chatting with him and he said it was all about his dad. He was reconnecting with him or apologizing to him for something.

    "A movie that can bring a person to his knees is as heartfelt as it gets."

    I ask you. Does the movie set for "Dragonfly'' reduce men to tears?


    "People will come, Ray. They'll come to Iowa for reasons they can't even fathom. They'll turn into the driveway, not knowing for sure why they're doing it. They'll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. 'Of course we won't mind if you have a look around,' you'll say. 'It's only twenty dollars per person.' They'll pass over the money without even thinking about it; for it is money they have, and peace they lack."


    Fortunately, Don Lansing decided not to replant the cornfield when the "Field of Dreams" crew finished filming in 1988. The movie opened in April of 1989, and the first visitor pulled up to the field on May 5, 1989. He was from New York. He was driving to California and just needed to see where the movie was filmed.

    Mississippi River map
    Jim's steady trip down the mighty Mississipp'.
    Others started trickling by; soon, Lansing started leaving "Field of Dreams" movie pins by a table near the field in the morning. They would be gone by the evening. Then he started printing up t-shirts and leaving them on the table, asking visitors to place money in an envelope if they took a shirt. And those would be gone at the end of the day, too.

    And now, approximately 60,000 people visit the field every year. The table has grown into a substantial souvenir shop selling caps, shirts, posters, cups, mugs, pins and anything else that will hold a "Field of Dreams" logo.

    Make that two souvenir shops -- one by the Lansing's house, the other down the left-field line.

    The field, you see, has two owners. A power line running from third base to right-center field is the dividing line. The Lansings own the house, the infield and right field. Rita Ameskamp owns left field and most of center. They operate the site as two very separate, very distinct enterprises. The Lansings is named "The Field of Dreams Movie Site." The other one is the "Left and Center Field of Dreams."

    There are two driveways, side-by-side but separated by a fence and leading to separate parking areas.

    A sign put up by the Lansings warns that any baseball equipment rented at the left-field souvenir shop cannot be used on the infield or in right field. "The owner of left field has leased his property to a group of private investors who have re-zoned left field from agriculture to business commercial ..."

    MIGHTY MISSISSIP TRIP
    Here's a breakown of Jim Caple's journey down the Mighty Mississipp:

    Miles: 314 (St. Paul to Dyersville and Dubuque)
    Total Miles: 614
    Moving violations: 0
    Hours driving:
    Diet Pepsi: 3 units
    Road kill: Several raccoons and a possum
    Huckleberry Finn tape: Huck runs across the Grangerford and Shepherdson feud, which has been raging violently for years, despite the fact that no one can remember what caused the dispute in the first place.
    Miles to go: 1,500 (approx.)

    The sign on the other side of the field stresses that, "The Ameskamp family continues to own the farm and souvenir stand that is located behind third base. They also do all the maintenance of their portion of the infield and of the baseball diamond. A local neighbor manages the souvenir stand and the staff is comprised of people from the surrounding area."

    Becky Lansing insists there is no feud between the two families (yeah, right), just a difference in views on how the property should be used. She complains that the investment group wants to over-commercialize the site, and that her family is protecting the field from corporate America.

    The Left and Center Field of Dreams sign boasts that they hold monthly Ghost Player games (where players in old White Sox uniforms emerge from the cornfield) and that it has sent the Ghost teams on tours to "entertain the military and their families at bases around the world." So there.

    The two sides do agree on one thing, though: They'd better keep raising corn beyond the outfield.


    "They'll walk up to the bleachers and sit in shirt-sleeves on a perfect afternoon. They'll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they'll watch the game and it'll be as if they had dipped themselves in magic waters; the memories will be so thick they'll have to brush them away from their faces.''


    Why do people come? Dyersville is not easy to get to. It's a five-hour drive from the Twin Cities or Chicago. And yet, people keep coming as if the voice in the cornfield had spoken directly to them.

    They come and they play catch and they run the bases and they take pictures and they walk out of the cornstalks and they sit in the bleachers and they get engaged and get married and spread ashes and they connect with something they can't really explain.

    "Surprisingly, most people don't come out here for baseball. It's usually something else," Lansing says. "There are as many reasons as there are people. Family, spirituality, religion, baseball, something filled or unfulfilled in their lives. And some people come just because it was a movie set with Kevin Costner."

    Chris and Seb Briones
    Chris and Seb Briones play catch amongst corn.
    Often, it's a mixture. Consider Chris Briones and his father, Seb.

    Chris is 30 years old and has been playing in the minor leagues the past nine years. He's played for four big-league organizations and several independent minor league teams. He just finished playing with the independent-league Berkshire Black Bears in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, who play their home games in 110-year-old Wahconah Park, where the setting sun shines in the batters' eyes and forces 10-to-15-minute "sun delays" every night. They stop the game until the sun dips below the tree level.

    "Is my playing career over?" Chris says, repeating my question. "I have to say so. I'm 30 years old and I haven't had a real job my entire life and it's time to move on. I'm going to be a college coach, because that's the way I can stay in the game."

    He's taking an assistant coaching job at Nevada-Reno. It's an unpaid position, but a coach has to start somewhere. Like Shoeless Joe says in the W.P. Kinsella novel that was the basis for the movie, "I love the game. I would have played for food money. I'd have played for free and worked for food."

    Chris and Seb are driving from Massachusetts to Reno, their vehicle fully loaded to the roof with almost all of Chris's possessions, most of which appear to be baseball equipment. "It's been great," Chris says. "We drive about 12-to-15 hours a day, just sitting in the car and talking about life and getting to know each other better. I haven't seen him since opening day of 2000."

    Calling Mississippi!
    Do you know a high school in Mississippi with a great story? Cap'n Jimmy's Mississippi Tour rolls into town Friday and is looking for a good game to watch. Suggestions? Email us at ASKESPN@espn3.com.

    Their goal for the day had been to get to Cheyenne, Wyoming, which is at least an 11-hour drive from Dyersville. But as they drove along the interstate past the Iowa cornfields, Chris started thinking about "Field of Dreams" and pulled over at a tourist information booth to find out where the place was. They had already passed it; it would take an hour-and-a-half to find it (including the emergency stop to buy a camera), but Chris made an executive decision. They were turning around and going to Dyersville.

    "If I was an hour-and-a-half from 'Field of Dreams' and I didn't stop to play catch with my dad, I would kick myself for the rest of my life," Chris says. "This is exactly what I imagined it was like. This is better than I thought. I want to take it home with me."

    They arrived at the park shortly before closing. Chris grabbed a ball and two gloves and walked to the infield. He gave one glove to his father and he slipped his hand into the other.

    And then he asked his dad to play catch.

    "People will come, Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers; it has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and raised again. Baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and could be again. Oh, people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.

    Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.