The bats have been bagged for the winter. Boxes of baseballs shelved and the bases plucked from the diamond and put in storage somewhere under the grandstand until spring. The Astros have won their very first World Series, sore arms have been sent home to heal, and baseball fans have begun to gather 'round the stove to ponder the season to come.
Everywhere, that is, except on the Field of Dreams, that magical, mythical baseball field built in the middle of an Iowa cornfield because, as you know, “if you build it they will come.”
The Field of Dreams, which, while magical, is very real on the rolling landscape of eastern Iowa, just out of Dyersville, on Lansing Road. It has been there for 29 years now, ever since it was built in 1988 for the making of the classic movie based on W.P. Kinsella's marvelous book, “Shoeless Joe.” It was built on a few acres carved from Don Lansing's farm, but more important than the acreage are the field dimensions: 281 feet down the left field line, 314 to dead center and 262 feet to the right field wall, if there were a wall, but there isn't. There is a cornfield. And it truly is there, just as it was in the movie – or at least it was last week; may have been picked by now. It is November. It is replanted each growing season to coincide with the baseball season.
So the outfield wall is clearly defined by corn 12 feet high, high enough that the visitor, wanting to inhale the total experience, just as Joe Jackson and Doc Graham and Terence Mann did on film, can vanish into ... well, wherever those ballplayers went.
On this day, this crisp, clear autumn day – after all this isn't heaven, it's Iowa – on this day Carl has come from Charlottesville, Virginia.
This field, this experience has been on his bucket list for a very long time.
“Will you play catch with me?” he asks after trotting the bases. He's winded. Probably 55 and maybe the same in the overweight department.
“Sure.” He has two gloves and he tosses one to me. “That's important,” he says of the glove. “That was my dad's glove. He's gone now.” I put dad's glove on and pound my fist into the mitt because that's what you do.
We toss the ball back and forth. Not much form and even less accuracy. But that's not important. What's important to both of us – Carl more than me – is that this is what the story is all about.
Gonna be a little chauvinistic here. This is what most wives don't get when they watch their husbands tear up watching this movie. It's about fathers and sons and unfulfilled dreams and never having had that one day in the big leagues like Moonlight Graham had and it's about stepping across that baseline like Doc Graham did, knowing that there was no way on God's earth to go back, ever.
It's about baseball and Ray Kinsella and listening to James Earl Jones talk about baseball and pronounce that word – base ... ball – like it has never sounded before:
“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. 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. This field, this game – it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and it could be again.
“Ohhhhhhhh, people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come.”
Carl and I defer to a busload of youngsters – junior high age, maybe – who have come 200 miles on a school field trip to here and to the state park over along the Mississippi River. Interesting, they say, but not mystical. No, most have not seen the movie. They have to watch it back at school.
And Carl and I walk to the baseline between home plate and first base. And we – a couple of certifiable old codgers – seriously debate exactly where it was along this baseline that Terence Mann stepped over it, stepped onto the Field of Dreams and walked slowly across the diamond, through center field and ... “go the distance” ... into that cornfield to wherever those ballplayers went all those years ago.
Ed Breen is the retired assistant managing editor/photo of The Journal Gazette.