That an actual, it-counts-in-the-standings Major League Baseball game will be played at the “Field of Dreams” movie site in Dyersville may be the first instance of reality not only imitating art in professional sports, but taking it to another level.
On Aug. 13, 2020, the New York Yankees — the sport’s most fabled franchise — will play the Chicago White Sox, the team Shoeless Joe Jackson disgraced in the 1919 Black Sox Scandal, in a temporary 8,000-seat stadium in a night game nationally televised by Fox.
Full appreciation of the “Field of Dreams,” the 1989 movie, requires checking logic at the door. (Of course, so does playing a real MLB game in Iowa and in a cornfield — additional firsts.)
Based on the book, “Shoeless Joe” by W.P. Kinsella, a Canadian graduate of the University of Iowa’s famed Writers Workshop, the saga of an Iowa farmer plowing under much of his cornfield to erect a baseball field with lights where ghosts from past eras of the sport emerge is purely mystical.
“‘Field of Dreams’ is an idealistic film that treasures America’s icons — baseball, the farmlands, Jimmy Stewart heroes,” wrote New York Times critic Caryn James.
Starring Kevin Costner as Ray Kinsella, the movie opened in just 22 theaters nationwide, but ended among box office top 10 with three Academy Awards nominations, including Best Picture.
It spawned bumper stickers and T-shirts emblazoned with such classic lines as “If you build it, he will come,” and “Is this heaven?” “No, it’s Iowa.”
Real figures were woven into the story, some seeking redemption, others getting closure.
Shoeless Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta) was banished from baseball after being implicated in throwing the World Series on behalf of a gambling syndicate, prompted largely by hatred for pernicious owner Charles Comiskey.
Archibald “Moonlight” Graham (Burt Lancaster), a seldom-used member of the New York Giants, was on-deck for what would have been his only MLB at-bat when the game ended. He retired, becoming a beloved country doctor in Chisholm, Minn., before Ray Kinsella intervened.
The connection between the movie and reality was captured beautifully in a MLB promo depicting Yankees slugger Aaron Judge asking Ray Kinsella if he was in heaven. He responds, “No, it’s Iowa” as Judge nods, then jogs toward the cornfield.
Baseball has ventured far afield in recent years — Mexico, Omaha, London this summer and Fort Bragg, N.C., in 2016.
In the latter two instances, new diamonds were created out of the rough.
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In Dyersville, the companies that worked on those projects will erect a makeshift ballpark and facilities adjacent to the movie field, expanding Ray Kinsella’s playing dimensions (281 feet in left, 314 in center and 262 in right) to 335 feet down the lines and 400 in center.
Bleachers, lights, clubhouses, restrooms, concession stands and a press box are required.
According to the Washington Post, the ballpark will recall the White Sox’ Comiskey Park (1910-90) with bullpens beyond center field. The right field wall will have windows to view the cornfield outside the stadium.
Reportedly, the investment could run to $5 million. MLB teams will pick up the tab as well as lost revenues from the White Sox home game, amid a three-game series with the Yankees.
The influx of people will double Dyersville’s population (4,058) — a town coming to grips with the daunting popularity of the movie and the site, then owned by two families.
The Ameskamps immediately plowed under their portion of the outfield. The Lansings left the field intact with some memorabilia available for sightseers.
Then the unexpected happened: An estimated 65,000 people would make an annual pilgrimmage.
The Ameskamps sold to the Lansings. They, in turn, sold to Chicago marketers who envisioned All-Star Ballpark Heaven — a 24-field baseball and softball complex with regular tournaments. That generated protests and lawsuits over the loss of farmland and an influx of tourists.
“Don’t let them build these baseball diamonds out in the country and take our farm ground out of production and ruin our piece of heaven,” said Wayne Ameskamp.
For at least one night in August, though, heaven will be an MLB game in the most unlikely setting — an Iowa cornfield.
“This field, this team, is a part of our past, Ray,” said fictional “Field of Dreams” writer Terrance Mann. “It reminds us of what was good and what can be again.”
Amid current political contentiousness, it is, as the Times’ James wrote 25 years ago, “a warm, intelligent, timely appeal to our most idealistic selves.”