“Is This Heaven? The Magic of the Field of Dreams”
Brett H. Mandel
The review in 90 feet or less
On Aug. 11 of this season, The MLB Field of Dreams Game is ready for its sequel. The Chicago Cubs meet the Cincinnati Reds amidst the cornstalks of the baseball diamond carved in Dyersville, Iowa.
Nostalgia, that powerful income producer, is pushing forward from the success of the Chicago White Sox-New York Yankees initial game complete with a Hollywood walk-off homer on that 8,000-seat specially created field last August – delayed a year because of the COVID pandemic. A lot of dirt had to be moved to get that second field built walking distance from the original movie set.
Wrote Tom Verducci in Sports Illustrated: “The setting was so perfect, the game so entertaining and the demand for tickets so great that the Field of Dreams game should become a tentpole game for the sport. Like Opening Day, the All-Star Game, Home Run Derby and the Hall of Fame inductions, the Field of Dreams game should give baseball another destination date on the calendar amid the sea of games over six long months.”
Indications are there’ll be an effort to have one of these events each year, so it’s best to know your history about this hallowed ground in America’s heartland, where redemption meets reconciliation and a a dirt-and-grass foundation for which this legend will grow for generations to come.
While this book was originally came out in hardback in 2002, translated to Japanese in 2003, then updated in paperback to come out in connection with this MLB game initiative in 2020, it’s one we’ve seemed to have lost in the shuffle of “new baseball books” as the stacks kept shifting, and revisions kept getting in the way.
It’s time for a short rewrite – recycling, as it may be also looked upon — that connects elements to how we want to appreciate baseball in the context of the 52nd edition of Earth Day. After recalling how for the 50th and 51st anniversary, we kind of dug a hole for ourselves in the backyard and crawled into it.
The film, “Field of Dreams” (an 87 percent rating on RottenTomatoes.com to this date) came out in 1989, based on W.P. Kinsella’s 1982 novel “Shoeless Joe.” It drew Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Score.
Mixing historical figures with a fantasy/drama vibe struck a deep nerve in many hearts and minds about the value of life, our connection to the past, and how just having a catch – feeling a ball and a glove and grass – are what makes us grounded. And why we should act upon fulfilling a dream. Five years ago, it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress, for how it falls under something we deem “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
(Back to Verducci’s SI story: He notes most MLB players have never watched the movie. Yankees manager Aaron Boone offered to screen the film for his players the night before the 2021 game. No more than five expressed interest, according to one team source, so the idea was scrapped.”)
The flick was focused on a family farm about to foreclose on a bank loan despite its owner’s intention to build a baseball field on the land because of the voices he heard.
In real life, it involved real farmer’s land – Don Lansing had one plot of it, where most of the baseball diamond would be formed, and Al Ameskamp had another that overlapped where center and left field would be. The two neighbors didn’t always have the same vision for what the land would revert to once the Hollywood crew went home. Against his wife’s wishes, Ameskamp started growing corn again; Lansing saw it as a tourist destination.
Just consider how the earth plays a role in the story.
As author Mandel notes on page 9: The field’s tenders have become unlikely soothsayers for their tribe of visitors, working an enchantment as benevolent hosts. In an attempt to capture its magic, the Carolina Mudcats of the Double A Southern League flew Don Lansing to Zebulon, North Carolina, where he sprinkled a bucket full of dirt from the Field of Dreams onto the infield of the new Five County Stadium to inaugurate the park in 1991 … Lansing’s dirt may have been magical for some 1991 Mudcats players – converted knuckleball pitcher Tim Wakefield and first baseman Kevin Young carried a little Field of Dreams dirt on their spikes all the way to the majors.
(Should we also note that Wakefield, at age 37, was part of the 2004 Boston Red Sox pitching staff that brought the city its first World Series title in a billion years?)
Mandel goes on to celebrate the fact Al and Rita Ameskamp made vials of Field of Dreams dirt available for anyone who wanted to make a small donation.
The Ameskamps, tickled by their newfound celebrity, laughed about being asked to autograph ears of corn but wouldn’t hazard a guess as to how many vials of ‘Dream Dirt’ have been purchased over the years. They proudly recalled sessions when they used a five-gallon bucket of dirt to prepare hundreds of vials at a time. The plastic containers of Iowa soil (now decorated with a tasteful ‘Dream Dirt’ logo and an affidavit of authenticity that reads, ‘This certifies that Dream Dirt is from the original left & center Field of Dreams, Dyserille, Iowa’) may be one of the most popular souvenirs for visitors. One man even ordered hundreds of vials and gave them out as favors at his wedding.”
A 1999 New York Times story pegged the vials as selling for $2 a pop, while the Lansing family was selling pickets of the original white fence for $25 each.
Al Ameskamp died in June, 2001. His wife Rita sold their property to the Lansing family in 2007. Three years later, the Lansings sold the whole parcel to a partnership led by Chicago-based entrepeuer, Denise Stillman, who suddenly died at age 46 of cancer in 2018. Hall of Famer Frank Thomas now owns a controlling interest in the ownership as of September of 2021.
The website RoadsideAmerica.com explains that people come to the site and “treat it as a shrine, happy to take a pinch of the infield dirt or snap off an ear of corn (both are officially discouraged).”
At the Field of Dreams official site, where it touts the site as “a place of fertile soil, traditional values and simple pleasure,” there is no longer dirt for sale. Instead, for $25, you can get a jar of corn kernels curated from the outfield stalks, with a certificate of authenticity.
Kinda corny. But if only there was authentic dirt to plant it in … We aren’t just going to throw into the air popper, right?
How it goes in the scorebook
Someone had to dig up some dirt about how this whole Field of Dreams thing went from Hollywood movie set to stand-alone tourist attraction.
Because dirt sells.
We’ve still got a jar of it from a Wrigley Field in Chicago from 10-plus years ago, as well as a small satchel from Doubleday Field in Cooperstown, both planted near each other on our souvenir shelf.
Collectors can also find game-used dirt embedded in fountain pens, baseball cards, coasters, watches, key chains and other sorts of objects you’d think might be better suited for the cremated ashes of a loved one.
Psst: We know a guy where you can get it cheaper. In 1987, to celebrate their 25th anniversary at Dodger Stadium, the Dodgers gave collectable tins of “Diamond Dust” to season ticket holders. It can still be found on eBay.com in the $15 range.
The Chicago White Sox’s MLB shop offers a limited edition framed photo collage of the 2021 Field of Dreams walk-off homer including “a capsule of game-used dirt.” It’s out of stock, at $79.99.
The website DreamDirt.com, which specializes in selling Iowa farmland, lists Dryersville as part of both Dubuque and Delaware counties in northeastern part of the state near the Mississippi River border. The average farmland value is about $11,500 per acre.
A guy can dream, can’t he?
You can look it up: More to ponder
== An update on where the Field of Dreams plot of land is headed.
== Dwier Brown, the actor who plays John Kinsella (the father to Kevin Costner’s Ray Kinsella), does the forward to this book, loves to point out that “Field of Dreams” has “miraculously risen to be considered the iconic movie of our generation, despite being called by Rolling Stone magazine at the time ‘the worst movie of 1989.’ For anyone who has ever enjoyed the movie and wanted to know more about it, or even those who have been confounded by its popularity, I encourage you to sit back and enjoy Brett’s wonderful, true tale of a magical movie that has left so many of us simultaneously smiling and in tears …” When Brown came out with his own book in 2014, “If You Build It … A Book About Fathers, Fate and Field Of Dreams,” we shared a lunch and talked about why this came about and the power of the film. He still offers signed copies of his book on his website and at the Baseball Hall of Fame gift store. Another keen Father’s Day gift …
== Mandel also authored the 1996 book “Minor Players, Major Dreams” (University of Nebraska Press/Bison Books, $22.95, 243 pages) based on his ability to talk owners of the single-A Ogden (Utah) Raptors, an independent team that had just been formed and joined the Pioneer League, to allow him to join the team and write a book about the minor-league experience. Ogden had been a Dodgers farm team from 2003-2020. Mandel was 25 years old at the time for that 1994 season, tired of working in Philadelphia city governance. He made it happen on the ballfield in what he calls a “Paper Lion-meets-Bull Durham tale.”
== Among the many authors that have tried to harness the magic of the film and site, Dr. Joe Cusmano self-published his own book in 1999, “If You Build It: Creating Your Own Spiritual Field Of Dreams” ($10.95, 96 pages). He writes in the intro: “Like Ray, we all need to open to the larger wonders of the universe. We need to listen to The Voice, follow our intuitions, dreams, visions and synchronicities. We all need to detect and to communicate with forms of Life that are invisible to the five-sensory personality. We all need to build our own personal version of the diamond, nature’s most precious gem. We all need to become multisensory humans … May we all learn to apply the valuable lessons of Ray Kinsella’s multisensory journey as we strive toward our own higher consciousness.”