Saturday, June 23, 2007

They built it, we came

I’m not a movie guy by any stretch. I go to the theater two or three times a year, and that’s typically to bring the kids to something they want to see.

So you wouldn’t think I’d be excited about checking out a movie set, much less one from a film shot nearly 20 years ago.

But I got weepy stepping on to the baseball field carved from the cornfields outside of Dyersville, Iowa last weekend.

“Field of Dreams” is more than brilliant. In my mind, it’s perfect.

I love the story, I love the cast, I love the music and I love the message. I don’t just get choked up watching the DVD, I get teary watching the special features.

It’s the rare movie that improves on the book, and W.P. Kinsella’s “Shoeless Joe” is excellent.

It’s not that I can relate totally to farmer Ray Kinsella, other than the love of baseball. My dad lives far away but we’re still close and he’s the first person I call for advice on anything and everything. And we always played catch.

I love how W.P. Kinsella weaves fact and fiction. A lot of people know that Archibald "Moonlight" Graham was a real player who played in one game and never got to bat.

But I only recently learned that all the things said about him in the movie, that he was a doctor who quietly made sure children had shoes and glasses, also was true. The obituary they read in the movie was the actual story that ran when he died. The only thing they fudged was the year he died.

And I love that when the younger Archie arrived at the field and saw the ghost players, he didn’t just find Hall of Famers, but Gil Hodges and Smoky Joe Wood, a pitcher who was fantastic until blowing out his arm.

My mother-in-law, who spoils me wildly, knows I feel this way about the movie and included a stop at the movie site as part of our adventures in Northeast Iowa with our extended family.

My football-loving brother-in-law watched the film for the first time just before the trip, and my 5-year-old nephew set the mood by whispering “If you build it, he will come” behind me throughout early legs of our trip.

Dyersville is about 25 miles outside of Dubuque, and the field is about three miles northeast of the small town. As we got close I could anticipate the turns in the road based on the trail of headlights in the final scene.

“Ray, people will come, Ray. They'll come to Iowa for reasons they can't even fathom. They'll turn up your 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.”

I had a lump in my throat when the white farmhouse came into view and we turned into the driveway.

Actually, we turned into the second driveway. There are two. The ballfield straddles two properties, and I’ve read that the neighbors don’t get along.

So the family that has the house and most of the field has a souvenir stand off to the side. And the family that owns left and centerfield operates a small store on the other side.

You’d think sensible people would be able to work this out. Not wanting to take sides, I bought things from both stands, including a vial of dirt from the field, proving I am a total sucker.

After posing for photos in the classic Faith and Fear in Flushing t-shirt, we ran out to the field. I stood in shallow centerfield turning slowly to absorb as much as I could.

It’s all there, like in the movie. The small set of bleachers, the backstop, the white house with the wraparound porch and hanging swing.

The only thing that struck me as being very different was that a utility wire hung low over the field. I don’t know if that was removed for the film or whether they just shot around it.

Another group of pilgrims was there, and a guy was lying on his back in centerfield moving like he was making snow angels. We all experience things in different ways.

My relatives said corn should be knee high by the Fourth of July This being Father’s Day, I knew it would be nowhere near as tall as in the movie. But we still marched the entire group out there for some photos.

Another visitor offered to snap a shot of our entire family on the bleachers, then took another one from a different angle as if we were looking out to the field. It was nice that other people were enjoying the adventure, too.

"Not everyone can see them."

“And they'll walk out 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'd dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick, they'll have to brush them away from their faces.”

We then recreated some of the scene’s from the movie. My daughter pretended to be Karen, the daughter who fell from the bleachers and was choking on her hot dog until Doc Graham crossed over.

"She'll be turning handsprings before you know it."

My 15-year-old reluctantly had to break out the “Hey Dad, Do you want to have a catch?” line.

We then had all sorts of fun throwing the ball around, hitting and running the bases. For some reason, first and second base were concrete and third was a traditional bag.

Being Father’s Day, I stepped on the mound and left a message for Dad with my cell phone.

We stocked up on t-shirts, bobble heads, mugs, post cards and other necessary items before heading back to Dubuque.

I’ve stood in centerfield at Tiger Stadium, Wrigley Field and Comerica Park, and wandered around foul territory at several other yards, including Shea.

And I realize that unlike those other cathedrals, no real baseball was ever played in Dyersville. But it was still special. In fact, it was…perfect.

"Hey were good!"

“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, is 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.”

In other words...

If you'd like to read our other adventures in Iowa, you can check out my work blog at Head of the Class. We also toured Galena, Ill. which stood in for Chisolm, Minn. in the movie.


Figgsrock2 said...

Great story Mets Guy. I really, REALLY have to do this trip sometime.

By the way, our new (print) issue of Zisk has an interview with the guy who was/is the frontman from Young Fresh Fellows. It should be on our blog within a week or so.

David said...

Great Story Mets Guy - I've always wanted to go there...

But the movie isn't perfect. Do I love it? Oh yeah. do I always tear up at the moment when we all realize that the catcher is Ray's father? you bet.

But this is the guy who embarrassed his wife by yelling at the screen on opening night when Shoeless Joe batted the wrong way...

See you on the CPF :-)

Bob said...

This is a wonderful write-up, Dave. My sister talks of enjoying visiting there too. I would enjoy it too, I am sure.

I am the heretic, however, when it comes to the movie. I don't think it is as great as everyone else does. Of the three Costner baseball movies, it is my least favorite. That's right, I like For the Love of the Game more. Go figure.

I am happy you and your family had a good time.

J. said...

Great blog! Having moved to southeast Iowa from Grand Rapids about 3 years ago and being a die-hard Mets fan, I can relate. Now I need to make the 2-hr trip up to Dyersville.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful recount. I too visited the Field of Dreams, but it was many years ago, and it wasn't as commercial as it is now, I don't think. Although they did have tee shirts, which of course I bought and still have.

It was really almost eerie, standing in the field, looking at the very familiar house, and watching the corn blow in the wind. I was there later in the year, and the corn was as high as in the movie.i

At the time, they were afraid the site wouldn't survive. They were taking contributions, hoping to save it, because otherwise someone was threatening to plant corn over the outfield. Maybe that was the second owner? There wasn't a second souvenir place back then. All I can say, is that I'm glad it didn't happen, and that Field of Dreams continues to live on.

Mets Guy in Michigan said...

Thanks, guys!

David, I know the thing about Ray Liotta batting from the wrong side bums some people out. I'm a uniform guy, and I'm tempted to subtract points for Moonlight not wearing a design the Giants ever wore. Little issues, but stuff us diehards care about.

Bob, "Love of the Game" isn't my fave, but it's OK, especially beating the Yankees!

J. -- Sounds like you live near the Quad Cities, home of one of the most beautiful minor league parks out there!

J. said...

Actually, I live just north of Iowa City. I'll be going to a Cedar Rapids Kernels game Friday night with my son and then camping in the outfield after the game for Cub Scouts.

Oh, and if you're a uniform guy, you absolutely need to check out (if you haven't already).

Dan in Texas said...

Great Piece Dave, makes me want to break out the DVD right now. I too tear up durring that movie and I have always wanted to make the trip.

The James Earl Jones aka Terrence Mann lines get me everytime!

Great Work!

GaryG said...

Sure it's a corny (bad pun) story. But it doesn't make it any less enjoyable. And on a beautiful sunny day, what's cooler than visiting the Field of Dreams? Thanks for reminding us all of that special place, Dave.