Field of Dreams
This field report was originally written when the Field of Dreams was bizarrely fragmented into two attractions.
In 1988, Hollywood built a baseball diamond for ghost players in an obscure Iowa cornfield as a set for the movie Field Of Dreams.
Today, it's still here -- and it's one of the most popular tourist attractions in Iowa.
The field straddles the property of two farmers: Al Ameskamp (who owns left and center field) and Don Lansing (who owns the infield, bleachers, house, and most everything else). This split tourist attraction has two access roads running parallel a few feet apart, and two gift shops selling virtually identical stuff.
Hollywood didn't plan very well; the result is more a schizophrenic episode than a dream -- at least after 6 PM. That's when the Lansing-owned infield and right field closes in the summer; Ameskamp's left and center field stays open until sunset. Which explains why cars are crowded on only one of the narrow dirt roads during our end-of-day visit, and why kids and dads are banished to the left and center fields. Signs politely discourage after-hours infield antics.
But we luck out. Al Ameskamp comes chugging down the left & center road on his John Deere lawn tractor. He's friendly, but understandably circumspect when it comes to discussing his odd relationship with his neighbor. Al's slightly peeved about a TV segment shot just that morning on the infield -- he wasn't invited. "We try to keep things pleasant," he says. "The field's been good to us."
Al can afford to be modest. Al and Don's gift shops are visited by over 50,000 people a year, every year, usually thirsty and hungry and eager to buy souvenir hats, sweatshirts, baseballs, and whatever else the Lansings and Ameskamps can dream up. Al's gift shop stays open until sunset too, which gives him exclusive commerce opportunities with late-day arrivals like us. "People get to their hotel 4-5 PM. -- then what?" he asks. "Whadda they gonna do, stare at four walls???"
It's a good question -- although a better one might be, "Whaddaya gonna do on a baseball field in middle-of-nowhere Iowa?" Mostly, folks just show up. Some treat the place as a shrine, content to touch the bases reverently. Others come to play ball with whoever happens to be around. A continual stream of minivans unload mitt-waving kids -- but that's just an excuse. It's really about 40-year-old Dads trying to get their second graders to operate a camcorder while they spaz around the diamond, beer guts hidden under floppy baseball jerseys.
Obviously, a significant portion of the driving public can't get enough of the Field Of Dreams. Al says he gets people who've seen the film "99 million times" and point out all the changes the Lansings have made to their landscaping, the home's paint trim, etc. It seems more popular now than in the early days, when only the Lansings commercially prospered -- and the Ameskamp concession was a self-serve wooden kiosk dispensing souvenir dirt vials.
As dusk approaches, one balding forty-something in the gift shop asks, eagerly, "When do they turn the lights on?" "They don't," replies the girl at the cash register, gesturing towards the Lansing-controlled infield lights. "The bulbs have been removed."
A sign next to a box asks everyone who picks souvenir ears of corn to please leave money.
During July and August, on the first and third Sundays of each month, a local semipro team dresses in turn-of-the-century uniforms as the Ghost Players. They hide in the cornfield that still surrounds the diamond, then walk out to toss a ball around with appreciative visitors.
In September 2007, Don and Becky Lansing finally bought out Al Ameskamp and his adjoining acreage. The Field of Dreams had at last become a single attraction. But in 2012, the Lansings sold their property to an investor with her own dream: to create a 24-diamond baseball training camp. The developer said that her plan, "All-Star Ballpark Heaven," would preserve the Field of Dreams and its corn buffer as a tourist attraction, and the Dyersville town council approved the necessary zoning changes. But neighboring farmers and folks in town are fighting the idea, and for now, at least, the Field of Dreams remains the way it's been since 1988.