"People will come, Ray.”
The words are about as legendary as any in the history of cinema. James Earl Jones, in the role of reclusive author Terence Mann in the 1989 film Field of Dreams, tells the movie’s main character, Kevin Costner’s Ray Kinsella, that the fantasy at the heart of the film could prove true.
“They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom,” Mann continues in Jones’ unmistakable baritone from a set of wooden bleachers on the first-base side of the baseball diamond that Kinsella built on his Iowa farm. “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. … 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 that could be again.
“Oh, people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come.”
Mann’s prediction proves to be accurate at the end of the movie, which is based on W.P. Kinsella’s novel, Shoeless Joe. After risking it all to build a baseball field in the middle of a cornfield -- because he believed that he was instructed to by the ghosts of deceased ballplayers -- Kinsella is rewarded. Throughout the second half of the movie, the long-dead baseball stars -- including members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox team that famously threw the World Series and had eight of its players banned from the game for life -- make their way out of the cornfield that surrounds the outfield to relive their youth and capture moments on the diamond that were inevitably lost. For three decades, the emotion has overwhelmed the movie’s fans as much as the chance to play ball again did for the ghosts of baseball past.
“Is this heaven?” asks “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, portrayed by Ray Liotta.
“No,” Kinsella responds to the most famous player on the 1919 White Sox. “It’s Iowa.”
Before the movie ends, Kinsella is joined on the field by a youthful version of his father, a man who had died years before and is finally able to enjoy that elusive catch with his son on the Iowa diamond. The ultimate reward -- and Kinsella’s redemption -- comes in the form of a traffic jam; droves of people travel along the most rural roads imaginable to watch baseball on Kinsella’s field of dreams. The people do, indeed, come. It’s quite the Hollywood ending, and something that could have only seemed fantastical three decades ago.
Thirty-two years after that fictional catch between the Kinsella generations, three buses make their way along roads surrounded only by cornfields, working farms and the bright blue sky en route to the very place where the movie was filmed. A few minutes after 1 p.m. on Aug. 12, the 2021 Yankees players, coaches and traveling party make their final turn from Lansing Road onto Field of Dreams Way, which leads to the field at the heart of the film. As dirt from the road kicks into the air, superstars such as Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, as well as the team’s most unheralded rookies, take photos and record the last part of the ride, including the line of fans taking video and still photos of the big league visitors.
The buses continue past the movie site, which hosts more than 100,000 visitors annually. But the Yankees are in Iowa to christen an altogether new attraction, a newly constructed ballpark about a quarter-mile down that dirt road. For the first time ever, an official Major League Baseball game will be played in the state of Iowa.
Originally, the Yankees were set to square off against the Chicago White Sox in the MLB at Field of Dreams game in 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic pushed back the date of the game, but on a scorching hot day amid the cornfields, all of the pent-up excitement that lived inside fans and players for more than a year -- to say nothing of the previous three decades -- is about to come out.
The buses finally stop behind a giant tent, which sits on the first-base side of the 8,000-seat ballpark. Manager Aaron Boone gets off the first bus and walks along a muddy path that takes him to the visiting clubhouse within the tent. He quickly drops his bag in the visiting manager’s office, a small carpeted room holding only a chair, folding table, TV and vanity mirror. From there, Boone makes his way out to the dugout before any of his players. He takes a close look at the back wall of the dugout, constructed from salvaged barn planks.
“I couldn’t wait to get a sneak peek,” Boone says, peering out onto the field. “This is so cool.”
Moments later, Boone and his players are all on the field together for a team photo in their throwback road gray uniforms. Simply in awe of the backdrop -- which features an expansive cornfield that connects the Major League ballpark with the field on the movie set, as well as a 30-foot-high, barn-shaped batter’s eye located just beyond the center-field wall -- many of the players take their time getting out to right field. There, they assemble in front of a manual scoreboard made out of repurposed wood from a barn.
All the elements are unique, and perfect for the setting and the intended message. The green chain-link fence ringing the outfield sits so close to the cornfield that the afternoon breeze actually blows leaves from the corn stalks through the openings. At a glance, it almost looks like there isn’t even a wall, just corn as far as the eye can see.
After the photo is taken, the team is invited to take a journey back in time. One by one, they walk through an opening in the fence and into the cornfield behind the wall for what is, at least for one night, a Major League field of dreams.
Just like the characters in the movie, the players disappear into the cornfield. But in the real-life version of Field of Dreams, they come to an opening that brings them past a giant maze in the shape of Major League Baseball’s silhouetted batter logo. None of the players accept the challenge of getting through the maze; instead they continue their journey into another dense area of cornstalks where they are met with whispers from the movie’s ghosts, originating from small speakers hidden in the cornstalks.
Soon, the ballplayers begin to emerge on the other side of reality. With seemingly the same enthusiasm that the characters exuded in the movie, the stars of today take it all in.
Stanton and Luke Voit grab ears of corn and put them in their back pockets. Aroldis Chapman totes some of Iowa’s finest corn out to the mound, where he pretends it’s a baseball, while Gerrit Cole hustles over to the first-base bleachers where several of the movie’s most important scenes were shot. Cole sits down on the top row of the small wooden boards and is quickly joined by Jordan Montgomery and Jameson Taillon.
“This really is a special place,” Cole says. “I’ve seen the movie a bunch of times, and it’s hard to believe that I’m sitting here. To say that this is surreal would be quite an understatement.”
From first base, Brett Gardner snaps photos of the white house that served as the Kinsellas’ home. He points toward the kitchen window that overlooks the field.
“Man, can you imagine waking up every morning and having this view while you’re making coffee,” Gardner says. “It’s hard not to feel the charm of this place. Between the beautiful scenery surrounding the field and just the atmosphere in the area on this field, it’s an amazing place.”
The two-story farmhouse sits on a hill about 50 yards from the field, and it’s surrounded by a short rock wall and a white picket fence. It sits next to a red barn, and the interior of the house hasn’t changed much since 1989. From the wispy sheer curtains and outdated television that sits on the living room floor to the 50-plus-year-old stove that gives the kitchen a throwback feel, it’s hard not to feel nostalgic.
“I’m just in awe,” Gardner says. “I’m very excited to be here. It’s cool to take this all in. I’m looking forward to the game and the atmosphere. I’m so happy we could come here and pull this off.”
As the team’s 20-minute respite from reality draws to a close, Judge trails most of his teammates on their way back to the cornfield -- and back to the Major League ballpark. In a scene straight out of the movie, the Yankees fade into the cornfield.
“It’s amazing to walk through that corn,” Judge says as he approaches the outfield.
“I feel like everything is in slow motion, just like it was for those legends in the movie. This is incredible. Even driving up and seeing everyone in the towns waving at us was something we’re going to remember. This is going to be a fun night and a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I wish we could play three games here. We’re going to try to enjoy it and put on a show for the fans.”
After the White Sox, wearing throwback uniforms from 1919, tour the movie site, fans begin to arrive. Thousands of people -- many of them Iowa residents -- pour in when the gates open at 3 p.m. They park in fields located on either side of Lansing Road, as part of a deal that Major League Baseball made with the Reittinger family that owns the land adjacent to the film location.
“They were accommodating, and they really understood that this event is bigger than their family,” Major League Baseball director of events and scheduling Jeremiah Yolkut says on the morning of the game. “They worked hard beginning in February to plant the right kind of alfalfa so that the ground would be as solid as it could be, even with a lot of rain.”
The backstory regarding the farm where the movie was filmed and where Iowa’s first Major League game was set to be played is much more complex and emotional. And the similarities to the plot of Field of Dreams are stunning.
In 2012, Denise Stillman, a loyal White Sox fan and businesswoman from the Chicago suburbs, led a group of investors who bought the land from the Lansing family, owners of the farm for more than a century. Stillman’s original idea was to turn the site into a youth baseball and softball complex -- reminiscent of the facility in Cooperstown, New York, that draws travel teams from around the country for youth tournaments -- but executing that plan proved to be far too difficult. Lawsuits from local farmers determined to limit traffic and maintain the “farm country” atmosphere in the town of approximately 4,000 people delayed Stillman’s plans for four years.
Although the Iowa Supreme Court ruled in Stillman’s favor in 2016, the lost time and stresses proved to be significant. Stillman and her husband divorced, and key investors dropped out. Then, with her financial losses mounting -- not unlike those of the fictional Ray Kinsella -- Stillman came up with the idea of hosting a Major League game on the farm.
Stillman, who remarried in 2016, pushed the idea on Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred, even inviting him to the 193-acre parcel that she and her group purchased for $3.4 million, according to the Chicago Tribune. The idea resonated with the Commissioner and his top lieutenants, whose efforts toward growing the sport included scheduling games in other non-traditional locations such as London; Fort Bragg, North Carolina; and Williamsport, Pennsylvania (home of the Little League World Series).
The deal to bring a Major League game to the tiny Iowa town, situated 20 miles west of the Mississippi River, took years to complete. Sadly, Stillman passed away in November 2018 from a rare form of liver cancer. According to her surviving husband, Tom Mietzel, and her two children, Stillman knew prior to her death that the game was going to eventually happen.
“She was ecstatic,” her daughter, Claire Stillman, told the Chicago Tribune earlier this summer. “I’m very grateful that she got to know that it was going to happen before she passed.”
“It was so cool for me to see so much of my mother’s vision come to life finally,” Stillman’s son, John, said in the same Tribune story. “I know all that she went through and all the time she sacrificed. She’d be very proud of everything that happened.”
Knowing that the field on the movie site was too small -- its left-field line extends just 300 feet from home plate -- Major League Baseball went to work on conceiving and constructing a popup stadium a few acres from the field made famous in the film. Having invested millions into the construction, MLB is determined not to let the MLB at Field of Dreams Game be a one-time event; already, the league announced that the Cubs will play the Reds (the team that benefited from the 1919 White Sox’s chicanery) next year.
“All things considered, I think things went pretty smooth,” Chris Marinak, chief operations and strategy officer at Major League Baseball, says of building the field. “We had to build a Major League field in the middle of a cornfield. We had to put drainage in; it’s not like we just had to level some corn and put in a mound. There was a lot of work that went into putting the field together. We have a great field construction group, and we’re really excited that this came together.”
Among the greatest joys for Marinak and the whole crew at MLB, though, was making sure that the game -- despite the influx of national media and major corporate sponsors -- could be enjoyed and celebrated by the locals.
“We had a lot of requests from the clubs and our partners,” Marinak says. “But 100 percent of the remaining ticket inventory went to local Iowa residents. We felt like that was important because one of our strategies behind this game was to bring baseball to communities that don’t get to watch the game live. We’re excited to bring this game to Iowa.”
In the hours before the first pitch, fans fill any empty blade of grass on the movie site. Fathers and mothers play catch with their children, just like John and Ray Kinsella. Photos are taken, and once-in-a-lifetime memories are made. Alongside scores of fans, and hired stand-ins for the 1919 White Sox, the Commissioner of Major League Baseball takes it all in.
“We want to be able to tell the story of baseball; that’s why we wanted to play these games,” Manfred says from the bleachers along the first-base line. “As soon as you watch that movie, you feel the power that baseball brings to families and to communities. It transcends the product on the field. That’s what is so special about baseball; it brings people together. It has a history and tradition that no other sport has. We felt like part of the storytelling of this game needed to have an integration with the movie. So many of the elements you see here at the facility are designed to do that. Having people play catch on the field and walk through the cornfield really brings that to life.”
“I feel like this field always has a magical feeling,” Dwier Brown, the actor who played John Kinsella, says as he watches families re-enact his famous catch from the movie’s conclusion. “This has become a hallowed place, and this game has taken it to another level. We didn’t realize when we filmed that scene that it was going to be such a beautiful, cathartic moment for so many people. I wasn’t aware of the impact that my small part was going to have, but I’m glad it came out well.”
With the excitement building, fans make a pilgrimage into the cornfield that connects both fields. They walk along a dirt path, which would later be illuminated with lightbulbs that strung along the tops of the large cornstalks.
Those who head to their seats too early miss out on Costner’s return to the field he made famous. “This is perfect,” the Academy Award winner says. “You always want things to overdeliver, and this certainly has. I’m glad that after we were done filming the movie, no one was in a rush to tear down the field. There’s so much perfectly good corn around here. I couldn’t imagine why they would take down this great place to play, just to plant more corn. I’m just so happy the field has remained here, especially today.”
In the film, the ghosts of the White Sox players speak to Ray Kinsella, or so he thinks. “If you build it,” Kinsella hears, “he will come.” Kinsella built it, and they came to rural Iowa.
In the real-life version of Field of Dreams, Denise Stillman’s dream of building a Major League ballpark on her farm came true in 2019, and when the game finally takes place two years later, more than 8,000 people come to Dyersville, Iowa. Every inch of seating in the newly built stadium is filled before the pomp and circumstance begins.
“Our imaginations are infinite,” Costner says as he walks through the corn in a video shown on the screen beyond left field. “Sculpting a baseball diamond from a farmer’s field in Iowa. Longing for summer as seasons are painted on its canvas. Once this game and this land touches you, the wind never blows so hard again.
“I’m Kevin Costner, and on this field, we once made a movie about dreams of baseball and years gone by and much more. A tale of love, family, character. The treasure of a single day. America has embraced the heroes of our youth for over a century. Those who ran on grass so green it took your breath away. Touching bases as white as clouds. Tonight, we pause time. In the warmth of August, two Major League teams gift us a forever moment. The White Sox, the Yankees, come to our field of dreams and play ball.”
As Costner’s video introduction concludes, he emerges from the cornstalks behind the right-field fence. Slowly, ponderously, he walks to shallow center field. With a baseball in his hand, and with the theme music from the film echoing throughout the ballpark, Costner turns toward the right-field wall.
Seconds later, both teams emerge from the corn, with Judge, Stanton and Joey Gallo among the first out. As the players head toward their respective baselines, many of them stop to greet Costner.
“Thirty years ago, on the other side of that corn, we filmed a movie that stood the test of time,” Costner says into a microphone set up near the mound. “Tonight, thanks to the enduring impact that this little movie had, it has allowed us to come here again, but now on a field that Major League Baseball built. We’ve come to see the first-place White Sox play the mighty Yankees on a field that was once corn. It’s perfect. We’ve kept our promise. Major League Baseball has kept its promise. The dream is still alive.
“There’s probably just one question to answer: Is this heaven? Yes, it is. This field is for the players. Good luck today.”
Two hours before the first pitch, Judge speaks candidly about what it means to participate in the MLB at Field of Dreams Game.
“As a kid, you dream of the chance to play Major League Baseball and you watch certain movies and fairy tales,” he says. “Getting the chance to actually be at the Field of Dreams and play a game here and getting to represent the Yankees here, never in my life did I think I’d ever experience this.
“I hope I hit one into the corn. That would be pretty amazing.”
In addition to the fans packed into the ballpark, there are plenty more eyes watching. The game averages 5.9 million viewers across Fox and Fox Deportes, making it the most-watched regular-season baseball broadcast on any network since 2005.
So with baseball lovers and cinephiles tuning in, the long wait finally ends when Chicago starter Lance Lynn throws the game’s first pitch to DJ LeMahieu. With the count full, the Yankees second baseman gets the first hit in a Major League game in the state of Iowa.
But the White Sox retaliate quickly. First baseman José Abreu gives Chicago the lead when he faces Yankees starter Andrew Heaney in the bottom of the frame and reaches the corn, the first of eight long balls on the night.
In the third, Judge gets his wish, launching a three-run homer several yards into the cornstalks beyond the right-field wall off Lynn to put the Yankees up, 3-1.
The Yankees’ lead would vanish quickly, though. Chicago scores four runs in the third and two more in the fourth. With his team trailing, 7-3, Gardner leads off the sixth with a solo home run to right. But after that, Chicago’s bullpen keeps the Yankees off the scoreboard until the ninth.
Although seemingly unimaginable, the drama that takes place in the last inning is in many ways as awe-inspiring as what took place in the hours before first pitch. With two outs and trailing, 7-4, Judge comes to the plate. Facing Chicago closer Liam Hendriks, Judge hits his second home run of the night, this one plating shortstop Tyler Wade and bringing the Yankees within one run. Gallo follows with a walk, and Stanton steps into the batter’s box with a chance to bring the Yankees all the way back.
The Yankees’ slugger comes out swinging. He drives the first offering he sees from Hendriks over the left-field wall and into the cornstalks. Suddenly, the Yankees are ahead, 8-7.
“This one just felt different from anything I’ve ever experienced,” Stanton says later. “It’s definitely up there in the special experiences I’ve had in baseball.”
The Yankees have seemingly authored a comeback for the ages, but in the end, reliever Zack Britton can’t close things out. He yields a one-out walk to Chicago catcher Seby Zavala on a 3-2 pitch, and All-Star Tim Anderson follows with a two-run walk-off home run. The shortstop’s home run marks the White Sox’s 15th-ever walk-off homer against the Yankees. The first, fittingly, was hit by Shoeless Joe, just a few months before the 1919 World Series.
Maybe the ghosts of the old White Sox players intervened, willing Stillman’s beloved White Sox to victory. But whether there was something bigger at play or the outcome was simply a product of two teams refusing to give up until there were no more chances to hit, the event was still a dream come true for so many people, reminding us of all that once was good, and that could be again.