Staging a re-enactment on the famed grounds outside of Dyersville.
By Luke Winn
From the top: The last turn before the field; posing in the corn; Ray's bench carving.
It was early on the morning after the Midwest League All-Star Game, and we were groggy and lost on the way to the Field of Dreams. I called my girlfriend, Emily, who was at work in New York, to request a Google-aided-rescue. Compared to stopping and asking for directions, it was a more private way of admitting navigational failure.
"Em, could you look up a map for me? We're in the car." "[Silence] Hmph." "To D-y-e-r-s-ville, Iowa, from Dubuque. Field of Dreams if it's listed." "[Mocking tone] Ohhhh … nice. When's that movie from, 1990?" "Eighty-nine." "And people still go. To the field." "Actually, people come to-- whatever. It's not like a pilgrimage to the set of Back to the Future II. For a lot of baseball fans this is semi-spiritual. Can you just see what highway it's on?" "Looks like … 20 West to Dyersville, to start."
We followed the signs from there, and turned left off of Lansing Road onto one of two competing Field of Dreams driveways at 10 a.m., an hour after it opened. A morning of dark skies and heavy thunderstorms, with the likelihood of more, meant the crowd was sparse. Which was wonderful; I'd built up this sporting pastoral over an extended period of time on VHS, DVD and TNT, and having to share it with a busload of elderly tourists would have soured the moment. The clouds granted us a window of dryness, and as rookies on set, we walked forth in reverential silence. My mind, however, was not at ease; it had been hung up on a vague feeling of regret since the last mile or so of the car ride.
It boiled down to this: How, exactly, is one supposed to feel when he finally makes it to the Lansing Farm -- but traveling without his dad? The film, for all its homage to baseball, is at its core about the ties between a son and his father, an emotional rekindling of the memory of throwing with pops in the yard after work. What, really, was one supposed to do? Say, "Hey, Da-- I mean, Dan … Wanna have a catch?" Not a chance. We were both carrying our gloves, so I just held out the ball, and nodded toward the field.
There are three basic acts in which you're obliged to partake at the Field of Dreams: Tossing from the mound-to-home spots is the first (we did this, and a couple on their way to the College World Series kindly snapped the photo). Second is to explore the outfield corn and experience the mild disappointment of not disappearing, either spectrally or merely from view, since it was late June and the plants were only knee-high. I took a picture of Dan in up to his shoulders, but he had to crouch to fake it, and I later had to crop out his left knee. Third is to sit on, or stand near, the first-base bleachers and jokingly recite James Earl Jones lines, all the stuff about the one constant, and people will come that gave you goose bumps the first time you heard it ... in 1989. In Davenport the previous night, the Terence Mann speech scene was played on the MediumSizedTron at John O'Donnell Stadium. It was no Moonlight Graham-at-Fenway moment, but nonetheless foreshadowing for the end of our own journey.
I sluggishly went through that trio; six days and six games, four states and umpteen servings of body-clogging stadium food had left me a bit beaten down. And then we decided to ditch our sandals in foul territory, head out into the outfield, and wake ourselves up. We started out throwing short at first, then were gunning it all the way from left field to center, chasing down fly balls and feeling the thick, wet turf as it compressed underfoot. The rain started up again, but we ignored it. I let down my cheesiness guard -- the reservations that I was a cliché tourist on the set of a 17-year-old sports movie they once sold tapes of at McDonald's -- and looked around and realized that, because of the storm, the few other visitors had cleared the diamond.
Dan and I had started at an American Legion game; moved on to colleges, minors and pros, but on the last morning, we experienced the simplest baseball sensation of all: catch -- with the Field of Dreams, for a few moments, all to ourselves. And that, I figured, was as near to road-tripping closure as we were going to get. I decided then I could cope with the fact that my father wasn't on this trek to Dyersville. The drive back was going to take a while. I'd have plenty of time to call home.