MiLB at Field of Dreams gameday journal
DYERSVILLE, Iowa -- "If you write it, they will read." As I traveled into Iowa, marveling at the grandeur of the mighty Mississippi, this sentiment echoed through my head. Whether a ghostly transmission or a convenient manifestation of my subconscious, it matters not. Cinematic inspiration is everywhere today, as the
DYERSVILLE, Iowa -- "If you write it, they will read."
As I traveled into Iowa, marveling at the grandeur of the mighty Mississippi, this sentiment echoed through my head. Whether a ghostly transmission or a convenient manifestation of my subconscious, it matters not. Cinematic inspiration is everywhere today, as the Davenport Blue Sox will host the Cedar Rapids Bunnies in the inaugural MiLB at Field of Dreams game.
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The game begins at 7 p.m. ET, but I'll roaming the cornfields from the early afternoon until after the final out. This gameday journal will be updated throughout, filled with delectable kernels of on-the-ground reportage. Expect to hear from players, team employees and, perhaps above all, the fans who made a special effort to attend this special evening of baseball.
Speaking of special efforts, myself and my colleagues Sam Dykstra and Kelsie Heneghan drove to Iowa from New York City and made plenty of baseball-themed stops along the way. Check out my Twitter thread chronicling the trip here, and Sam Dykstra's road trip journal here.
12-3 p.m. CST: Getting the lay of the land
It's a beautiful day in Dyersville, Iowa. Temperature in the high 70s, a slight breeze, fluffy clouds hovering atop the verdant fields of green. If the weather hadn't cooperated, this day would have been a literal slog. When it rains in the fields, everything becomes muddy. An 8,000-capacity stadium doesn't provide much cover, so the fans would be soaked and it might've taken a four-wheel drive to get out of the parking lot.
So, first thought is gratitude for the beautiful day. Then it's time to soak it in, thankful not to be soaked. The path from the parking lot leads first to the movie site, where visitors can have a catch on the baseball field and make their own attempt to emerge from the cornfield with grace and gravitas. These surroundings are familiar. It's where the voices were heard, leading to mystical connections with the ghosts of baseball past. To reach baseball's present, one walks through the cornfield, literally. The movie site's outfield includes a path that leads to the Field of Dreams stadium, where tonight's game will take place.
The Quad Cities River Bandits arrive to the ballpark first, having been accompanied by a police escort. Tonight they'll play as the Davenport Blue Sox. Their Midwest League counterparts, the Cedar Rapids Kernels, arrive roughly 30 minutes later. The Kernels play as the Bunnies tonight. It is not lost on me that the most corn-centric team in Minor League Baseball are changing their name on the night they play in an actual cornfield.
Right now Quad Cities is taking batting practice. The period details only extend so far. As players take their hacks, the stadium DJ is blasting Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill." But, hey, that song's a throwback in its own right, made newly popular by "Stranger Things." Everything old is new again.
4 p.m. CST: On the field
During the hours leading up to the game, everything on the field is in flux. Media and MLB employees mingle about the perimeter, along with VIP guests granted special access. The players take batting practice, stretch and do fielding drills. The sound system blares bass-heavy music. The sun beats down mercilessly, making me realize just how badly my face will be burned at the end of the day. I was glad to have the field-level vantage point, but there were more places to explore. Time to move on.
Current scene in Dyersville, two hours before game time pic.twitter.com/KwQrTwq2gk— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) August 9, 2022
4:30 p.m. CST: Seeing Ghosts
Earlier in the day, I noticed a group of baseball players wandering around the "Field of Dreams" movie site. They were wearing vintage white pinstriped uniforms, and I initially mistook them for stray members of the Davenport Blue Sox. Reader, they were not. Once the gates opened and the area was swarming with fans, these baseball players were still there. Many were posing for pictures; some were playing catch with fans. Upon closer inspection, I noticed most were much older than your average High-A Minor League players. And they were wearing 1919 Chicago White Sox uniforms. So, what gives?
These men are ghosts. Ghost Players, specifically, a group of amateur baseball players and performers with a very interesting backstory. Over 30 years ago, shortly after "Field of Dreams" came out, a local man named Keith Rahe had an idea. He and some friends dressed in full uniform one Saturday and emerged from the cornfield, surprising those who were simply visiting the movie site. Some of the children in attendance literally thought they were ghosts. Word spread of their unscheduled appearance, so they returned the next week. The audience continued to grow. One thing led to another and they developed a comedy routine and went on perform all over the world.
"People came every weekend, and organic thing that grew because Keith came out and played catch with people," said Ghost Player Larry Schieltz. "It's one of the reasons I think the field still exists today."
Larry introduced me to Marv Meyers, one of the original Ghosts. My conversation with him will be the focus of an upcoming MiLB.com story.
5 p.m. CST: Mingling with the fans
After entering the Field of Dreams site, fans take a short pathway that veers upward and to the right. The first employees they meet are program vendors and a woman repeating the enticing refrain of "Free corn on the cob, this way." (Courtesy of the Dekalb Sweet Corn stand). I am immediately struck by how many people are wearing Minor League Baseball hats and t-shirts, particularly those of the Cedar Rapids Kernels (the visiting team, technically). Fathers and sons are playing catch, as are just about any other family member configuration you can think of. Down the right-field line, there are several games of cornhole going on, although these are perhaps less emotionally resonant.
Amid this festive scene, I queried fans as to who they were and why they were here. A sampling:
Aaron and Randy, just prior to having a catch pic.twitter.com/62bXb4nkD4— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) August 9, 2022
6:08 p.m.: Play Ball!
I've been at the ballpark for six hours somehow. Now, finally, it's time for Dyersville's first Minor League Baseball game. Blue Sox pitcher Chandler Champlain strikes out Alerick Soularie to start the proceedings, and we're off!
7:30 p.m.: Dining in Dyersville
Free ears of corn are a good appetizer, but culinary offerings at the Field of Dreams go well beyond the area's most well-known foodstuff. The concession area, located beyond the left-field corner, is massive. A regular order of deep-fried cheese curds goes for $9, but a bucket can be obtained for $18. Other regional specialties include tenderloin sandwiches and deep-fried Oreos (an Iowa State Fair favorite). Perhaps the most "left-field" item are cheesecake chimichangas, yours for the low, low price of $8.
My normal routine when I'm at a ballpark is to recruit a Designated Eater, whose job is to eat the ballpark cuisine my gluten-free diet prohibits. I didn't do that for this game, as I wasn't sure I'd have the time. But I did run into Chris Lamberth, a sports architecture professional who provided a review (and photo) of the meal he'd had earlier in the game.
An Eisenberg all-beef hot dog, corn dog and deep-fried cheese curds. pic.twitter.com/FmIEZd6DWT— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) August 10, 2022
A final word on Field of Dreams food: The line to get a funnel cake was very, very long. A man wearing a Ghost Players uniform offered me the following unsolicited advice: "Do yourself a favor and don't have a kid who grows up to love funnel cake."
8:15 p.m. (or thereabouts): Rolling toward the finish
This often happens when you're covering a game, especially when you're not paying particular attention to what happens on the field: It all goes by really fast.
I was back in the press box for a jubilant organ rendition of the seventh-inning stretch, I remember that much.
Stretch time in the Field of Dreams pic.twitter.com/5Y6GCySjDa— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) August 10, 2022
The game itself belonged to the Davenport Blue Sox, who scored two runs in the first inning and never looked back en route to an easy 7-2 victory over the hopless Bunnies. When the final out was secured, it wasn't even dark yet. As I type this now, it's a little after 9 p.m. The grounds grew is raking the infield and tamping down the mound. Fans are streaming through the corn field en route to the parking lot. Stadium workers are cleaning up the press box. A sense of calm prevails, presided over by the supermoon glowing brightly over the first-base side of the ballpark.
Goodnight from the land of dreams.
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.