The Field of Dreams game is returning to a corn field in Dyersville, Iowa, on Thursday night. This year, it’s the Cincinnati Reds against the Chicago Cubs, two teams that have lost a combined 128 games and are out of the race for the expanded playoffs.
No matter. Major League Baseball is hoping to recapture even a modicum of the magic from a year ago when Chicago White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson scripted a walk-off win over the New York Yankees with a homer into the tall corn stalks beyond the right field fence.
From beginning to end, it was production worthy of Hollywood, with Kevin Costner, who played Ray Kinsella in the 1989 film of the same name, emerging from the corn for a sentimental pregame ceremony.
“People ask me, ‘How’re you going to top last year?’” Murray Cook, the head of the ballpark reconstruction project for MLB, said this week when reached on site by phone. “I mean, do you have to? If it’s gold, it’s gold. It’s a great event.”
This marks the third time the 8,500-seat ballpark has been constructed for said event, at the cost of $6 million each time. (The first game, scheduled to take place in 2020, was ultimately canceled as the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged the U.S.) Cook and his crew began the reassembly on June 1.
But it won’t be back in 2023 because of construction of youth baseball facilities at the complex, Frank Thomas told the Des Moines Register. The news was confirmed by MLB. But Thomas, the Hall of Fame player who last year bought the company that owns the site, added that the game could return sometime in the not-too-distant future.
That construction would include a permanent ballpark paid in part with $12.5 million from an Iowa economic development agency fund. That grant was announced by the governor’s office Wednesday.
“There’s a lot going on,” Thomas told the Register. “They don’t want to come back if the stadium’s not prepared.”
The current baseball calendar instead highlights MLB’s plans to return to the international stage, starting with the World Baseball Classic in March 2023—delayed from 2021—and a pair of regular-season games between the Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals in London. The latter event was canceled in 2020, a year after the Yankees played the Boston Red Sox in the former Olympic Stadium.
It will be a big year for international baseball with WBC qualifiers staged this September in Panama City and Regensburg, Germany. The tournament proper, which includes Major League players, is set to open on March 8 in Taiwan and end with the championship game March 21 at loanDepot Park in Miami.
Japan’s Tokyo Dome, Chase Field in Phoenix and loanDepot Park will also host a bevy of earlier-round games.
MLB is eyeing regular-season games during the next few years in other European sites, including Paris, Amsterdam and perhaps even Berlin, in an attempt to spread the sport outside of Asia, Latin America and North America. Those decisions are being pondered right now at the highest levels of MLB.
Finding facilities for such events is an issue, but even though Cook is often called on to modify or even outright build the playing fields, he said he’s not in on those decisions.
“When they are made, I just go where they tell me,” Cook said.
For the immediate future, Cook will go from Iowa to Williamsport, Pa., where on Aug. 21 the Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles will play in the annual Little League Classic at renovated historic Bowman Field prior to the Little League World Series.
From there, it’s on to Armin-Wolf Arena in Regensburg on Sept. 16 and Rod Carew National Stadium in Panama City beginning Sept. 30 to determine the final four teams that will qualify for next year’s 20-team WBC.
In Iowa, there were obvious issues creating a ballpark adjacent to the original field used as the Field of Dreams movie site and a tourist attraction for millions in the 33 years since the original film was released.
Cook has been a mainstay in Iowa during the spring and summer months the last three years. This year he’s been on site for the past three weeks.
“I never thought I’d be playing Ray Kinsella,” Cook said.
The first thing to know is that the entire site is a working farm of thousands of acres, including the 157 acres on which the makeshift ballpark and backstage tents sit.
It’s owned and operated by the Rahe (pronounced Ray) brothers—Andy, Aaron and Adam—whose main job is raising industrial corn to sell on the open market for animal feed or fuel at $5.50 a bushel.
The brothers were little kids who grew up on the farm and watched from an upstairs window of their house as the final scenes of the epic movie were filmed.
“I think this is one of those things in life where you hit the lottery. We were lucky enough to have these fields right here,” Andy said in a video provided by Dekalb corn, which partnered with MLB as the official corn of this year’s game. Dekalb is a subsidiary of Bayer.
“Every farmer has that one field we’re super proud of. And that’s the same for us,” Aaron added.
To be sure, the brothers have been using Dekalb seeds for two decades, they said. Cook said this year they planted a hardier strain around the stadium beginning May 1. With irrigation to ward off drought conditions, the stalks should reach their zenith in time for the game, and then will be harvested come fall with the rest of the crop.
On Thursday the majestic stalks will create imagery, and by fall, they’ll generate revenue on the open market.
“It’s the fourth year here, which has given them a whole lot of corn,” Cook said.
But to the brothers it’s much more than that. The game and film set have had an economic impact on the community.
“It’s brought a lot of people to town who wouldn’t be here,” Adam said.
“When people come to town and tell us it’s fulfilled a lifelong dream, we know what they mean,” Aaron added.
Farming it has been a dream for them, too. But whether there will ever be another big league baseball harvest from these fields is now an open question.