Mike Dollar had a faraway look as he watched his wife, Laura, hit baseballs to their son, Jesse, who fielded them at shortstop in an Atlanta Braves T-shirt. Abby, their daughter, played catcher. The sun was bright, the sky was clear and the cornstalks were waving in the breeze.
“They really captured the purity of it,” said Dollar, who had driven 1,448km from their home in Georgia so they could frolic here. “This field, we’d hate to see it change.”
Change, it turns out, comes creepingly at the Field of Dreams Movie Site. In the film Field of Dreams, a farmer hears a voice telling him to build a baseball diamond in his cornfield so the ghosts of the disgraced 1919 Chicago White Sox can return to play.
The movie so touched a chord that since its 1989 release, hundreds of thousands of fans have come to this corner of Iowa to run the bases, walk in the cornfields and soak up the feel of the place, which looks much as it did in the film. Retired major leaguers like George Brett, Lou Brock, Catfish Hunter and Kirby Puckett have been here. Politicians on the campaign trail have stopped by. Kevin Costner, a star of the film, returned with his band in 2006.
In essence, Universal Studios built it and they came.
However, on Sunday, Don and Becky Lansing, the owners of the 78 hectare farm that includes the field, announced that they are selling their property to an investment group led by a couple from the Chicago area. The group plans to keep the field as it is, but also to build a dozen other fields and an indoor center for youth baseball and softball tournaments.
For the Lansings, who have no children, it is a bittersweet transaction. The property has been in the family for more than a century and Don grew up in the two-bedroom house featured in the movie. The couple tended the grounds, gave tours and sold souvenirs. They spurned offers to commercialize the site and tried to maintain their privacy even as each year 65,000 visitors from around the world pulled into their driveway.
However, Don, 68, who retired from his job at John Deere, and Becky, 58, decided that they had done as much as they could. They listed the property in May last year for US$5.4 million. Some local residents said they were asking too much, given the value of farmland and the weak economy. The Lansings wanted to sell only to someone who would preserve the authenticity of the field, which has been free to visitors.
“We really have been aware all these years that the field has to grow in some capacity,” Becky said. “We have done what we needed to do with the field. We nurtured and protected it and allowed the field to become all it is meant to be.”
After considering many offers, and even inviting Costner to bid on the property, the Lansings settled on Mike and Denise Stillman, who assembled a group called Go the Distance Baseball, borrowing a line from the movie. The parties did not disclose the sale price.
The Stillmans plan to leave the field much as it was when Ray Liotta portrayed Shoeless Joe Jackson there. The bleachers erected by Ray Kinsella, Costner’s character, will continue to stand near first base. The white house with the wraparound porch and the white picket fence will still overlook the field.
However, on the property away from the movie site, the Stillmans plan to build a complex called All-Star Ballpark Heaven. Having watched their son and daughter play baseball and softball, they believe demand is strong for sports centers like those run by Cal Ripken Jr.