DYERSVILLE, Iowa — Looking out from the stands behind home plate of the roughly 8,000-seat stadium in the small town of Dyersville, you’ll see a view unlike any other in Major League Baseball.
If you look just outside the actual ballpark, you’ll see a video board in left field, a barn-like structure that holds the cameras used to capture views of the park from the outfield in center, and a manual scoreboard in right. Look beyond the right-field fence, and you’ll see the farmhouse and baseball diamond used in the filming of the titular 1989 movie.
And if you gaze over beyond the left and center-field fences… well, you’ll see corn. Lots and lots of corn.
So much corn, in fact, that the fields surrounding the ballpark stretch as far as the eye can see.
No, this isn’t any old major league park. And no, this isn’t heaven.
It’s the site of the Field of Dreams game, where the Cubs beat the Reds, 4-2, in the second edition of the MLB event Thursday night in front of a small, sellout crowd.
As much as the Cubs enjoy the atmosphere of a capacity crowd at Wrigley Field, there was just something about this game that felt special the second they stepped off the bus. They went in the makeshift clubhouse right behind the stands a little past 1 p.m. and walked on the field wearing throwback uniforms about 25 minutes later.
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As they moved toward the cornfield beyond the right-field fence, out came the cell phones. If you follow enough players and coaches on Instagram, you probably got a few notifications as some of them went live to give their view of the ballpark.
It was the kind of setting that allowed the Cubs to remember what it means to just play baseball. Nico Hoerner said it had a college baseball-like atmosphere with how close and intimate the stands were (but also where he could visibly see a horse from shortstop during the game, a sight he’s likely never experienced before). Drew Smyly, the Cubs’ starting pitcher on Thursday night, talked about finding himself gazing out at the cornfields that appeared to go on forever.
“It’s just something I’ve never seen before,” Smyly said. “Just think about sitting here in a major league dugout trying to pitch a game for the Cubs, and all I’m looking at is endless cornfields. That’s what I’m saying. It’s an image that I’ll always remember. It was awesome. It was a great experience.”
It was also the kind of setting that allowed them to feel like kids out there again.
There was a path leading from the field to the movie site, and along the way, there were cutouts of a number of the players. Some of them stopped to take pictures with the wooden planks featuring their likeness. Others moved along toward the house that was the Kinsellas’ home in the film, snapping photos as they stood on the porch. Patrick Wisdom couldn’t help but get into a game of bags (they call it cornhole, but whatever).
Marcus Stroman, acting as an unofficial team photographer on his off-day, went around capturing images of his teammates as they enjoyed themselves in the same outfield the legendary characters walked through toward the diamond after emerging from the corn in the movie.
“I’m trying to get just some candids of my guys, just enjoying the element,” Stroman said. “Obviously, the aesthetic, the corn field, just the whole atmosphere. Just trying to capture the vibe of where I’m at, really, through my lens, which is different from anybody else.”
It wasn’t just the players who got to feel like they were Little Leaguers hopping off the team bus to play a game again. Even manager David Ross had himself a moment where his inner child took over as the group met in front of the scoreboard for the team picture.
“We hit the field, and I don’t know, I just kind of got the urge to run,” Ross said with a laugh. “So I ran to our team photo. Just one of those moments that you step foot out there, you feel like a kid.”
That’s what the Field of Dreams does to people. Again, it’s a setting you won’t find in any of the 27 cities hosting the 30 MLB teams.
But it’s a spectacle that, so far, only four major league teams have gotten to experience. For any teams lucky enough to be invited in the future, rest assured, they’ll take the time to appreciate the effect this game and this event has on anyone and everyone involved.
Unlike last season’s game, Kevin Costner — who played the main character in the film, Ray Kinsella — wasn’t the first person to emerge from the corn for the pregame festivities.
Instead, it was Ken Griffey Jr. and his dad, Ken Griffey Sr., two former Reds stars far removed from their playing days. And, rather than Costner delivering the iconic “Is this heaven?” line from the film, Jr. went with the just as memorable but much more debated question, asking Sr., “Hey dad, you want to have a catch?”
As the father-son duo began to play catch — Ross joked that he told Jr., a former teammate of his, that it was the first time he’d ever seen him hit a cutoff man — other families walked out of the corn to throw baseballs around, before the players from both teams took their expected turns to make their entrances from out of the tall stalks surrounding the field. Joining them were a collection of Hall of Famers on both sides; the Cubs were represented by Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins, Andre Dawson, Ryne Sandberg and Lee Smith, while the Reds, along with Griffey Jr., strolled out Johnny Bench and Barry Larkin.
The teams playing the game may also be ones who are fighting each other to stay out of last place in the division, but that didn’t take away from the storybook feel of the event. For all the things that MLB does to get in its own way, you have to give credit where credit is due: the league has figured out the formula to putting on a good show in Dyersville.
Unless, of course, you take into account the seventh-inning stretch.
In what was surely a well-intentioned move to honor legendary Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray, the hologram just didn’t work. From this point of view at the ballpark, everything seemed to go well:
Caray’s voice boomed over the PA system, and the fans followed along by singing the words and root, root, rooting for the Cubbies (at least the Cubs fans did). But on the broadcast, it seemed to be a mess. At best, it was weird. If you took a look at Twitter around that time, almost nobody was happy with how it turned out.
The Cubs do it right at Wrigley, where they’ll often play a video of Caray singing the stretch that works exactly as it’s intended. On Thursday, the awkward hologram was the biggest mistake of the night.
But that’s probably the only negative to come from the game. Regardless of the fact that it lacked World Series contenders and a Hollywood, walk-off ending, MLB treated it like the event it was supposed to be. That’s the biggest positive of all. Despite the fact that there won’t be another Field of Dreams game in 2023, it feels like we can be confident in MLB’s ability to put together another event worthy of being played in Dyersville when it does make its return.
If there was one player who was most excited to take part in the festivities, it was Nick Madrigal.
Even if he wasn’t dealt from the White Sox to the Cubs at last year’s trade deadline, a season-ending hamstring tear last June wouldn’t have allowed him to actually participate in the game, when the South Siders beat the Yankees, 9-8, on a walk-off, two-run homer by Tim Anderson. But had he not been traded, he could’ve been there to experience the event. The trade, then, was the one thing that stood in his way.
Well, at least it only stood in his way for a year.
As soon as the Cubs were announced as one of the two teams playing in the second iteration of the Field of Dreams game, Madrigal was ecstatic. He’d only have to wait 12 more months to get another chance at making the trip to Dyersville. And even though injuries have taken their toll on him this season, they didn’t stop him being the first batter to step in the box Thursday night.
“All year long, I was looking forward to this game,” Madrigal said. “I was fortunate enough to see that the Cubs are going there the next year [after the trade]. I was bummed not to make it last year. It was something I was looking forward to.”
Said Ross: “Nick probably has a little extra incentive here and enjoyment to be able to take part in this and be on the field. A tough road back for him. Even this year, the ups and downs of the season. He’s been a big part of our success as of late. Looks like the guy that, when he’s healthy, we’ve seen. I think he’s as excited as anybody.”
By the end of the night, Madrigal had led the way offensively as the Cubs took out the Reds and helped the city of Chicago remain undefeated in Field of Dreams games. He ended the contest 3-for-5 with an RBI and a stolen base, which made it only his second three-hit game this season and only the second time in his career in which he had at least three base knocks, knocked in at least one run and swiped at least one bag.
In a weeks worth of games since coming off the IL on June 4, Madrigal has hit .400 with a .478 on-base percentage, and his night at the plate was the perfect way to cap off what was a more than eventful day for him.
“I mean, it was everything I imagined it being and more from start to finish,” Madrigal said. “I just got to say that Major League Baseball did a great job. Just the whole setup, the game. The stadium is unbelievable. I wasn’t too sure what the actual field was going to be, but it was incredible. And to have the fans feel like they’re right on top of you, overall, it was just a great day.”
On the other side of the ball, Smyly had the honor of toeing the rubber for the Cubs.
Smyly said it was just the luck of the draw that Thursday ended up being his turn in the rotation, but he still felt it was the kind of environment for a start he’d remember more than most. He turned in a solid performance, allowing just four hits and two walks while striking out a season-high nine batters over five scoreless innings.
“That’s just as electric stuff as I’ve seen him have,” Ross said. “The fastball was jumping out, he was pounding the zone with it. A couple of foul balls there early on, had to work a little harder but seemed to settle in. I think that’s been pretty indicative of how he’s pitched here lately. On the attack. The breaking ball was really effective, keeping those guys off balance. Really nice performance.
There was no Statcast data available, so we’ll just have to take Rossy’s word for it. But even from the eye test, Smyly’s night felt deserving of him getting the ball for a game unlike any other the Cubs will play this season. He said it’s one he’ll never forget, and he hopes his daughter, Parker, who was celebrating her fifth birthday Thursday, can do the same.
“It’s just cool,” Smyly said. “I hope she can remember it the older she gets. I know I will, and my wife. All she knows is going to big stadiums and these big cities, so she drove out here to the cornfields and gets to watch me play baseball. It’s just pretty cool and it’s neat and it’s something that I know I’ll remember the rest of my life.”
The logistics of traveling to a small town in Iowa for just one night can seem like a hassle.
There are no hotels around the site to give teams a chance to unwind after the long day. The Cubs themselves didn’t have time to stick around after the game, packing up quickly and hopping on the bus to hit the road for the final two games of the series in Cincinnati.
All that traveling, just to spend one day playing baseball in Iowa?
Well, if you ask the Cubs, they’ll tell you that they’d do it all over again in a heartbeat. Again, it’s one of those events that strips the game down and reminds players of what baseball is at its core.
“It makes me think that I’ve come a long way, from Venezuela all the way to the Field of Dreams,” Willson Contreras said. “The first time I watched the movie was back in Venezuela. I was a kid. And now that I’m here, I feel proud of myself. I’m really thankful for everything that I’ve done with the Cubs and in baseball. I’m looking forward to keep doing a really good job on and off the field. A memory like this can last forever.”
“Tonight was more about the atmosphere surrounding us, the experience with the fans,” Ross said. “That we got to take part of that was really special. I think that’s always great for our game.”
No, MLB won’t be back in Dyersville for a third straight season next year, as reported by Tommy Birch of the Des Moines Register earlier this week. But after two straight years of Field of Dreams success, you can reasonably expect the game to return at some point.
And for the players who’ve gotten to be a part of the event already, they’d suggest one thing to those who might get the invite in the future: do it.
“I would say it’s worthy,” Madrigal said. “I think, initially, a lot of guys kind of think of the travel. It’s a lot, but I mean, it’s well worth it. These memories stay with us forever. Not too many guys get to play a Major League Baseball game in the middle of Iowa. Extremely blessed we got to be able to be here and play the game. I would just tell them, it’s incredible if they ever got the opportunity.”