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1998-08-01 - 09:07:02

Field of Dreams, Dyersville, Iowa

American Road Trip: Field of Dreams

SATURDAY, AUGUST 1, ELIZABETH, ILL. — Iowa certainly deserves its King of Corn title. Don’t think I ever had a stretch in which it was out of sight. It rolled out over the hills in every direction — just as you might think it would. These rolling corn hills carried me through Madison County, past a sign for John Wayne’s birthplace, up to Des Moines, near the town of What Cheer and over to Cedar Rapids, passing a car with the playful license plate of “JSTKDNG” — all along the Midwest feeling of America growing. Some sort of comfort lies there, with miles of America stretching out in every direction, making even fast-moving travelers feel at home. After four college years spent in Middle America, I did feel at home, comfortable, in familiar — though still new — territory. Perhaps the knowledge of seeing such good friends from school — Joe and Michelle — helped bring on this feeling.

And then I found heaven.

The map took me to Dyersville, the AAA took me north, signs took me east, and my deep-rooted love of baseball took me to Don Lansing’s farm and the Field of Dreams. It sat there, just like in the movie, as everyone expects it to — a little piece of heaven cut out of the cornfield. Turning down the driveway, seeing cars parked by the house, it all just felt right. Like on this perfect, warm sunny Iowa August day, that we should all be here, out in the field, standing at the plate, walking in the corn. Fathers pitched to sons, daughters took their cuts, mothers watched with cameras in hand. Some had brought chairs and sat in the shade along right field — there for several hours, no doubt. Everyone, it seemed, was smiling. People did come, and it was as they’d remembered it — maybe not form childhood, but from the movie. Out on the field, the men talked, chatted, joked together — a group of them may have come together. But standing there in perfect Iowa afternoon, I had the feeling that maybe they hadn’t known each other. Then, stepping on that field, they began to look familiar; they realized they were all fans — all kids again. And they talked like old buddies.

Everything from the movie came to life — the people on the field in pure enjoyment; the crunch of the gravel and red-dirt infield; the chirp of the crickets and rush of the wind; and the coarse rustle of the corn stalks tickled by the wind or brushed aside by the curious visitors investigating “what’s out there.” Before leaving, I magically remembered I had brought along a baseball tape, and I found James Earl Jones’ “People will come” speech. I sat there listening to it in stereo, for all the background sounds existed on that perfect Iowa afternoon.

Elated, I left a message at Joe’s and continued east. Crossing back over the Mississippi — at 5:09 p.m. CT, 26 days after crossing it in Louisiana — I entered Illinois, and finished marking off new states — and, really, the new experiences of the trip. For the most part, all that’s left is visiting. A quick stop in Galena was like Ray Kinsella’s trip back to Chisholm, Minn., 1972 — I walked up and down Main St. for a little while, then moved on.

Joe lives right off US 20 in western Illinois, just west of the town of Elizabeth. The driveway climbs a little, then descends the hill and turns a corner and the farm emerges at the bottom of the driveway. Red barn, white house, red barn and red barn lay spread out, with three silos standing tall. A wall of corn to my left; a tree grove to the right — until it opened up a little. Pigs, cattle, sheep all in their places, and a couple of cats and Cody, the dog, all have their place — outside. Jim Berlage was somewhere on those 450 acres, and I went inside to talk with Joe and Faye.

Bob, Cary, Molly showed up, and we bounced along in the truck down to the river and set up “camp” — four blankets around the fire Joe started. We stayed up talking, singing (Dan and Roe came by) and star gazing (four shooting, and a satellite) until 1:30 or 2 a.m. At 5:30, as the sun brought light and a dwindling fire the cold, we packed up, returned to the house — as Jim got up for pre-Mass chores — and went inside to sleep. The others got up for Mass, and I got up around noon — and here I should stop, to save the little left for Sunday ...

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