New Owners, New Dreams For Baseball Mecca
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
It's been more than 20 years since a Hollywood film crew descended on eastern Iowa to make a movie based on this mystical promise.
(SOUNDBITE FROM "FIELD OF DREAMS")
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: If you build it, he will come.
BLOCK: That's from "Field of Dreams," in which a man built a baseball diamond on his farm. Well, now the farm is in the process of being sold.
And as Iowa Public Radio's Alex Heuer tells us, the new owners have big dreams, too.
ALEX HEUER, BYLINE: The movie stars James Earl Jones and Kevin Costner, who played a farmer who hears a voice telling him to plow his cornfield and build a baseball diamond that would give the ghosts of the disgraced 1919 Chicago White Sox team another chance to play ball.
The site is still a big draw in eastern Iowa. Last year, more than 65,000 people travelled here to see it. The real estate listing for this place, which was on the market for about a year and a half, highlighted a truly one of a kind property - nearly 200 acres, six outbuildings, a two-bedroom farmhouse and, of course, the famed baseball diamond. All for the asking price of $5.4 million, about five times the estimated market value of farmland in the area. The final purchase price has not yet been disclosed.
For 69-year-old Don Lansing, selling the farm that's been in his family for over a hundred years is bittersweet.
DON LANSING: We're not getting any younger and to see this thing keep growing, I think we have to be prepared to go into the second chapter of our lives.
HEUER: Now, any dreams for the future of the field lie with Mike and Denise Stillman, Chicago area residents who are leading an investment group that bought the property. They're planning to build a travel baseball and softball complex to host weeklong tournaments, initially including 12 major league quality fields, adjustable for kids ages eight to 18, and an indoor training facility for yearlong activities. They say it will help accommodate a growing demand for youth baseball venues for the more than 30,000 teams across the country.
Denise Stillman says the ambitious venture could cost more than $18 million - a price that includes maintaining the movie site as is, free and open to the public.
DENISE STILLMAN: Who wouldn't want to preserve a piece of Americana for years and generations to come? The field has meant so many things in many wonderful ways for people all over the world.
HEUER: Glenn Stout is a sportswriter, author, and longtime editor of the "Best American Sports Writing" series. He says the "Field of Dreams" is good for baseball because it allows fans to connect with an earlier and simpler time.
BEN STOUT: It's not baseball full of free agency and big contracts and, you know, performance-enhancing drug use and all of the, you know, more crass elements of our society that are attached to the big business of baseball as it is today.
HEUER: Tourists Loren and Kari Long live about two hours south of the field of dreams and despite today's howling winds, near freezing temperatures, and four inches of snow, they came to see the field. For Loren, the movie site brings up memories of playing catch with his son. His wife Kari watched the movie recently and wanted to see where it was filmed. To her, the movie is about life on the farm.
KARI LONG: I think that's what Iowa is about, you know. The farming community, things might not always be great but the farmers don't back down. They make it work one way or another.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "FIELD OF DREAMS")
JAMES EARL JONES: (as Terence 'Terry' Mann) The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. It reminds us of all that once was good and it could be again.
HEUER: The new owners of the "Field of Dreams" property plan to open the youth baseball complex in 2014, with the hope of luring even more people to this remote but beautiful diamond in the middle of an Iowa cornfield.
For NPR news, I'm Alex Heuer.
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