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Building the ultimate Field of Dreams

Tonight’s Field of Dreams game has been the most eagerly awaited event on the 2021 MLB calendar. Here’s a look at what fans can expect tonight from this unique ballpark experience.

Field of Dreams is an iconic baseball move, designed to tug the heartstrings of anyone with fond memories of playing catch with their Dad. The central theme is the goodness of baseball as America’s Pastime, with the sport uniting generations and inspiring the likes of Ray Kinsella to create a ballfield in an Iowa cornfield, transforming it to a place where dreams can come true. If you build it, they will come. The 1919 Black Sox, Shoeless Joe Jackson and “Moonlight” Graham—who made a single one-inning MLB appearance, then led a life as a distinguished doctor and educator in northern Minnesota—show up on the field. With the distinguished likes of Kevin Costner, James Earl Jones, Ray Liotta, Amy Madigan and Burt Lancaster in the cast, Field of Dreams is both inspirational and entertaining.

Field of Dreams was filmed on a working east-central Iowa farm a half hour outside Dubuque, and after filming the field was maintained, open to anyone who wanted to play catch. By the middle 2010s, the late Denise Stillman worked on a plan to expand the acreage into a 10-field youth-baseball facility and worked on a funding plan. 

This is where MLB enters the picture.

MLB has been successful in taking the sport on the road and developing signature events outside MLB ballparks. 2016’s Fort Bragg game saw the construction of a pop-up ballpark at the Fayetteville military base, billed as a thank you to the troops. In May 2015, the same group developing the Fort Bragg game was already at work on a successor, making the decision that the next pop-up game be played at the Field of Dreams site. A meeting was held at the farmhouse on the site, a meeting that included BaAM Productions’ Annmarie RoePopulous’s Todd Barnes and Brightview’s Murray Cook.

“Looking through the windows at the cornfields, I remember thinking this is just so cool,” Barnes said. “But it was clear there was no way we could have a game played on the original movie site field. The disruption would have been massive.

“If you look at the original field, it slopes upwards, and because of the layout, there was no room for fans.”

Stillman had prepared a site plan for a 10-field youth-baseball facility. As the planners met in her sitting room, they consulted the map to find a location where they could install the field. One location stood out: the flattest part of the acreage.

“We got out our measuring tape and went to the corn field,” Barnes said. “The corn was really low, just up to our knees. I wore good shoes, so I was worried about getting out in the mud.”

In the end, Barnes didn’t need to wander the field, as the measuring tape was long enough to save his shoes. 

“We ended up exactly at the location,” he said. “It was the flattest area close to the farm.”

It still did require some site work, including the shifting of 30,000 cubic feet of soil. Rock footings were installed to accommodate the grandstand and support facilities. The field installation included a full irrigation system—and, of course, a well needed to be drilled to provide the water.

The ballpark should provide an intimate experience both for fans at the game and those watching on TV. There is seating for 8,000, and the site also features a larger press box, broadcast facilities, clubhouses and administrative spaces. The field dimensions echo the Comiskey Park dimensions. What you see is largely along the lines of the original ballpark plan, albeit after some discussions.

One such discussion came early in the process, when MLB officials urged a capacity closer to the 12,500-seat capacity of the Fort Bragg ballpark.

“We debated extending seating back into the outfield, in left field, but there no way that would work,” Barnes said. The home-run fence is backed by corn, providing a gorgeous backdrop to the outfield, and installing seating in left field would have broken the serene look of the ballpark. 

“We might as well been in any other ballpark in the United States if we had installed seating there,” he added. “We would lose the character of what the space should be.“ In addition, adding more seats would have meant adding more support services like points of sale and restrooms, and the ballpark site already is a constricted space. 

In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic had a huge effect on the ballpark and the game, which was originally scheduled to be held in 2020. The size of the clubhouses were expanded to accommodate MLB COVID distancing protocols, forcing an adjustment of the location of support facilities close to the field. Socially distanced berm seating was also part of the 2020 plan, as well as socially distanced seating in the grandstand.

The result is a reimaging of the Field of Dreams experience. Plenty of folks drive hours out of their way just to play catch at the ballpark site. They will be able to do so today, but their experience will be considerably more elevated than just hitting the field and taking a few pictures.

The game experience will begin at the movie site, with fans able to take the field, sample some local foods (more below) and peruse the offerings of some sponsors. From there, fans will walk through a cornfield with plenty of selfie spots, perhaps take a side trip through a corn maze, before emerging from the tall stalks to their first view of the ballpark.

“This is all part of the drama we wanted to have,” Barnes said. “The ballpark is hidden when you enter. You’ll first see the movie site field, maybe play a little catch. 

“Then you’ll walk through the corn, walk down that path, focused on the love of the game and how that will tie in for all the fans. It stands for what Iowa is.”

“This really hits home for us,” Cook said. “I’ve been privileged to come out here 25 or so times, and I still get goosebumps.”

As Barnes noted, this is fully a pop-up ballpark. Only the playing field and some legacy elements, like concrete floors used in the dugouts, will be left behind. Everything else is temporary at the pop-up site—there are plenty of functions, such as press-credential pickups, housed in containers, which are easy to drop off and pick up—and it will take about two weeks to have it all removed, including the portable LED lighting provided by Iowa-based Musco Lighting. All in all, between 80 and 90 local contractors participated on the ballpark construction.

There are some nice and interesting design touches within the facility originating with MLB creative and BaAM Productions. The center-field batters eye is topped with the sillouette of a barn roof. In addition, there are elements to the ballpark designed to look like wood, but aren’t really wood—which will come as a surprise if a player runs into the home-run fences or the rails in front of the dugouts. What looks like wood both in person and on TV in these instances isn’t wood, but rather padding covered by a vinyl adhesive designed to look like a wood finish.

And how will the ballpark play?

“It should play well,” Barnes said. “It’s got a northeast orientation, so the sun angle turned out exactly the way you’d want it, both for the players and the fans.” 

Because of the location next to Hewitt Creek and otherwise surrounded by cornfields, there should be a higher level of humidity than you find in a Major League Baseball ballpark, Cook said.

“It will be a unique place to hit a ball.”

And, of course, it wouldn’t be an Iowa event without some Iowa-themed fair food from concessionaire Aramark. Yes, there is an inevitable and tasty pork tenderloin sandwich from Cornfield Classics, with other stands offering deep-fried cheese curds and Oreos, nachos topped with pulled pork and cheese sauce, and street corn. Yes, there will be contactless menus and mobile ordering.

The food item destined to generate the most buzz and selfies will be the Apple Pie Hot Dog, served up as part of a Chevrolet promo. Those of a certain age will remember the iconic “Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie and Chevrolet” jingle used for many years by the American car maker. That theme is being revived, with culinary star Guy Fieri enlisted to create a new food item embodying those themes.

The Apple Pie Hot Dog features an all-beef hot dog, apple pie filling, and Fieri’s signature bacon jam, enveloped in flaky pie crust, and topped with an apple mustard drizzle, apple pie spice, and demerara sugar. If you go to the game, you won’t miss the stand where it is offered, right at the entrance to the ballpark.

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