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Published: Thursday, 7/26/2001

Personal fields of dreams

BY DENNIS BOVA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

You'd remember Joey Hall if you met him. Bear of a man. Ponytail. Dangly earring. Sings Celtic songs in a kilt. What looks out of place is the bumper sticker on the back of his guitar: “Field of Dreams Movie Site, Dyersville, Iowa.”

Then there's Suzanne Prestien, a pleasant young woman who used to teach at the University of Toledo, where she met her husband. Together they moved to Pennsylvania to teach at a small college and continue work on her doctorate. She never met Joey Hall, who lives near Dayton, but if they ever met, they'd have something in common to talk about. She wrote and published an essay: Mythology, Nostalgia, and Field of Dreams.

Then there's Dyersville itself. Small town about 450 miles west of Toledo. On the outskirts, just over the railroad tracks, are signs directing motorists to the “Field of Dreams Movie Site.” There it sits, 12 years after it was the title character, so to speak, in the film that starred Kevin Costner and was a nominee for a best-picture Academy Award.

In case you forgot, the movie is about Costner's character trying to make peace with his deceased father. He does this by heeding a disembodied voice (and the movie's endearing, enduring signature line) when it says, “If you build it, he will come.” He plows under a good portion of his corn crop to make room for a baseball field. From the corn- field walk old-time ballplayers. At the end, the deceased father reappears as the ballplayer he once was, and he and the Costner character play catch. All is well.

The film ends with a line of cars as far as the horizon, descending on the field. Each car is filled with people hoping, like the Costner character, to find their dream.

Cut to the present. A friend and I and our two sons pull into the site's parking lot. It's a June day as perfect as a picture postcard. I know because there are postcards for sale here, and the day looks just like the picture.

My friend and the boys run the bases, on infield dirt that is red and hard like crushed stone. I stand on the pitching rubber and take photos of the farmhouse, which is on a rise behind the stand of bleachers on the first-base line, just like in the movie. Then the four of us go to the outfield grass, close-cropped and comfortable, and lie down to look at the sky. We walk into the corn rows - only just above our ankles - that are the outfield fence.

We are not alone. About a dozen people are there, in the stands, visiting the gift shops, and at the plate, where a little boy maybe 5 years old is tossing a plastic ball up and hitting it with an oversize plastic bat. As we leave after about 40 minutes, another car with a couple of people pulls in.

Which makes me wonder: Why would anyone want to come to a ball field just about in the middle of nowhere that was the site of a 1989 movie? Us? We were on our way deeper into Iowa for a camping trip and I had asked my friend if we could stop there.

As this trip loomed I told some acquaintances that we were going to the Field. Surprisingly, many not only knew the site existed, but had stories to tell. One never was there, but received, and has kept, a vial of infield dirt brought by a buddy who had been there. Another got stuck in traffic as he was driving through when the film was being shot, although he was unaware of it at the time.

“I'm not surprised people still visit the Field,” Prestien said. “This movie touched people on a number of levels. It is a very moving homage to baseball. It also appeals to our love of nostalgia, invoking a time when baseball was pure and simple, just like we believed life to be. The film deals with magic, something perhaps we all wish for. It also speaks of relationships, especially between men.”

On that last point, Joey Hall comes to the plate, so to speak. “The movie told me that underneath all the toughness and all the gruffness, my dad was still just a man who loved me very much and that I need to let my son and daughter know that a lot more often. So, I put that sticker on the back of my guitar to remind me.”

I've seen him and his son on stage and off. They get along famously. Is there something to this Field?



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