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They Still Come to the Real-Life Field of Dreams

September 02, 1990|MILTON NIEUWSMA | Nieuwsma is a free-lance writer living in Riverside, Ill

DYERSVILLE, Iowa — Just outside this little farming town in northeast Iowa lies a baseball field where dreams refuse to die.

When Universal Studios took over Don Lansing's farm and turned it into a movie set for the 1989 hit film "Field of Dreams," it became the hottest tourist attraction in the history of Dubuque County.

Today, the Hollywood film crews are long gone and the farmers are back to growing corn. Still, like the movie says, the people will come.

And come they do. An estimated 10,000 visitors will have made the pilgrimage before summer's out.

"This field is really like a shrine," said Lansing, an amiable 47-year-old bachelor whose farm has been in the family for three generations. "It's amazing. There was an 80-year-old man out here the other day pitching to his grandson."

Lansing presides benignly over it all, patiently answering visitors' questions and pointing out things like the heart that actor Kevin Costner carved in the first-base bleachers with the words "Ray loves Annie." (Costner played Ray Kinsella in the film, while Annie was the name of his wife, played by Amy Madigan.)

Lansing admits that the movie "has pretty much changed my life," but he clearly enjoys his new-found celebrity status, not to mention the improvements the film's construction crew made on his farm.

He motions to his house near first base. "They added the veranda and hung a swing there. They put in all new windows and hardwood floors, an open staircase, even central air conditioning. Not bad for a 9O-year-old farmhouse."

Yet Lansing refuses to take advantage of his visitors. They can buy a "Field of Dreams" sweatshirt from has makeshift souvenir stand or drop a few quarters into the soft-drink machine.

It took four months during the summer of 1988 to make the film. For Lansing, the highlight was the climactic scene in which 1,500 cars formed a three-mile procession from Dyersville to his farm.

"Everyone gathered at the park for hot dogs and potato chips," he said. "Then they all lined up at 4 o'clock and started out at dusk with their headlights on. It was spectacular."

Visitors to Lansing's farm are getting a slightly different view of the baseball field than they saw in the movie. A telephone line now stretches across third base to right center field.

"Over there, that belongs to my neighbors, Al and Rita Ameskamp," said Lansing, pointing to left field. For now, the field is plowed under. Just behind third base, the Ameskamps have put up a mailbox that reads: "Keep left field alive." A slit in the top invites donations.

Behind the backstop, Lansing has his own contributions box to help maintain the infield. "It's no big deal," he said. "Still, between the neighbors and me, we're losing about 3 1/2 acres of corn to keep this field."

"So why not charge admission?"

"I wouldn't think of it," Lansing says. "It was just an honor to have my farm selected. I'm not going to take it away from the people."

A plastic bat and whiffleball lay between first base and the pitcher's mound. A teen-ager picked up the ball and called to his father, "Dad, let's play catch."

Lansing smiled. "That's what this place is all about."

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