On a typical field it likely would have been a routine fly—in baseball lingo, a can of corn.
But in Dyersville, Iowa, the ball tracked by Luther College center fielder Cullen Stamp in the bottom of the first inning went into the corn for a home run—landing just out of the reach of Stamp, who ended up among the stalks as well.
“I had a bead on it,” Stamp, a senior from Plymouth, Minn., said of the ball hit to left-center by Briar Cliff University’s Cam Riemer. “But just as I felt the corn, I kind of held up a little.”
Welcome to the first college baseball game at the cozy diamond built for the movie Field of Dreams, where dead center is barely 350 feet from home plate, 41 feet shorter than the fence at the Luther Norse’s home field.
Bryan Nikkel, the baseball coach at the ELCA college in Decorah, Iowa, knew going in that something like Riemer’s homer was a distinct possibility—and he was fine with that.
“Myself and the Briar Cliff coach are on the same page about it,” Nikkel said a few days before the Sept. 16 exhibition contest, part of each school’s fall practice program. “This game is about the experience. If a few guys hit balls into the corn for home runs, that’s cool. The pitchers won’t be happy, but the hitters will always have that moment.”
Riemer’s four-bagger and Stamp’s catch attempt were two of countless special moments enjoyed by players, coaches and fans before, during and after the 15-1 Briar Cliff victory.
“It was surreal. I literally thought I was in the movie.”
Hall-of-famer Tony Oliva, rated one of the best hitters in professional baseball and former right fielder for the Minnesota Twins, threw out the first pitch. And in the mystical manner of the movie the ballpark was constructed for, both teams made their entrance from the corn.
“It was surreal,” Luther’s Charlie Rubendall, a senior from Minneapolis, said the next day. “I literally thought I was in the movie.”
Nikkel walked onto the field carrying his 6-month-old son Knox and accompanied by his daughters, 7-year-old Wrenn and 8-year-old Sloan.
“This was bigger than the game itself,” the coach said during the 80-mile postgame bus ride back to Decorah. “Baseball is bigger than what we do on the field. When these guys get together in 50 years and talk about the good old days, today is one of those good old days they’ll be talking about.”
Nikkel said the idea for a college game in Dyersville arose more than a year ago at Briar Cliff, a Catholic university in Sioux City, Iowa. Getting a thumbs-up from the Field of Dreams, Briar Cliff started looking for an opponent from eastern Iowa, and the Chargers invited the Norse—as college players, Nikkel and Corby McGlauflin, Briar Cliff coach, both competed for Southwest Minnesota State.
Field of Dreams, which came out in 1989 and is based on W.P Kinsella’s novel Shoeless Joe, tells the story of an Iowa farmer who feels compelled to seek fulfillment by plowing under part of his corn crop and building a baseball diamond—complete with bleachers and lights.
“It’s deeper than playing catch—it’s about investing time in other folks.”
The ballfield provides a connection to ghosts from the game’s past including player-turned-doctor Archibald “Moonlight” Graham, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson of Chicago Black Sox infamy and, ultimately, the farmer’s father, who had died while estranged from his son.
Since the release of the film, which starred Kevin Costner, James Earl Jones, Burt Lancaster and Ray Liotta, thousands have visited the movie site each year, many to play catch with a loved one as Costner and Dwier Brown do in the movie.
“We’re hoping student athletes from both teams can grab their glove and a ball and get together with their dad, mom, uncle, cousin, whoever,” Nikkel said before the contest. “That will be a special moment for those players and those loved ones. It’s deeper than playing catch—it’s about investing time in other folks.”
Following the game, in which Luther’s Ghavin James and Briar Cliff’s Drew Petersen also sent home runs into the corn, players did exactly what Nikkel had hoped, congregating on the field in a kind of happy, horsehide chaos.
“The score doesn’t matter,” said Luther catcher Gavin Scurr, a sophomore from San Diego who had one of the Norse’s three hits. “It was a surreal experience walking out of the corn with your teammates, seeing everyone there. I didn’t have any family who could be there, so after the game I played catch with coach, and that was pretty fun.”
“The whole game was a highlight,” added Stamp, who led off the top of the first with a walk to become the first collegiate base-runner at the Field of Dreams.
“But I feel like the real highlight was after the game, being on the field with my family, having a catch with my dad and brothers.”