The real Field of Dreams: MLB has a new stadium opening—in an Iowa cornfield
Annemarie Roe was surrounded by corn.
It was 2015, and the head of BaAM Productions had been sent to the American heartland by Major League Baseball with fellow sporting event gurus like Todd Barnes of Populous and BrightView’s Murray Cook to scope out what could be the next stop on the campaign to bring America’s pastime somewhere new: Dyersville, Iowa. So, in a state where cornfields cover more than a third of the land, Roe, tape measure in hand, traipsed through muddy farmland to see whether MLB could pull off its own Field of Dreams.
“We have to figure out a way to make this happen,” Roe recalled telling MLB after that fateful visit to the site where the 1989 movie Field of Dreams was filmed in an interview with Fortune.
Now—2,244 days later—it finally will.
On Thursday, the Chicago White Sox will play the New York Yankees from that same cornfield located just 1,000 feet away from the original Field of Dreams in a newly built ballpark. The game will be broadcast on Fox, and depending on how it goes, the site could host future gatherings according to MLB.
Hidden in the middle of 159 acres of cornstalks, some reaching as high as 10 feet, MLB’s more than $5 million Dyersville stadium figures to offer a vastly different feel from the mall-like arenas where most professional sports teams play today. It was designed as a sort of amalgamation of the Field of Dreams and Chicago’s old Comiskey Park. And while the park will, of course, feature many of the same amenities a major league park would today (like cell service), it harks back to an older era of baseball, too: Cornstalks line the outfield fence, a manually operated scoreboard stands beyond the outfield wall, and, even the players will don throwback uniforms for the game. “It’s a magical place,” Cook, who is a field and stadium consultant for MLB and president of BrightView’s sports turf division, told Fortune. “It’s emotional every time you walk out there.”
Dyersville has become a baseball mecca of sorts since Field of Dreams was released 32 years ago. (The city’s logo even features a baseball.) So it was only fitting that the town in northeastern Iowa would become home to the latest MLB pop-up game, joining Sydney; Fort Bragg in North Carolina; and Williamsport, Pa. MLB has been pushing to host more games throughout the 162-regular-game season in markets where its teams do not hold a presence in a bid to expand the game’s appeal after years of waning interest in baseball. “There’s an intersection of this game with not only your avid baseball fan, but also with the person who loved the movie,” MLB chief operations and strategy officer Chris Marinak told Fortune. “This is one of the special things about baseball, it transcends society and culture. By bringing this game to life, I think we’re really able to connect with an audience who may not be engaged on a daily basis.”
Just 8,000 people will be allowed into the stadium Thursday, but, if ticket sales are any indication, fans do want in. The already sold-out game has seen ticket prices skyrocket in the resale market, with the cheapest ones on StubHub going for as much as $875 on the afternoon of Aug. 10. Many are now being offered for prices well into the four digits.
MLB broke ground on the property two years ago this month. Since then, its teams have had to move around 30,000 cubic yards of material in the Iowa cornfield, bring in a combined 6,000 tons of sand and gravel, and find someone to install several towering light posts that will illuminate the park on game day. Roe’s BaAM Productions has had to build clubhouses that meet MLB’s requirements within giant tents located nearby. And Cook even had to figure out how to grow corn: “I’ve learned more about corn in the last year than I’d really like to know.”
A decade in the making
But the roots behind Thursday’s game stretch well beyond that. In 2010, Mike Stillman, a Chicago-area lawyer, decided to make a detour on a trip home from Minneapolis with his son, John, to the Field of Dreams. The Stillman family quickly became enamored with the site, leading Mike and his then wife Denise to put together an investor group including baseball legend Wade Boggs that eventually acquired the property for $3.4 million.
Denise would go on to become the force behind the group, known as Go the Distance Baseball. Her original plans revolved around creating a massive youth baseball complex, but it was also Denise who urged MLB to come out to the site in 2015, said BaAM’s Roe: “She was burning the phone lines to the commissioner, saying, ‘I have an idea, I have an idea.’” MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred visited the site a year later, where he was convinced that a game needed to happen there, he recently told the Des Moines Register.
However, Go the Distance Baseball needed permission from the lenders who had backed their purchase of the property to move forward. And because the loan was originally structured to be short term, many were wary, said Denise’s second husband, Tom Mietzel, who is now the group’s CEO. So Denise refinanced the property in 2017, clearing the way for MLB to move forward with its plans. Yet what should have been a joyous moment was overshadowed by the bad news Denise had received the same day she signed the paperwork. Denise had been diagnosed with what Mietzel says was a rare form of liver cancer, and it was terminal.
Even then, over the next 18 months leading up to Denise’s death in 2018, Mietzel says his wife pressed on with the project—emailing with MLB about it even after losing the ability to speak and helping set the stage for Thursday’s game years ago. “She signed the loan knowing that she was very ill,” Mietzel said. “She had a true love for the Field of Dreams. It was her goal to bring this back into the forefront of the American psyche.”
What happens next to the field is not entirely clear yet. Mietzel told Fortune that the newfound attention from the upcoming game could soon bring Denise’s vision of a Midwestern youth baseball hub into the “daylight,” though he would not comment on specifics and emphasized that any expansion would be done in a way that would not impact the original Field of Dreams or MLB’s vision for its park. (MLB leased the land for the stadium from Go the Distance Baseball.)
The league could return for future games, depending on how Thursday’s goes, MLB’s Marinak said. After all, MLB turned its first trip to Williamsport into an annual event with the Little League Classic. “Ultimately MLB made a major investment in our facility, and we’d like them to continue to use it, if they choose,” Mietzel said. “They didn’t build this for a song. They put in millions.”
For now, they’ve built it. And on Thursday the players—and fans—will finally come.
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