The Great River Road, Part 8: Dyersville, IA

Ray, people will come Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past… This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh… people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.   – Terence Mann

 September 1, 2015 – Day 11 – Dyersville, Iowa

I awoke knowing this was going to be a great day, because today we were headed to the Field of Dreams. Some movies hit you at a deep, emotional level, and Field of Dreams does that for me and apparently many others. For some, it’s simply a great story about baseball, our great American pastime. Others may identify with Ray Kinsella (played by Kevin Costner) and his troubled relationship with his now deceased father who had been a devoted baseball fan. But as a young newlywed back in 1989, I think I identified mostly with Ray, the young husband being challenged to pursue a dream.

Child of the corn
Child of the corn

Ray’s dream, or calling, was to build a baseball field on his family’s cornfield. One evening, while walking through the cornfield, Ray hears a voice, a whisper, telling him, “If you build it, he will come.” The voice continues whispering to him and then he sees a vision of a baseball field. Of course, when it comes to dreams or callings, usually not everyone is on board. There are skeptics, and such was the case with Ray. His wife, Anna, is understandably skeptical, especially given the financial ruin faced by the family. Ray’s brother-in-law, Mark, implores him to re-plant his crops on the field to avoid bankruptcy. It’s difficult for Anna and Mark to buy into Ray’s dream until they, themselves, start to have their own supernatural visions.

Although I’ve never heard supernatural voices or had ghosts from my past emerge from cornfields, I’ve had some dreams. With each of my dreams, each big idea for the future, there were skeptics. The skeptics were often people close to me, and were usually very well intentioned. They wanted what was best for me, and were concerned that my vision for the future wasn’t necessarily in my best interest.

They built it, we came.
They built it, we came.

One of my first big dreams was to follow in my dad’s footsteps and pursue an Air Force career. One well-intentioned skeptic asked, “Are you sure you want to do that? With your degree and background, you could make a lot of money and achieve a lot as a civilian.” Later in life, I had a dream to try to help plant a church in Honduras. Among the many supporters was a skeptic who basically thought our money and energy should go toward reaching the lost in America and in our own community, not strangers on foreign soil. Even later in life, I felt a calling to retire from the Air Force and pursue dual careers, teaching at a Christian school by day, and serving as a youth minister at night. Once again, some well-intentioned friends questioned the decision, citing the significant pay cut and the potential for even bigger jobs and higher rank if I remained in the military. A more recent dream, shared by my wife, was to unload most of our possessions and travel the country by RV. While most people thought it was a pretty cool idea, there were skeptics who questioned our sanity and ability to live peacefully in such tight quarters. My next pending dream, a calling that has been lying dormant for two decades, is to thru-hike the 2180-mile Appalachian Trail. After explaining the challenges and potential perils of such an undertaking, a person I love (for many reasons, to include the fact she birthed my wife) commented, “Now why in the world would you want to go and do something like that?”

Life on the farm
Life on the farm

When dealing with skeptics, I recommend listening to their opinions, but also considering the value system behind the opinion. In some cases, they have valid concerns, like not wanting you to get eaten by a bear and then have your carcass thrown off a cliff. Other times, though, critics seem to value making and accumulating money over, well, all else. The thinking goes that the potential for a high corporate salary trumps the patriotic desire to defend one’s nation. The potential for promotions, increasingly prestigious positions, and more money trumps whatever teaching or mentoring might happen in a small Bible class at a private Christian school. In addition to the pursuit of material wealth, another prevailing value of critics is the desire to play it safe and avoid risk. What if the church doesn’t remain open? (It didn’t.) What if you break an ankle running a marathon? (I did.) What if you forget to put your tow car in neutral before pulling it? (Okay, it happened!) People are so naturally drawn to safety and security, to keeping their Maslow pyramids upright, that they recoil at the thought of someone risking failure by not playing it safe. I know this because too often I am the skeptic. Even with my own sons, I have sometimes been inclined to respond to their plans and ideas with skeptical hesitation rather than a more supportive, optimistic approach. They deserve more balanced advice from me, not just “well, nice idea, but here’s everything that can go wrong with that…”

"Ease his pain."
“Ease his pain.”

We arrived at Dyersville’s Field of Dreams and I was instantly impressed by it. The farmhouse, baseball field, and cornfield had a certain vibe to them and definitely lived up to the hype. Since it was a weekday morning during the school year, we almost had the place to ourselves. Almost. The first visitors to join us near home plate were a group of five special-needs young adults and their chaperone. These young men were fired up and had huge smiles on their faces, but seemed unsure what to do next. Their chaperone said, “Run the bases, gentlemen…run!” Four of them slowly began meandering about, while the last guy took off full-speed toward the pitchers mound. He ran right by it and touched second base and then made a big loop out in centerfield, laughing all the way. It was the most fantastic, heart-warming running of the bases I had ever seen. Well done, sir.

"Go the distance."
“Go the distance.”

Next, a group of three women in their 80s approached, wearing pink shirts, accompanied by one of their daughters (their chaperone, also in pink). I told the ladies I came close to wearing my pink shirt today and wish that I had. They laughed and asked if I would take their picture and I said that I would, under one condition. “I want you to take the field,” I said. They looked over at their chaperone, who nodded, and off they went to take the field. So I took their picture. I think if ever I were to coach baseball again, it would be with a team of 80-year women, and I’d call them the Pink Panthers. That’s my dream, and I’m not listening to any critics.

Pink Panthers take the field
Pink Panthers take the field

Lil Jan and I took pictures around the property and video of each of us emerging from the cornfield, just like Shoeless Joe Jackson from the movie. I even ran the bases…a little faster than the 80-year-olds but slower than the young man with the special need and big heart. The field is in perfect condition, and I’m thankful that it has been maintained and made available for tourists and fans to see. As we drove away, I reflected on the movie and specifically on Ray’s life-changing decision to follow his heart and build the ball field of his dreams. That decision changed his life and ultimately led to him reconciling with his father. I reminded myself to dream big dreams, and to have the courage to go after them. Not all dreams will come to fruition; in fact, some pursuits may fail miserably. But, in my opinion, an even greater failure is to be so risk averse that you rarely if ever pursue your biggest dreams. I hope my sons will continue to take a bold approach in pursuing their dreams, even if their old man isn’t always on board initially.

In light of some of the cool places and amazing moments we’ve experienced on our journey down the Great River Road, I thought I’d close with another quote from the movie…

You know we just don’t recognize the most significant moments of our lives while they’re happening. Back then I thought, well, there’ll be other days. I didn’t realize that that was the only day.                                                                                                           – Dr. Archibald “Moonlight” Graham

Big Steve

P.S. Bonus video:  To see Shoeless Janet Johnson, click on the link…


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