DYERSVILLE, Iowa — When Don and Becky Lansing sold the Field of Dreams in 2012, they believed they were leaving it in the best hands they could have hoped for.
The Dyersville baseball diamond and farm, which occupied leading roles in the 1989 movie of the same name, for decades attracted Kevin Costner devotees and those who valued the film’s emphasis on baseball, family and the singular bond between fathers and sons.
But the Lansings feared that further commercialization of the serene landmark could snuff out its magic.
Don and Becky, along with Don’s sister, Betty Boeckenstedt, long dreamed of developing the site into a baseball and farming camp for children from urban centers.
So, when Denise and Mike Stillman, who jointly operated Go the Distance Baseball, proposed expanding it into a 24-field youth baseball and softball complex, the trio thought, “Eureka!”
“They aligned with our vision as close as we could ever hope for,” Becky said Wednesday. “We realized that there was so much more potential with the field, but in the same breath, it was difficult to say goodbye to the farm, as it was a family legacy.”
The Lansings plan to join 8,000 people today who will watch the first pitch thrown in a stadium erected at the iconic site during a game between the Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees, a feat that represents years of investment.
“It is an incredible opportunity for the city of Dyersville, for the state of Iowa and as well an homage to everyone that brought the farm and the field to this point, beginning with Bill Kinsella (the author of the book “Shoeless Joe” that was adapted into the “Field of Dreams” movie), the production company, the director, the photographers, the crew, staff, the catering,” Becky said. “Then, they left, and Donnie and his sister took over, and then, I came into the picture, and then, there were Ghost Players. An incredible cast of people and energy that have all worked together to bring MLB to Dyersville.”
Far from diminishing the magic of a serene Iowa farm, the Lansings view the professional ballgame as an amplifying force.
“Magic presents itself in a variety of forms,” Becky said. “You can poll every single person that comes to the farm, and they will give you a different sensibility of what magic is to them. And inside each one of those definitions, the collective energy is the magic.”
Becky and Don, now 67 and 79, respectively, since have retired from farming and started a chapter of their lives that includes world travel, lazy country drives, naps and long walks with their Yorkshire terrier, Sammy.
But Don still recalls the day when producers knocked on his door, asking him to lend them his cornfield and homestead so they could shoot a movie.
“They caught me totally off guard,” he said. “Everything happened real fast.”
Don’s grandparents Joe and Katherine Lansing had purchased the acreage in 1906. Two generations later, a Lansing still was tilling the land on the officially designated Century Farm.
After transforming his home into a movie set, the studio offered to house Don in Dubuque, but he opted for a trailer on his property, where he resided for 15 weeks.
After all, there were fields to tend. Plus, Don enjoyed watching the crew in action.
“It seemed like everyone was having a good time and sort of like a picnic,” he said.
A guard stationed at the end of the lane kept outsiders off the property. Don met cast members, and his 2640 John Deere tractor even made a film appearance.
The Lansings and Boeckenstedt maintained the field, where families would come to bat, and also operated a souvenir stand.
Boeckenstedt said those visitors motivated them to continue long after Hollywood departed Dyersville.
“It was the joy of having them come, to see their expressions when they would go out on the field,” she said. “It goes generation after generation.”
That an MLB game will be played on his family’s land delights Don.
“My dad would be really, really proud because he was a White Sox fan,” he said.
That is not to say the Lansings will be choosing sides.
“We probably should remain neutral considering we are on the New York Yankees’ side (of the stadium),” Becky said.