DYERSVILLE, Iowa — Standing atop the pitcher’s mound at the Field of Dreams movie site in Dyersville on Monday night, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders took a moment to appreciate his surroundings.
“We have, over the years, done many, many events, in many locations,” said the U.S. senator from Vermont. “But I honestly don’t know that we have ever done anything in as beautiful a location as this.”
More than 500 people convened at the iconic field to hear from Sanders, who in many polls is near the top of a crowded field seeking the Democratic nomination for president. They also got to see him in action on the ballfield.
Before the first pitch was thrown, Sanders delivered a three-minute speech to his supporters.
Paraphrasing a quote from the late South African leader Nelson Mandela, Sanders said, “Everything is impossible until we make it happen.”
He applied that mentality to one of his signature policies.
“Today, presumably, it is impossible to guarantee health care to all people,” he said. “We are going to make that happen. Health care is a human right.”
Sanders also pledged to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour and to make tuition to public colleges and universities free. He called climate change an “existential threat to our planet” and said the U.S. needs to become a leader in addressing it.
Sanders said the nation must “have the courage to think big.”
“If we stand together for a common purpose, we can fulfill that dream,” he said.
Sanders’ remarks were met with enthusiastic applause from his supporters, who broke into chants of “Bernie! Bernie!” after his speech concluded.
Sanders then took the field for a lighthearted game of softball pitting his staffers — dubbed The Revolutionaries – against a team of players from Leaders Believers Achievers foundation, a Cedar Rapids-based organization that provides mentorship and tutoring to youth.
The event initially was supposed to feature a team of media members, but that idea was axed due to lack of media participation, according to a Sanders staffer. Politico reported on Monday afternoon that CNN and ABC News were among the news organizations that pulled staffers from participating in the game when a fundraising email promoting the event was sent out by the Sanders campaign on Sunday night. (The Telegraph Herald planned to cover, not participate in, the event from the get-go.)
The senator played an active role in the game, starting at pitcher and giving up four first-inning runs before working a scoreless second. At the plate, he drew a walk and grounded out in his first two plate appearances.
Many supporters arrived at the Field of Dreams more than an hour before Sanders arrived.
Dubuque resident Alex Kruse, 22, took in the game from a lawn chair along the third-base line. He said he has been a supporter of Sanders since 2015.
“I feel like he is the only candidate in my lifetime who supports America’s workers,” he said. “I grew up in a union family, so that is very important to me. Over the years, we have really felt disenfranchised by both political parties.”
Jeff Cox, of Iowa City, was among many attendees who traveled from out of town to take in the event. He said he supports Sanders’ efforts to improve health care.
“It’s an issue that (political leaders) have been postponing for years and years, and (Sanders) got in there and changed the terms of the argument,” he said. “If he gets in the White House, he will make it his top priority.”