They built it for a movie, and people keep coming to Field of Dreams

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Don Lansing

Former field co-owner Don Lansing waters the landscaping around the sign marking the entrance of the site in Dyersville, Iowa. (Matthew Putney / For The Times / July 29, 2014)

Reporting from DYERSVILLE, Iowa

Heaven has no gates, only a small wooden sign draped by a cluster of corn on the side of a narrow and winding farm road.

Heaven is easily attained, just make a left turn at the sign and rumble over a stretch of gravel to a simple clearing below a white farmhouse, no turnstiles, no tickets, no programs, no ushers, no charge.

Heaven isn't soft white, but deep green, and dark brown, the shades of a baseball field cut into the middle of a cornfield, a simple backstop, two small wooden sets of bleachers, shimmering white bases, a green cushion infield, all encased in rows of giant corn stalks that line the outfield and stretch endlessly beyond.

On this steamy weekday afternoon in July, heaven is occupied by a Wyoming cattle rancher sitting on a simple wooden bench behind the first-base line, softly crying.

For the last half hour, he and his young, club-footed son have been doing what everyone does here. It is why they travel here, showing up from bright dawn to foggy dusk, from humid summer to snow-piled winter, fathers and mothers and daughters and sons and every possible permutation under that wide and wonderful umbrella that has been known as family.

They have been playing catch.

"To connect with my son in this place like this, there are no words for it,'' said Frank Maestri, the rancher. "It's hard to explain, but it's like we're supposed to be here, we're supposed to share this."

Twenty-five years ago, a $15-million movie called "Field of Dreams" chronicled this longing in a sweetly redemptive tale of family, forgiveness and baseball. The film, adapted from the novel "Shoeless Joe" by W.P. Kinsella, didn't win any Academy Awards. The American Film Institute didn't even consider it a sports movie. But in telling the tale of an Iowa farmer who follows instructions from a disembodied voice to build a backyard baseball field to attract the ghosts of former players — including his father — "Field of Dreams" created one of the most enduring of American sports monuments.

Twenty-five years later, the actual Field of Dreams is still there, accessible to a public that has turned it into a shrine, addressing the question originally posed by the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson to farmer Ray Kinsella.

"Hey, is this heaven?" Shoeless Joe asked after stepping out of the corn and finding himself on the pristine diamond.

"No, it's Iowa," Kinsella replied.

Twenty-five years later, it's clearly both.

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It is arguably the most famous baseball field in the world, yet there has never been a professional game played there, perhaps because there are no dugouts, no clubhouses, no concession stands, and only two port-a-potties.

It is surely one of the most utilized fields in existence, yet the grass is still green, the dirt is smooth, and there is no blowing trash or scribbled graffiti despite the lack of any security guards or full-time grounds crew.

It is certainly one of the top tourist spots in the sports world, yet in the 4,000-person burg of Dyersville there are only two battered blue signs offering directions, as if celebrating the fact that for 25 years, everyone has just figured out how to find it.

"It's become a lot more than a baseball field," said Kevin Costner, who played the farmer Kinsella. "It's a mecca."

Where the movie ended — with Costner's character "having a catch" with the ghost of his estranged father — is where the story of the real Field of Dreams begins. Several months after the film's premiere in May 1989, after Costner had helped convince the field's two owners to temporarily keep it intact, families started finding their way to the unmarked farm to play catch with their loved ones.

"One day a guy shows up from New York, on his way to California, I had no idea how he found us, he said he had to play catch here," said Don Lansing, the co-owner whose white farmhouse starred in the film and is still there. "I thought to myself, maybe we have something special."

It was the beginning of something that was, well, straight out of the movies.

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