How Field of Dreams gets to the heart of its small-town home

Chicago White Sox pitcher Lance Lynn warms up in the outfield before a baseball game against the New York Yankees, Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021 in Dyersville, Iowa. The Yankees and White Sox are playing at a temporary stadium in the middle of a cornfield at the Field of Dreams movie site, the first Major League Baseball game held in Iowa. (Charlie Neibergall/AP)

When Jeff Jacque was mulling a move into politics last summer, it was baseball that gave him the final push he needed.

Having recently retired from the family business — a furniture and floor covering store — the Dyersville, Iowa, resident was looking for something to occupy his time. Jacque had some conversations about potentially running for mayor of the city with a population of just over 4,300, but wasn’t immediately sold.

Dyersville is famously known as the location of the 1989 film Field of Dreams, a seminal baseball classic starring Kevin Costner and the late Ray Liotta. Last year, Major League Baseball commemorated the film and city with its first MLB at Field of Dreams game, a regular-season contest held at a baseball field built in a cornfield next to the movie location. Jacque didn’t have tickets to the inaugural game between the New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox, so he decided to stroll down to a massive viewing area that was set up by city officials just a block away from his house.

When Jacque arrived, he began to chat with fellow Dyersville residents and noticed a palpable excitement as everyone gathered around the big screen. It was the first MLB game played in the state of Iowa and brought with it a wave of joy, positivity and tourism to the city.

Jacque saw all he needed that night and his decision was made.

Today, the 66-year-old is officially Mayor of Dyersville after winning an election last November. He is set to preside over the second Field of Dreams game, which takes place Thursday when the Chicago Cubs take on the Cincinnati Reds.

“There’s a lot going on,” Jacque says with a laugh.

Born and raised in Dyersville, the mayor remembers what the city was like before it was made famous by the movie. And according to Jacque, there’s no difference: it’s the same place, only with more tourists.

“Our community hasn’t really changed and the city itself hasn’t really changed,” he says. “We’ve grown a little bit in population — by a few hundred people — but that’s it.”

Jacque compares the town to Mayberry, the fictional, tranquil community from the popular 1960s sitcom The Andy Griffith Show. It’s a place where nearly everybody knows each other, and residents exude trademark Midwestern values — humility and a strong work ethic.   

While Field of Dreams didn’t fundamentally change the small city, it did serve as an accurate snapshot of its history, says Jacque, noting that many of his friends appeared in the film as extras.

“I don’t think I ever get tired of watching the movie,” he says. “There are scenes from the local spots and we’ll watch it and say, ‘Oh, I remember where that road is,’ and, ‘They filmed that over here.’

“Some of the original ghost players [in the movie] are still friends of mine,” he adds.

As the film gained worldwide popularity, Jacque had a firsthand look at how his city has transformed into a magnet for tourists. He often makes a point to speak to visitors and has come across people from as a far as the United Kingdom and Japan, all seeking to make a baseball pilgrimage and play catch or run the bases on the original diamond from the film. He is proud that Field of Dreams offered the world a glimpse of life in Dyersville.

Last year, Costner returned to the city and was part of a beautiful ode to the film when he led the Yankees and White Sox onto the diamond, emerging from the cornfield just behind the outfield wall.  

This year, MLB says it has planned new ceremonies that will “celebrate baseball’s ability to link generations.” The Cubs and Reds will wear custom uniforms inspired by those worn in the early 20th century. There is also a minor-league game and a softball game, along with some parties and events scheduled throughout the week.

Once the hoopla is over and the baseball world turns its focus away from Dyersville, changes will commence in the city. There are plans to build a training complex for youth teams on the movie site, as well as a new stadium and hotel. Jacque says once all of that is complete, the city projects to generate about $32 million per year in direct spending.

Some of that revenue will potentially be used to build a new splash pad, renovate the city square and upgrade the fire station and police equipment. Baseball is responsible for giving the city all that and more, while it’s also responsible for helping guide Jacque on his new journey in life.

“I tell you what, I’m absorbing all this right now because I never imagined a year ago I would be in this position,” he says. “So, it’s so rewarding for me.”

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