The most famous cornfield in the world grows under Iowa's deep blue sky outside of Dyersville (pop. 4,035). Since the 1989 movie Field of Dreams was filmed there, 800,000 fans have visited the baseball field carved from rows of corn. They come to share a love of baseball and to celebrate the film's magic, with its timeless messages about family, faith and second chances.
On Ghost Sunday, held the last Sunday of the month from June through September, visitors get a glimpse of that magic when the cornstalks rustle, flashes of white uniforms break through the green crop, and the Ghost Players walk on to the outfield.
"It's like a step back in time," says New Jersey resident Beth Donahue, watching a re-enactment of the movie's most famous scene—when the ghosts of the 1919 Chicago White Sox slowly emerge from the cornfield.
"The Ghost Players are what is good about America and baseball," says group founder and manager Keith Rahe. "It's a fun afternoon in the sun with family."
Nicknamed the Harlem Globe Trotters of Baseball, the Ghost Players entertain spectators with a part-slapstick, part-ad lib routine. They choose batters of all ages from the 2,000 spectators who attended a free Sunday show last summer. They stop play for a parent's "Kodak moment." They throw buckets filled with water-turned-confetti into the crowd. Toddlers get piggyback rides to first base. Catcher and co-emcee Marv Maiers "passes out." When the pitcher asks a pretty girl to resuscitate him with mouth-to-mouth, three more players collapse on the field. When a kid goes the wrong direction while running the bases, Ghost Players give chase.
"The kids are the show," Maiers says. "You never know how they're going to react."
Rahe, who serves as the team's general manager, started the Ghost Players in 1990, soon after people started visiting the famous baseball diamond.
"I thought it would be fun to play catch with the tourists," says Rahe, who rounded up a few friends, including some who were extras in the movie. Today, truck drivers, teachers, coaches, farmers and factory workers from Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin fill the Ghost Players' 30-man volunteer roster. Most play or coach semi-professional baseball teams. However, knowing the game is only one of the requirements.
"They've got to love kids, show up for performances at the field, and give up vacation time for traveling engagements," Rahe says.
For the players, ages 20 to 57, joining the team is a calling.
"Every time you get a kid to laugh at you, you're making his life better," says Ron Lucas, a former minor league pitcher from Holy Cross, Iowa, who appeared in the movie.
Dennis Rima, a pitcher and co-emcee from Dubuque, agrees. "It's worth it to see kids, their parents and grandparents smile."
The Ghost Players have performed or conducted baseball clinics in 47 states, 27 foreign countries and on 58 military bases.
"They really love the game and love kids," says Rogers Strickland, of Weston, Mo. (pop. 1,631), who runs Rogers' Dream Field, a workshop for underprivileged kids. The Ghost Players frequently visit and offer advice that goes beyond baseball.
"I tell (children) athletics will only take them so far," Maiers says. "That people remember not the kind of player, but the kind of person they are."
Before seeing the Ghost Players, many visitors watch Field of Dreams, the story of Ray Kinsella (played by Kevin Costner), who built a baseball diamond in his cornfield after hearing a voice that whispered, "If you build it, he will come." The magical field becomes the catalyst to provide second chances for many of the movie's characters, including Kinsella who reconciles with his late father through a simple game of catch.
"If you see the movie, this place is magic," says Chris Nimmer, a spectator from Appleton, Wis.
Miracles still occur there, according to the Ghost Players. A young man met his natural father there. Another time, brothers estranged for 25 years reconciled during a Ghost Sunday show.
"They recognized each other in the crowd and started talking, crying and hugging," Maiers recalls. "The crowd and players all had tears in their eyes."
"Stories like that make us feel good about what we're doing," Rahe says.
Visit www.leftandcenterfod.com or call (800) 443-8981 for more information.