Since the Clinton Lumberkings (that would be the Seattle Mariners single-A farm team) was out of town when my parents and I were passing through Iowa, we opted for the next best baseball option in the area: The Field of Dreams movie set.

In case you haven’t seen the 1989 flick, the movie stars Kevin Costner as an Iowa farmer. He hears a voice that cryptically tells him to build a baseball field in the middle of his field and take a cross country trip to find a reclusive author. Back in Iowa, players’ long-dead (particularly Shoeless Joe Jackson and other White Sox accused of throwing the 1919 World Series) emerged from the cornfield to once again partake in their favorite pastime. The movie is based on the book Shoeless Joe, but the movie is better. Although to be honest, I only got through ½ the book and I’ve seen the movie dozens of times.

The baseball field is still in the middle of an Iowa cornfield, and it is free (Yes! Free!) to visitors. The couple who owns the property is (according to their website) committed to keeping the site from getting over-commercialized, and they’ve done a good job. There is a small shack of souvenirs and an information board about the field and movie, but that’s pretty much it. Families are free to run around the bases (much smaller than a regulation ball field), walk through the surrounding cornfields, take in the sites from wooden bleachers, play catch in the outfield, and take batting practice from home plate. Don’t forget to bring your own baseball gear.

The Field is scheduled to be sold in late 2012, but apparently the new owners are also committed to keeping the site as is and accessible to visitors. We will see. Presently, Field of Dream hours are 9am – 6pm, and the field is open daily from April 1st to November 30th. The Field is located at 28995 Lansing Road in Dyersville Iowa, which is in the middle of nowhere. You can check their website for a map (and other information, including movie trivia) and directions, although my GPS got us there with no problems.

This post contains affilitate links to Amazon.com. Purchasing a book or movie via these links will earn me a bit of money, so thank you!

Two summers ago I drove from Las Vegas to Albuquerque to Denver. It was around Father’s Day, so my parents flew in to the Mile High City to spend a few days with me. This was extra cool because they paid for a downtown hotel room. I was already really liking Colorado. The drive up from New Mexico was all red and blue and pretty. I ran a race in Evergreen, this cute town in the mountains. White water rafting in Cañon City was a bit scary, but (like all scary things are) very fun. Rocky Mountain National Park of course had great hiking. I didn’t even notice any altitude changes.

But Denver! Or my goodness, Denver was amazing. I usually connect more with small towns than big cities when I travel, but Denver was different. Colorado’s capital had exactly what I like in a downtown area – tons of great restaurants, a main thoroughfare set aside just for pedestrians, painted pianos set up randomly, a system of bike rentals that made navigating the town easy, a revitalized Lower Downtown area (LoDo) which was beyond adorable (in a rugged, outdoorsy sort of way), and the Platte River was brimming with families outside playing and picnicking. Everyone I met was into running, hiking, camping, skiing, and other things that I like. So of course I loved Denver immediately. But I wasn’t thinking about moving here. Not yet.

Then we went to a Rockies game. I’d bought my parents tickets (good tickets) to a Cubs vs. Rockies game. Being from Seattle, we are American League fans, but decided to root for the Rockies. It was a good decision.

Carlos Gonzalez’s first at-bat was a line drive that landed him on 3rd base. I filled in three-fourths of the diamond on my scorecard and snuck a hopeful look at Dad, who was doing the same thing on his scorecard. He gave me a warning look to keep my mouth shut. Verbalizing what I was thinking would be bad luck.

For all you non-baseball fans, I was thinking about the cycle. A cycle is when a batter gets a single, double, triple, and home run all in the same game. It happens very rarely. I’m not positive, but I think the Seattle Mariners (as a team) have had three players hit for the cycle in the 20+ years that I’ve been a fan. I’d never seen one in person.

Of all the four required hits, the triple is usually the hardest for a player to secure. This is why I’d given Dad a sidelong glance after that first triple. 

I’m unwilling to find my scorecard for fact checking purposes, but I remember that the game was an exciting one. It was back and fourth the whole night, with the Cubs pulling ahead and then the Rockies fighting back. Meanwhile, Carlos was busily getting his single and his double. At this point, cautious whispers throughout the stadium began quietly verbalizing what I’d been thinking six innings ago. By the ninth inning the game was tied (as it had been a few times previously). I don’t remember if it was the bottom of the ninth or the bottom of the tenth, but Carlos came up to bat. All he needed was a homerun to win the game and complete the cycle.

The stadium was screaming, but I felt doubt creep in. There was no way he was going to get a good pitch. That Cubbies pitcher had to know that Carlos would be trigger happy…ready to swing at anything.

He got his pitch.

Carlos slammed a walk off homerun and completed the cycle at Coors Field that night. In the midst of screaming, jumping up and down, texting this guy who’d been watching the game at home with me, doing more screaming, filling in a homerun on my scorecard, and jumping up and down some more, I decided that I needed to move to Denver. It was a sign.

So I went home and immediately applied for my Colorado Teaching License. And now here I am. I can’t wait for baseball season to start.

I’m writing this from the Tokyo-Narita airport. This airport makes me want to stay in Japan. It’s fantastically organized and spotless. It is hot though. I read somewhere that the Japanese government is keeping buildings at 85 degrees to conserve energy. “Good for them,” I’d thought, not remembering that I would be sitting in a Japanese government building for four hours. Oh well.

But this post isn’t about a Japanese airport. It’s about someplace even hotter: Modesto, California. The problem is that I’m traveling faster than I’m blogging, which is pretty much the best problem in the world.

So Modesto. Not typically a sought after destination, unless you are a minor league baseball fan. Last Tuesday (June 21st) the Modesto Nuts hosted the California-Carolina League All-Star Smash, wherein the top prospects for both leagues battle out their nine innings together. The game is played in different stadiums each year, alternating between the east and west coast. This year it was Modesto’s John Thurman Field turn to host the event.

 

Modesto pulled out all the stops for the 5,000+ fans that were in attendance, from Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers throwing out the first pitch to the fireworks show after the game. California even beat Carolina 6-1, thanks mostly to a typically minor-league 3rd inning which included two walks, a fumbled double-play ball, a hit batter, two singles and a sac fly. Buy hey – we’ll take it!

 

John Thurman Field is located at 601 Neece Drive, Modesto, CA 95351. The area is pretty nice (not always the case for baseball stadiums), tucked near a park and golf course. If you want to avoid the parking fee, plenty of street parking is available.

The stadium features mostly bleacher seating, but those bleachers have backs, so they’re not too bad. The only seat-seats are in the section behind home plate. But no matter where you sit, your less-than-$20 seats will have a great view. Thus the allure of minor league baseball.

If you go to a game, be sure to get an autograph or two. The players are more than happy to oblige, and you never know…they could be major leaguers someday! 

You know “family packages” are usually for a family of four? At a Salt Lake City Bee’s game you can win a family pack of baseball tickets – for a family of eight.

In the Bee’s program, along with the lineup and scorecard, are advertisements for local Mormon churches. The parking lot (where you should NOT park, to avoid the $6 fee) is filled with large and expensive looking SUV’s – useful for both traversing mountain passes and shuttling large families to and fro.

This is one reason why I always buy tickets to minor league baseball games when on a spring or summer road trip. (The other reason being that I love baseball more than traveling itself. And that’s saying a lot!) Minor league ballparks provide major community insight. The outfield walls will be covered with advertisements to local restaurants. Community events will be referenced over the loudspeakers in between innings. Friendly people surrounding you (because baseball lovers are the best kind of people) will fill you in on anything you might want to know about their hometown. From the ceremonial first pitch to the 7th inning stretch, minor league stadiums are “1-2-3” times better then local tourism offices.   

A couple minor league tips:

  • Peruse the concession area and enter any contests. Almost all stadiums have free giveaways. Since this is not a major-league crowd, you actually have a good chance of winning!
  • Ballparks are often in questionable areas of town (where land and property is cheaper), so be aware. Surrounding hotels are often not the best…but usually they are less expensive.
  • Minor league players are amenable to signing balls and programs. Come early or stick around after the game to score an autograph.
  • Check www.milb.com for a list of ballparks throughout the US. Call ahead to reserve tickets because some stadiums do sell out. 
  • Bring blankets and warm clothes. Even Southern California gets cold in the 8th inning.
  • Learn how to keep score. It’s fun, a great conversation starter, and a good record of the game. If one of the players makes it to the majors it’ll be fun to look back and remember the game where you saw him as a 19-year-old rookie, chasing big dreams.