DYERSVILLE, Iowa — As I walked through the tunnel and onto the grass Thursday at Field of Dreams Stadium, a question came from a mysterious voice:
‘‘Is this heaven?’’
Nah, I grumbled to myself. It’s basically the Iowa Cubs.
The 2022 Cubs and Reds, a pair of minor-league teams posing as major-league ones, are capable of bringing only so much pageantry and romance to the table, after all. That’s true even here, at the home of the famously quaint ballfield that was the jewel of a 1989 film (based on W.P. Kinsella’s novel ‘‘Shoeless Joe’’) that received an Academy Award nomination for best picture.
The grounds include a second field, of course, the one where the Cubs beat the Reds 4-2. Cut picturesquely into a cornfield: check. Blue skies as far as the eye can see: check. A high-def video board in left, $14 chicken sandwiches at the concession stands and ‘‘Dreams’’ merch here, there, everywhere: checks all around.
‘‘If you build it,’’ sounded another voice, this one more mystical than the first, ‘‘he will come.’’
He’ll get gouged by the local hotels if he does, I thought, but still — what a great line. It beats the heck out of the Ricketts family’s motto for the Cubs: ‘‘If you rebuild it, you can still charge them full price.’’
The great Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert wrote in a four-star review in 1989: ‘‘ ‘Field of Dreams’ will not appeal to grinches and grouches and realists. It is a delicate movie, a fragile construction of one goofy fantasy after another.’’
Grinches? Grouches? It’s like he was speaking directly to me. Weeks ago, I saw this game on the schedule and began trying to convince myself of all the reasons not to want to make the drive. Two losing teams. All that traffic on the only two-lane roads coming and going. A gimmicky ballpark that likely wouldn’t even have a Starbucks or a good deli right around the corner. Sure, I saw the movie long ago and enjoyed it enough, but I’ve never been one to put baseball on an overly sentimental — almost religious — pedestal as some who cover the sport do.
In the end, I caved because, well, I’m not completely sure. But a third voice — speaking to me and perhaps also of the 2016 Cubs and 1985 Bears — put it better than I could: ‘‘Back then I thought, ‘Well, there’ll be other days.’ I didn’t realize that was the only day.’’
It really is a special place, this Field of Dreams, and it becomes even more so when Ken Griffey Jr. and his dad — former teammates, too — are playing catch in the outfield before the game, when Cubs Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins is throwing a first pitch to Reds Hall of Famer Johnny Bench and when ‘‘Dreams’’ star Kevin Costner lovingly narrates a tribute to his late friend and co-star, Ray Liotta, played over the public-address system.
All of that is so much better than the scene I’d conjured like a real smart aleck on the drive from Chicago — one with ex-Cubs Candy Maldonado, Jeff Blauser, Milton Bradley and Tyler Chatwood emerging from the outfield corn and horrifying fans in the stands by asking, ‘‘What, can’t we play, too?’’
And speaking of those real and in the flesh, 2016 Cubs World Series MVP Ben Zobrist was in the dugout before the game, taking in a scene that took him by surprise because of how much it took him back. Zobrist grew up in a place that looked so much like this. Across the road from the family home in Eureka, Illinois, were fields where corn grew some seasons and soybeans in others. It was the backdrop to countless games of catch with his dad, Tom, and his brothers. Zobrist’s parents still live there.
‘‘This is all just so totally familiar to me,’’ Zobrist said. ‘‘Just driving up here on a two-lane road, you’re parking in a grass parking lot and it’s cornfields beyond the outfield fence. I mean, I remember that as a kid [for] every league, every tournament. The corn is at the perfect height right now. It just looks amazing. This kind of stuff — the barns, the white house in the distance, the hometown feel — it’s my whole childhood.’’
He brought Tom with him to this Dream-land, a fitting touch. As they stared beyond the outfield fence, I asked if it wouldn’t be nice to disappear into the corn and become part of a baseball fantasy.
‘‘We already are,’’ Zobrist said. ‘‘Just look at it. Look around.’’
I couldn’t argue.
Didn’t even want to.