By Jake Mintz
FOX Sports MLB Writer
DYERSVILLE, Iowa — There’s a moment in every midsummer night minor-league ballgame, usually around the sixth inning or so, when the sun has already dipped beyond the horizon, yet the sky is still bright and blue enough for baseball.
It’s the golden hour, the precious minutes in which time freezes, and summer feels endless, and life itself becomes entirely weightless, at least for an inning or two.
But Tuesday night outside Dyersville, Iowa, that priceless moment yawned and stretched itself out across a full nine. Hidden deep within the state’s endless rolling hills, nestled among miles and miles of green-yellow cornstalk, the Field of Dreams Stadium played host to a minor-league matchup for the very first time.
In 2021, the makeshift ballpark, carved out of cornfields just yards away from the “Field of Dreams” movie site, opened with quite a bit of fanfare, a national showcase game on FOX and a showdown for the ages between the White Sox and Yankees that concluded with an unforgettable Tim Anderson walk-off homer.
This year, a minor-league appetizer was added to the docket two nights ahead of the MLB game, scheduling a matchup between the two closest MiLB clubs: the Cedar Rapids Kernels (Twins) and the Quad Cities River Bandits (Royals). A capacity crowd of 7,532 watched the River Bandits beat their High-A Midwest League rivals by a score of 7-2.
And while most of the attention and hoopla will come when the Cubs and Reds square off Thursday (7:15 pm ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app), the inaugural minor-league game was a fitting companion to the Field of Dreams’ congenial, quaint and quintessentially Iowan surroundings.
When it’s packed and crawling with fans, the Field of Dreams site feels like Bonnaroo with baseball pants, cars packed hundreds deep atop overgrown grass, an ocean of port-a-johns around every corner, farmland as far as the eye can see. All that makes the everyman essence of minor-league baseball — its accessibility, its relatability, its down-to-earth Americana — the perfect energy for Dyersville.
The River Bandits-Kernels game was a celebration of the relationship between Iowa and minor-league baseball.
“Having the two Iowa teams here, Quad Cities and Cedar Rapids, makes this such a special and unique Iowa event,” said Jillian, a Davenport resident wearing a matching River Bandits hat and shirt.
Jillian was at the game with her father, Mark, both of whom have served in the Navy. That means they’ve uprooted and moved quite a few times throughout their lives. But at every stop along their way, from Norfolk, Virginia, to Colorado Springs, Colorado, to Davenport, Iowa, minor-league baseball has always been there, a common thread, an instant connection.
“I absolutely love minor-league baseball,” she told FOX Sports. “It’s so community-oriented. It’s more accessible to people. It’s cheaper. It’s usually located in towns that don’t have a lot of other things to do.”
Tickets for the minor-league game Tuesday sold for around $65. The crowd seemed local and down-to-earth, with many fans donning some sort of Iowa-related, minor-league baseball apparel.
“Minor-league baseball means a lot to this state,” JD Scholten, a former minor-league player turned Iowa State House candidate, explained to FOX Sports. “It’s really what allows for the sport of baseball and the state of Iowa to overlap.”
While many locals cheer for the Cubs or Royals or Twins, there are obviously no big-league teams in Iowa. The White Sox-Yankees showdown last season was the first MLB game ever played in the state.
Wrigley Field and Guaranteed Rate Park are at least three hours away for even the most easterly Iowans; American Family Field in Milwaukee is about two-and-a-half hours. Target Field in Minneapolis is a three-and-a-half-hour trek from Des Moines, and Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City is about four hours away.
The lack of big-league proximity has served to create an environment in which minor-league baseball reigns supreme. Having the opportunity to see the stars of tomorrow under the shadow of a cornfield is a huge draw for baseball-crazed locals.
“I saw Mike Trout play up in Beloit when he was with Burlington,” Tom Kirschbaum, a Rockford, Illinois, resident and lifelong minor-league baseball fan, told FOX Sports. “Way back when, I saw Delino DeShields, the older one, play in Rockford.”
Tom Kirschbaum, a lifelong minor-league baseball fan, traveled from central Illinois to see the Cedar Rapids-Quad Cities game Tuesday at Field of Dreams Stadium.
Kirschbaum made the two-hour drive to Dyersville from his home in central Illinois to see the atmosphere and to celebrate minor-league baseball. Decked out in a Beloit Snappers (High-A, now the Beloit Sky Carp) throwback hat and a limited-edition Rockford Reds jersey (“They were only the Reds for just one year, in 1999.”), with a beloved camera strung around his neck, Tom looked like the quintessential minor-league baseball lifer.
“I get to bring my camera, I take pictures, I see the players grow up and become big-leaguers,” he said. “And the affordability is great. But this place is really something, a great experience.”
One of the major themes in the “Field of Dreams” movie is how the magic of baseball can shine on anybody, anywhere, at any time. And on Tuesday, the Field of Dreams Game perfectly showcased the uncomplicated fun and simple accessibility that minor-league baseball offers to fans all across the country, in a setting that only served to amplify its magic.
Jake Mintz is the louder half of @CespedesBBQ and a baseball writer for FOX Sports. He’s an Orioles fan living in New York City, and thus, he leads a lonely existence most Octobers. If he’s not watching baseball, he’s almost certainly riding his bike. You can follow him on Twitter @Jake_Mintz.
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