DYERSVILLE — Don and Becky Lansing sit on their couch, looking over the back wall of their veranda. The brown wall already has some artwork hanging, but it will soon undergo massive changes. The two plan to paint the inside of their home and hang a collection of artifacts on the wall as a memento of their life on the farm where the movie “Field of Dreams” was filmed.
“For us, it’s more the Lansing family farm than ‘Field of Dreams’,” says Becky.
For most people, this is the “Field of Dreams”. It is the location of the iconic Dyersville diamond from the 1989 film about an Iowa farmer who plows his corn to build a baseball diamond. Since the release of the film, starring Kevin Costner and Ray Liotta, the site has become a tourist attraction, with thousands of people flocking to the grounds to relive moments from the film.
“I knew there was a lot of potential there,” Don said.
Of course, Don and Becky did. How could you not?
The two spent many nights at the farm thinking of ways to harness this potential and make it more than just a tourist spot.
Maybe they could help the children? Perhaps they could teach agriculture? Most of these ideas never materialized. But years later, after selling the farm some 15 years ago, Don and Becky are watching different visions of their dreams come true with the site’s new owners turning it into a giant youth baseball and softball complex. .
“They know what we’re trying to do,” said Dan Evans, chief operating officer of Go the Distance, the company that currently owns and operates the site. “We shared with them our plans. We shared with them our strategy and our charity. And as we move forward, we want them to move forward with us so that we can start realizing some of their dreams and some of their plans.
Don and Becky start small but dream big
One of Don and Becky’s favorite things to do while living on the farm was to sit on a swing on the patio and think about the future of the farm. The site was owned by the Lansing family and the Ameskamp family who controlled the left and center portions of the diamond until they sold it to the Lansing family in 2007. The Lansing family purchased it.
Right after the film’s release in May 1989, it became a destination spot for baseball and movie fans. They wanted to come to the town of Iowa to play field catch and go in and out of corn like actors in the movie.
Don said 7,000 tourists showed up on the grounds that year. The following year, 15,000 appeared at the northeast Iowa farm.
“It grew quickly and I had no idea what else it should be, other than being a big tourist attraction,” Don said.
That’s all it was at the start. Don and his sister, Betty Boeckenstedt, ran the part of the Lansing family, which was first purchased by their grandparents in April 1906. Don purchased it from his parents in 1979 and began to obtain the Becky’s help when the two met in 1995. Don managed the upkeep of the grounds and the rest of the site. He even used an old box spring to drag the field. Boeckenstedt ran a small souvenir stand and answered the phones. Becky, who married Don in 1996, was in charge of all legal matters and assisted with field work. At first, that’s all they really needed.
There were no house tours at the start or a giant gift shop or refreshment stand. Most of the visitors who came just wanted to visit the park, play baseball and take pictures.
“We just kept it very simple there,” Boeckenstedt said.
They also appreciated. The site closed at 6 p.m. so they could do chores around the house and farm and not have to worry about visitors stopping by to chat and hear stories. It happened all the time. Don remembered a family stopping by to talk to him while he was mowing.
Five years later, they came back.
Don was mowing again.
“‘Are you on that lawnmower all the time?'” Don remembered they had joked at him.
If they liked the simple yet smart concept of the site, they were dreaming. And dream big.
Don and Becky weren’t focused on capitalizing for themselves. They wanted to find ways to help others, especially children. So every night on the porch they would chat about the day and the different ideas.
A few kept coming back. One was to turn the barn near the field into a lodge for inner-city children who could stay there. Becky and Don considered hiring a catering service for meals and hiring volunteers to teach them about agrarian life and how to farm.
They even thought of transforming the site, which hadn’t given visitors for years, into guest rooms. The two thought it was becoming such a big hot spot that they could build a hotel there. Becky even imagined it was a Marriott and one floor had the family’s name on it.
“We talked about it, I don’t know, once a month for a few years,” she said.
But that never materialized. At least not under their supervision.
New owners pursue Don and Becky’s dream
Don and Becky’s dreams for the park remained just that: a dream.
As time passed and the site gained more interest, it became too much for them and their small staff who grew but not much. Don was worried about someone getting hurt on the pitch, which they couldn’t always keep a close eye on. Becky figured they didn’t have the business experience to bring their ideas to fruition.
Moreover, they liked to keep it simple. They had turned down other ideas and potential money-making, including an offer to build a sponsored dashboard, to keep it as is.
“To understand what our vision was for the farm and for the ballpark and it was small, simple and serene,” Becky said.
This remained the same even after ending a long dispute and buying the remaining property from the Ameskamp family who had turned their own part of it into a tourist attraction. Don and Becky quietly put the house on the market but received no offers as they wanted. Eventually, Denise Stillman, who started Go the Distance, reached out. Stillman not only had the financial backing, but also a plan that Don and Becky liked for the site.
Like Don and Becky, she planned to turn the site into a place for young people. She had an idea she called “All-Star Ballpark Heaven”, a youth baseball and softball complex around the site of the film. This appealed to Don and Becky, who wanted to make sure the site would be in good hands once they sold it. They figured it was with Stillman, who bought it in 2012.
“It took a big load off us,” Don said.
Stillman added to the fan experience. She gave tours of the park, opened a bigger gift shop, concession stand, and turned the barn into a place to book events. She even tried to organize a Major League Baseball game there. But some of his other ideas, like the youth complex, never materialized. She passed away in 2018.
Three years later, Hall of Famer Frank Thomas and a group of partners purchased Go the Distance.
But his ideas and those of the Lansing family survived. After taking over the business and site, the new owners unveiled their own plan in April for a youth complex that would include eight softball and baseball diamonds, team dormitories and even a hotel.
It’s a larger version of the plans Don and Becky talked about years ago on the porch. Now it’s happening.
Evans said they hope the fields will be operational by 2023. Although Don and Becky are no longer involved with the site, they are a big reason for its future.
“They helped build the foundation and the ground keeping the oar alive,” Dyersville Mayor Jeff Jacque said.
While Don and Becky wanted to keep things simple, they are now excited about the site’s grand plans. They still live a short drive from the park and venture out to see how things are going. One of the items they plan to hang on their wall is a photo from last year’s championship game between the Chicago White Sox and the New York Yankees which has been placed in a purpose-built stadium near the movie diamond. This new park will host another game this year between the Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds.
It’s kind of hard for Don and Becky to figure out how bad this all has become. From time to time, Becky can’t help but wonder. What if?
And if they had gone to the end of the ideas?
“I wonder,” she said.
But then …
“I think the farm is in much better hands.”
Tommy Birch, the Register’s sports entrepreneur and featured reporter, has worked at the newspaper since 2008. He is Iowa’s 2018 and 2020 Sports Writer of the Year. Contact him at [email protected] or 515-284-8468. Follow him on Twitter @TommyBirch.