DYERSVILLE — Dwier Brown remembers the moment he realized the major impact his role in “Field of Dreams” had on people.
A few months after the film came out, Brown was on a camping trip at Lake Isabella in Florida and doing some shopping. As he walked around the store, a stranger recognized him and started talking to Brown about his role as the father of the main character. The man told Brown he hadn’t spoken to his dad in 20 years. But after seeing the movie, he reached out to his father and repaired their relationship.
“I was just blown away,” Brown said.
The encounter ended with a huge hug right there in the middle of the shop. It was the first of many similar encounters Brown has experienced over the last three decades. Brown had become one of the biggest stars in the movie. His brief role as John Kinsella, father of Kevin Costner’s character Ray Kinsella, resonated with viewers on a deep, personal level. People started reaching out to Brown to talk about the relationship they had with their father or their son.
“It was just extraordinary and it would happen over and over again,” Brown said.
Brown had just a few minutes of screen time in the famous flick about an Iowa farmer who plows over his corn and builds a baseball field for eight members of the infamous 1919 Chicago White Sox to play on. Brown made the most of his role. What he thought might be a few minutes of fame has turned into a lifetime of inspiring others.
"He's a great part of the movie," said Dyersville mayor Jeff Jacque.
Brown goes against 300 other actors, including Jim Carrey
Brown wanted the role.
He was already familiar with the character when his agent reached out about a possible audition. Brown read W.P. Kinsella's book "Shoeless Joe" in college. The book was the inspiration for the movie, which was set to star Costner, Ray Liotta, James Earl Jones, Amy Madigan and Burt Lancaster.
John Kinsella was among the ghost players on the field at the end of the movie. His appearance surprised his son Ray, and the two repaired their relationship by "having a catch" on the field as the camera panned away from the field for the closing credits.
"I thought these six pages (in the script) are not very significant in the larger scheme of things," Brown said.
Brown jumped at the opportunity to be in the film. He figured it was a nice, feel-good story. It reminded him of one of his favorite movies, "It's a Wonderful Life." Brown had seen the type of inspiration the movie had on others and wanted to do the same with his acting.
This was his chance.
Brown learned years later that more than 300 actors showed up to the audition. Among them was a future comedy superstar named Jim Carrey. Brown didn't feel great about his tryout and started looking for other jobs. One week passed. Then another and another. He figured he hadn't gotten the role.
Then, about five weeks after his audition, he was notified he got the part. It was a rare big break for Brown, who said he was a finalist for Tom Cruise's role in "Risky Business" and, years later, Brad Pitt's part in "Thelma & Louise."
"I just couldn't be happier," Brown said. "It was just a lucky break as far as I'm concerned that I got this one and somebody else didn't."
Brown was able to bring something to the role that no one else could.
The death of Brown's dad inspires him in the movie
Brown was planning to go home to Ohio for a visit before he started filming when his phone rang. It was his mom. She told him he should visit soon. Brown's father, Walter, was in the hospital but his mom downplayed it. He figured he could keep his schedule and come in a few weeks.
But as Brown hung up the phone, he changed his mind. He had a gut feeling he should get back sooner. So he changed his plans and went back to Ohio.
He arrived just in time. Brown's father was dying. The actor made it back just in time and sat by his father's bed for more than 10 hours before he died. Walter's death came 36 days before filming began for "Field of Dreams." Everything had changed for Brown in terms of playing the deceased father whose relationship with his son had deteriorated.
"It certainly made it different ... having left my dad's funeral to go play a dead father coming out of the corn to have a catch with their son," Brown said. "It certainly added a whole level of impact for me."
Brown brought part of his experience to the role. He understood the grieving process and the importance of making the most of any time you have with loved ones.
Brown incorporated his father into the movie by bringing his dad's old glove to the set. But Brown's character had to use a catcher's mitt.
"I felt my dad's presence there on the field with all the other ghost players," Brown said.
The iconic scene took weeks to film. Brown showed up at the field at sunset to shoot a line or two over and over each day. Makers of the film wanted the lighting and the time of day to be perfect.
A cameraman then leaned out of a helicopter above the field to capture Brown and Costner playing catch at the end of the movie. The scene has stuck with Brown forever.
Dwier Brown's role still resonating with 'Field of Dreams' fans
Brown's acting career didn't end with "Field of Dreams."
He landed many other roles, including spots in "Red Dragon," "ER" and "Quantum Leap." But the movie he made in Dubuque County put him on the map.
"I didn't really realize the impact it would have," Brown said.
Brown wrote a book titled "If You Build It: A Book about Fathers, Fate and Field of Dreams." He tours the country doing speaking engagements and sharing stories about the movie and the experiences he had with his father.
Brown frequently returns to Dyersville and the famous ball field.
"I respect the fact this place means the world to him," said Dan Evans, the chief operating officer of Go the Distance, the company that owns and operates the site. Evans is a former general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
In December 2021, Brown and his longtime friend David Feigin purchased the Tegeler Dairy Building in Dyersville. They created "The Baseball Hall of Dreams," a museum that focuses on overcoming disabilities, sportsmanship and courage. Visitors can write down their own hopes on the museum's "wall of dreams."
"He's an adopted resident of Dyersville because he's generous with his time and he's a very giving person," Jacque said.
The movie and Brown's character have picked up newfound fame with Major League Baseball building a special stadium near the film site. The Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees played there last season. The Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds take the field Thursday.
Brown is in town again this week, decades after playing a role that changed people's lives. He wouldn't have guessed it back in 1988 when the film was made.
"I'm happy to have been dead wrong," he said.
Tommy Birch, the Register's sports enterprise and features reporter, has been working at the newspaper since 2008. He's the 2018 and 2020 Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Reach him at email@example.com or 515-284-8468. Follow him on Twitter @TommyBirch.
This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: How 'Field of Dreams' father-son catch scene still inspires fans