DYERSVILLE — Don and Becky Lansing grab a spot on their sofa as they look over the back wall of their sunroom. The brown wall already has a few pieces of artwork hanging, but it will undergo massive changes soon. The two plan to paint the inside of their home and hang a collection of things on the wall as a reminder of their time living on the farm where the film “Field of Dreams” was filmed.
“It’s more Lansing family farm to us than ‘Field of Dreams,’” Becky says.
To most people, it is the “Field of Dreams.” It’s the location of the iconic Dyersville diamond from the 1989 movie about an Iowa farmer who plows over his corn to build a baseball field. Ever since the movie, starring Kevin Costner and Ray Liotta, came out, the site has become a tourist attraction, with thousands flocking to the field to relive moments from the movie.
“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 on the farm kicking around ideas of ways they could tap into that potential and make it more than just a sightseeing spot.
Maybe they could help out kids? Perhaps they could teach farming? Most of those ideas never came to fruition. But years later, after they sold the farm about 15 years ago, Don and Becky are watching different visions of their dreams become a reality 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, the COO of Go the Distance, the company that owns and operates the site now. “We’ve shared with them our plans. We’ve shared with them our strategy and our charity. And as we move forward, we want them moving forward with us so we can start to carry out 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 when they lived on the farm was sit on swing in the patio and think about the future of the farm. The site was owned by the Lansing family and the Ameskamp family who was in control of the left and centerfield parts of the diamond until they sold it to the Lansing family in 2007. The Lansing family bought it.
Right after the movie was released in May 1989, it turned into a destination spot for baseball and movie fans alike. They wanted to come to the Iowa town to play catch on the field and walk in and out of the corn like actors in the movie.
Don said that 7,000 tourists showed up to the field that year. The next year, 15,000 appeared at the farm in northeast Iowa.
"It grew fast and I didn't really have any idea of what else it should be except for being a big tourist attraction," Don said.
That's all it was at first. Don and his sister, Betty Boeckenstedt, ran the Lansing family part, which was first purchased by their grandparents in April of 1906. Don bought it from his parents in 1979 and began getting help from Becky when the two met in 1995. Don handled the maintenance of the field and the rest of the site. He even used an old bed spring to drag the field. Boeckenstedt ran a small souvenir stand and answered phones. Becky, who married Don in 1996, was in charge of any legal matters and helped with work around the field. Early on, that's all they really needed.
There were no house tours early on or giant gift shop or refreshment stand. Most visitors who came just wanted to visit the park, play baseball and take photos.
"We just kept it very simple out there," Boeckenstedt said.
They enjoyed it as well. The site would close at 6 p.m. so they could get chores done around the house and farm and not have to worry about visitors who would stop by to chat and hear some stories. It happened all the time. Don recalled a family stopping to talk with him while he mowed.
Five years later, they came back.
Don was mowing again.
"'Are you on that lawn mower all the time?'" Don recalled them joking to him.
While they enjoyed the simple but smart concept of the site, they did dream. And dream big.
Don and Becky weren't focused on capitalizing for themselves. They wanted to find ways to help others, especially kids. So, every night on the porch, they discussed the day and different ideas.
A few continually came up. One was to turn the barn near the field into a lodge for inner city kids who could stay there. Becky and Don contemplated hiring a catering service for meals and hiring volunteers to teach them about the agrarian life and teach them how to farm.
They even thought about making the site, which didn't give tours for years, into a bed and breakfast. The two figured it was growing into such a big hot spot that they could put up a hotel. Becky even imagined it being a Marriott and having a floor on it named after the family.
"We talked about it, I don't know, once a month for a handful of years," she said.
But it never came to fruition. At least not under their watch.
New owners carry on Don and Becky's dream
Don and Becky's dreams for the park stayed just that: a dream.
As time moved on and the site generated more interest, it became too much for them and their small staff which grew but not by much. Don worried about someone getting hurt on the field, which they couldn't always keep close tabs on. Becky figured they didn't have the business experience to get their ideas off the ground.
Besides, they liked keeping it simple. They had turned down other ideas and potential cash grabs, including an offer to build a sponsored scoreboard, to keep it the way it was.
"To understand what our vision was for the farm and for the ballfield and that was small, simple and serene," Becky said.
That stayed the same even after they ended a long dispute and purchased the remaining property of the Ameskamp family who had turned its own part of it into a tourist attraction. Don and Becky quietly put the house on the market but didn't get any offers like they wanted. Eventually, Denise Stillman, who started Go the Distance, reached out. Stillman not only had the financial backing but a plan that Don and Becky liked for the site.
Like Don and Becky, she envisioned turning the site into a spot for youths. She came up with an idea she called "All-Star Ballpark Heaven," a youth baseball and softball complex around the movie site. It appealed to Don and Becky, who wanted to make sure the site was 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 souvenir store, a concession stand and turned the barn into a spot to book events. She even tried to line up a Major League Baseball game to be played there. But some of her other ideas, like the youth complex, never happened. She died in 2018.
Three years later, Hall of Famer Frank Thomas and a group of partners bought Go the Distance.
But her ideas and the ones from the Lansing family have lived on. After taking over the company and the site, the new owners unveiled their own plan in April for a youth complex that includes nine softball and baseball fields, team dormitories and even a hotel.
It's a bigger version of the plans that Don and Becky had talked about years ago on the porch. Now it's happening.
Evans said they hope to have the fields up and running for 2023. Even though Don and Becky aren't involved with the site anymore, they're a big reason for the future of it.
"They helped build the foundation and of the field by keeping the ream alive," said Dyersville mayor Jeff Jacque.
While Don and Becky wanted to keep things simple, they're excited for the grand plans for the site now. 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 picture from last year's big-league game between the Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees that was placed in a specially constructed stadium near the diamond from the movie. That new park will host another game this year between the Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds.
It's a little hard for Don and Becky to grasp how big it has all become. Every now and then, Becky can't help but wonder. What if?
What if they had gone through with ideas?
"I wonder," she said.
But then …
"I think the farm is in way better hands."
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: Original owners of 'Field of Dreams' site watch as plans come to life