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Baseball fans cherish ‘chance of a lifetime’

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field of dreams1 21-09-08s

A cornfield lined the outfield fence at the major league stadium built for the Field of Dreams game played at Dyersville on Aug. 12.

Linda Jensen of Carroll and her family — husband, two sons and daughters-in-law — were batting 0-for-6, striking out in the lottery for tickets to last month’s historic Field of Dreams major league baseball game.

But then magic struck. A couple of days after Jensen’s son Justin Schieffer had received a rejection notice, an email popped up telling him congratulations, he had the opportunity to buy two tickets to the first-ever major league game played in Iowa, between the New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox. He had till 5 p.m. the next day to make the purchase.

Then Schieffer texted his mom, inviting her to go along to the game.

“I was so excited,” Jensen said of her response, adding with a laugh, “I told him, ‘I was hoping you’d ask me.’ ”

Well, actually Schieffer had asked his wife, Erica, first.

“But (Erica) lost her mom last Aug. 22,” Jensen said, “and she told Justin, ‘You need to go and enjoy time with your mom. So that goes along with the whole theme of the Field of Dreams story. She wanted Justin to spend time with his mom, because she can’t do that anymore.”

So that’s how on Aug. 12, Jensen and her son walked from the “Field of Dreams” movie scene just outside Dyersville in eastern Iowa, through rows of corn to a path lined with life-size cardboard cutouts of Yankee and White Sox players to the nearly 8,000-seat stadium specially constructed for this game, which celebrated the “Shoeless Joe: Field of Dreams” book by W.P. Kinsella, released in 1982, and the “Field of Dreams” movie, starring Kevin Costner, Burt Lancaster and James Earl Jones, released in 1989.

Jensen and Schieffer arrived at section L9, row 10, seats 13 and 14 — only three rows behind the White Sox dugout on the third-base line — just about a half hour before the first pitch.

They saw Costner of “Field of Dreams,” along with the Yankees and White Sox, sporting vintage team uniforms, walk onto the field from the cornfield, just like the ghost players in the movie.

“When Kevin Costner said (in the pregame ceremony) it was perfect — I can’t think of anything they missed,” Jensen said. “The field and everything were perfect. In town, all the lawns were manicured. They really went all out.

“When Kevin Costner and then the players walked out on the field, it just really gave me chills. It was pretty cool.

“The whole atmosphere was fun. It was the chance of a lifetime.”

For Jensen, the “Field of Dreams” story mirrors some of her own life.

A daughter of Mary and the late Vern Lechtenberg — her mom retired as deputy Carroll County auditor and worked more than 50 years in the courthouse while her dad was a longtime auto mechanic — Jensen started to pay attention to baseball because her dad was a big fan of the game. Jensen, a 1981 Kuemper Catholic High School graduate, said her dad took her to her first major league game in the mid- or late 1970s — the Yankees at the Kansas City Royals.

Jensen started watching more baseball in order to share interest with her sons, both Kuemper graduates, Justin in 2000 and Michael in 2003.

“It was be interested in what they were interested in so I could spend time with them. So  I watched baseball, wrestling, all that fun stuff,” she said.

Today, Justin is in social work, while Michael works in banking, and he and his wife, Carly, live in Cedar Rapids.

Jensen has worked at Hy-Vee in Carroll 33 years and is currently service manager, while her husband, Gary, is also a longtime Hy-Vee employee and is store manager in Jefferson.

Jensen said of the effort to land the Field of Dream tickets, “‘Field of Dreams’ is my favorite movie, and the White Sox, we’ve been watching the White Sox since the early ’90s. We’re big White Sox fans.”

Although she hasn’t read the book, Jensen said, she’s seen the movie as many as 15 times. She’s visited the Field of Dreams movie site several times and even was on hand for a special event that featured the cast of the movie “Major League” and such major league greats  as hall-of-famers Reggie Jackson and Frank Thomas.

Jensen said “Field of Dream’s” sentimentality and Iowa setting explain her love of the movie.

“It would be nice to be able to watch it with him,” she said of her dad.

So for her, the game served up a perfect thriller finish, as White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson blasted a two-run home run into the cornfield beyond the right-field fence in the bottom of the ninth to give the White Sox a 9-8 victory after the Yankees had rallied to take the lead in the top of the inning.

“They couldn’t have written a better game, being a White Sox fan, and then Tim Anderson hitting a walkoff home run was unbelievable,” she said. “I now watch more baseball than my son (Justin) does, believe it or not. He said, ‘Can (Anderson) do it?’ I said, ‘Tim Anderson can definitely do it.’ Then he jacks one over the fence into the cornfield.”

A number of other Carroll-area residents, such as Randy and Debbie Nieland of rural Auburn and Dave Bruner of Carroll, also attended the game, although they needed to capitalize on some personal connections after missing in the ticket lottery.

Nieland, well known as a longtime Carroll barber and diehard Yankees fan, said of entering the tickets lottery, “We’ve watched ‘The Field of Dreams,’ and the Yankees and White Sox are playing in Iowa — how can I get to see a Yankees game any closer than Dyersville, Iowa?”

The Nielands made a day of it in Dyersville, arriving about 10:30 or 11 in the morning, soaking in the baseball-party atmosphere.

This was the first time they’ve visited the movie location, and before the game Randy played catch in the outfield with a great-nephew.

Features of the major league stadium — such as the oldtime, hand-operated scoreboard where numbers were put up every half inning — were awesome, Nieland said. The major league field — 335 feet down the baselines, 380 to left- and right-center fields and 400 to straightaway center — was considerably bigger than the movie field. The Nielands sat close to the Yankees’ dugout on the first-base.

Randy said the movie-script arrival of Kevin Costner and Yankees and White Sox players from the cornrows and Costner’s pregame address asking, “Is this heaven?” was very emotional. Add a gorgeous sunset, and it was a pinch-me moment, Deb said.

During the thrilling ninth inning, Randy jumped with such exuberance when the Yankees rallied for four runs on home runs by Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton that his sunglasses popped off his shirt.

“It was awesome,” he said.

But then came the heartbreaking — to Yankee fans — finish with the White Sox’s Anderson’s winning home run. Randy wondered if that’s the way it was meant to be.

He said he consoled himself with the thought, “This is the way it’s supposed to end. I was OK with that. I told everybody, ‘You can’t beat a ghost.’ ”

Carroll attorney and St. Louis Cardinals fan Bruner said of the scene, “It was very well run — the facilities, the way they positioned the field where you took your seat and looked out past the outfield fence and all you could see was corn. I’m sure major league baseball didn’t spare any expense on the field itself.”

Bruner said of Costner and the players’ entrance to the “Field of Dreams” music score, “Some women around me were teary eyed as this was all going on. So to some, it was very emotional. It was just a neat way to do it. And of course, I don’t know how you top the game itself. There were all kinds of home runs (eight) and the bottom-of-the-ninth home run to win it for the Sox. You couldn’t script it any better.”

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