Shagging fouls at the Field of Dreams

Ed Rood

I must admit following Kevin Costner through a cornfield and out onto the Field of Dreams was a memorable experience. After all, it’s been 70 years since I did that on a regular basis.

Ed Rood

Not to belittle Costner, Major League Baseball, the White Sox, the Yankees, the thousands who attended the baseball game or the millions who watched it on television, but little old Slater, Iowa, had (and still has) a field of dreams of its own. Only the surrounding cornfields have long since disappeared.

Last Thursday night’s game, of course, was based on the 1989 movie "Field of Dreams." It told the story of a farmer from Dyersville, Iowa, who plowed down several acres of corn and built a baseball field in the hopes of attracting the spirit of Shoeless Joe Jackson, a famous baseball player who died several years before. He played for the Chicago White Sox before the players were banished from baseball forever because of a cheating scandal.

In the movie and before Thursday night’s game, the teams come on the baseball diamond from the cornfield making for a very dramatic entrance. 

It was back 1948 when the town of Slater beat that farmer from Dyersville to the punch. Eighty people felt so confident that the town needed a lighted ballpark that they signed $100 notes to finance the construction of a ballpark nestled in amongst corn and soybean fields in the west part of town. The $100 notes were never needed.

On the night of June 11 of that year, the lights went on as more than 800 fans watched the Slater Nite Hawks take the field. Gerald “Bib” Schaudt, 91, remembers that night well. He had just graduated from high school and joined his older brothers, King and Bill, as fellow Nite Hawks.

For the first several years, the field closely resembled the Field of Dreams with its border of cornfields. This gave it a surreal appearance as one would drive between fields and suddenly arrive at a lighted ball diamond.

Those cornfields proved to be challenging for us younger fans. One fun way for us to earn a little money was to shag foul balls. The problem was that the taller the corn grew the harder it was to find a baseball that had landed several rows in. My friend, Tall Paul Thornwall, was a lucky kid. He happened to be a few inches taller than the rest of us and that give him a real advantage at running and reaching an errant ball. After finding a ball the lucky kid would run to the designated ball person (Homer Locker, Frank Roznos, Gerhart Vespestad or Milo Papich) and collect a dime reward.

Another friend, Kenny Nelson, always manned the scoreboard above the fence in centerfield. That gave him a bird’s eye view of any home run that was hit. It also meant a homer was pretty much money in the bank for Kenny.

Each night, after the last ball was hit and the last foul shagged, we kids would walk down the drive through the cornfields and head for home. I honestly don’t remember anyone ever asking if this was heaven. I guess we all knew it was Iowa.

Ed Rood is the former publisher of the Tri-County Times.