DYERSVILLE, Iowa -- On Tuesday afternoon, prior to the inaugural MiLB at Field of Dreams game, a group of men wearing 1919 Chicago White Sox uniforms emerged from the same cornfield depicted in the movie. This pinstriped contingent were members of the Ghost Players, a group that played a huge
DYERSVILLE, Iowa -- On Tuesday afternoon, prior to the inaugural MiLB at Field of Dreams game, a group of men wearing 1919 Chicago White Sox uniforms emerged from the same cornfield depicted in the movie. This pinstriped contingent were members of the Ghost Players, a group that played a huge role in making Dyersville the baseball destination that it is today.
Field of Dreams opened in theaters on May 5, 1989, captivating audiences with its supernatural, nostalgia-drenched portrayal of our National Pastime. The Ghost Players, a collective comprised entirely of Dyersville-area locals, made their debut shortly thereafter. It didn't seem like that big a deal at the time.
Marv Maiers, one of the Ghost Players in attendance at Tuesday's game, explained that in 1989 he was managing Dyersville's semi-pro team. One day he got a call from Keith Rahe (pronounced "Ray"), who owned a farm approximately two miles from where Field of Dreams was filmed. The movie's success had inspired baseball fans to make a pilgrimage to the field, and Rahe hit upon the idea to dress up as players and emerge from the outfield. He'd bought eight vintage White Sox jerseys, but to make his vision a reality he needed some pants.
"The semi-pro team, we had Yankees uniforms, basically. So we had pinstriped pants," said Maiers. "Keith says, 'Can I borrow the pants?' I said, 'Sure, but I've got to go along because I've got to get them back.'"
Maiers provided eight pairs of pants, along with four of his players, to help create the initial Ghost Players squad.
"The following Sunday, we came out and walked out of the corn. We just came out of the blue," he said. "So it was just like, 'Where the hell they come from and where the hell are they going?'"
This unscheduled appearance created a stir among the visitors, and as luck would have it a writer from the Cedar Rapids Gazette was on hand to write about it. This led to The New York Times and Wall Street Journal picking up the story, and from there, as Maiers puts it, "all hell broke lose." The following Sunday morning Rahe received a call from Al Ameskamp, a partial owner of the land on which the field had been constructed. One thousand people were on the field, waiting for the Ghost Players to appear. A new Sunday tradition was born, but Maiers said "the story gets crazier from there."
Capitalizing on the fact that they had become an unexpected phenomenon, the Ghost Players developed a Harlem Globetrotters-style comedy show. It caught the attention of businessman and philanthropist Larry Stewart, who invited them to perform in his hometown of Kansas City.
"This story's so stupid," said Maiers, still marveling at the sheer improbability of it all. "When we were in Kansas City, a guy from the MWR saw the show. The MWR is the Morale, Warfare and Recreation department for the United States Department of Defense. The next place we went to was Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. And here it goes, the story gets crazier. When we were in Cuba they were having a convention of MWR directors for all the branches of the service. We started a tour with the MWR from 1993 until 2001, I think it was.
"Everybody burned their vacation and personal days and everything else. We came in and gave them an entire day. We would do a clinic in the morning for the kids, then early afternoon we would do our comedy routine and then turn around and play the base team in baseball or softball that night. So they got a whole day's worth of entertainment, and we just moved from base to base to base. Here we are 27 foreign countries later, and I think we've been to 38 or 40 states."
The 2021 MLB Field of Dreams game, and this year's follow-up featuring both a Major and Minor League game, has made Dyersville into even more of a baseball tourism destination. The Ghost Players continue to perform at the movie site, with four standalone shows on this season's schedule. The Ghost Players have now become a multi-generational affair as well, with sons of the original members now part of the troupe.
Larry Schieltz, who grew up in the nearby town of Peosta, said the Ghost Players are "a unique fraternity to take part in."
"The reason I keep coming back is because what we do mirrors the movie," he said. "It's about redemption and second chances. And the message to take the time to say 'I love you,' or to thank somebody. That's what we really preach in our routine and what the Ghost Players are about."
Maiers, meanwhile, sums it up thusly: "The story's so goofy, if you wrote a book no one would believe it anyway."
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.