August 9, 2021
This coming week, life will imitate art when a bunch of big-league ballplayers walk through a cornfield to reach a regulation, manicured—if comparatively secluded—diamond where they plan to play a game of baseball, Bloomberg reports.
On August 12, the Chicago White Sox will be the “home” team, taking on the New York Yankees at the site of the 1989 movie, “Field of Dreams” in front of 8,000 fans in Dyersville, Iowa.
It’ll be the first regular season Major League Baseball game in the state, Bloomberg notes—but maybe not the last.
This is the kind of exposure public officials dream about when they’re bitten by the economic-development bug. But the municipal market hasn’t quite caught up. Not yet.
Dyersville, with a population of roughly 4,100, was incorporated in 1872. It sold $3.9 million in general-obligation bonds during the first week of August to pay for capital improvements and a new skid loader and fire truck. The unrated offering included tax-exempt bonds due in 2037 that priced 84 basis points above top-rated munis.
The only mention of the thing that draws thousands of tourists to the city each year is contained in a single sentence of the official statement to the bonds: “The City is home to the National Farm Toy Museum and the Field of Dreams Movie Site.”
Such modesty is likely to fade after MLB comes to town with a national broadcast, no doubt to be filled with excerpts from the movie and swelling musical accompaniment in addition to glimpses of the charms of Dyersville’s downtown.
The site has shown remarkable durability for the setting of a 32-year old movie. There’s not exactly a lot to do there. Visitors basically follow the script as laid out in the movie by James Earl Jones’s character, writer Terence Mann: “People will come, Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom.”
Right now, they come to soak up the atmosphere and maybe look to the surrounding cornfield in the hopes that Shoeless Joe Jackson and the other Black Sox will emerge, as they did in the film. And then maybe tour the farmhouse and buy a souvenir.
That’s it. And yet between 65,000 and 100,000 fans reportedly do this every year. That’s staying power, and a testament to the movie’s place in the culture.
A company called Go the Distance Baseball bought the parcel in 2011. A representative says it’s now waiting to acquire and confirm funding to start to build a complex of six fields for a youth sports center on the site. We have seen lots of municipal bond deals finance these projects. Sister company All-Star Ballpark Heaven now runs youth tournaments at city facilities.
The MLB game was originally scheduled for 2020, but the pandemic intervened, and the event was postponed to this week. The game isn’t being played on the actual field, but on a diamond constructed beside it, accessed by a pathway through the cornfield.
Mayor James Heavens of Dyersville has said the long-term goal is to make this a marketing opportunity for the town. But some fans apparently feel you can put a price on existential joy. On Friday, pairs of tickets—sold to Iowans by lottery for $375 apiece and also distributed to the two clubs— were being offered on StubHub, starting at $1,365 for each seat.
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