Every now and then, I'll come across some list of the greatest baseball movies of all-time, and almost invariably, "Field of Dreams" makes the cut. The preoccupation with this frustrating film confounds me. I usually appreciate a paean toward the great game, and I understand the connective qualities the movie seeks to celebrate and the emotional strings it attempts to strum. I also get that sometimes, when you step into the theater, you must suspend your sense of reality. But the reduction of rationality this movie requires goes beyond what I'm willing to offer. God, ignoring all the other troubles of the world, bends the laws of time and space just so some Iowa farmer can "have a catch" with his dead dad? (Who actually says "have a catch" anyway? Isn't it "play catch"?) People willingly plunk down $20 to see a ballgame played by ghosts? (Shouldn't they be putting that money toward psychiatrists?) "Shoeless" Joe Jackson bats from the right-hand side of the plate?
No, no. It's all too much for me to stomach. I'm sorry, list-makers and Kevin Costner apologists, but "Field of Dreams" is terrible. The Field of Dreams, on the other hand, I like quite a bit. I'm talking about the Dyersville, Iowa, farm where the movie was filmed in 1988. For years now, it has operated as a tourist site, enticing those who cherish baseball's simplest qualities to take a journey off Interstate 80 and into the country's core. Against my more cynical judgment, I enjoyed the field when I visited it a few years back. I found it to be everything the movie is not. It doesn't ask you to suspend your sense of reality; it enlivens that sense. Its simplicity brings you closer to the sounds, the smells and the soul of the sport. As Wade Boggs said, "You walk on that field, and you get goosebumps." And remember, this is a guy who used to play his home games in Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium. Boggs was talking about the Field of Dreams because he is part of an investor group, headed by Denise and Michael Stillman, that recently purchased the 193-acre site on which the field sits for $3.4 million. The group has some big plans for the property -- a $38 million, 24-field youth baseball and softball complex geared toward travel teams. It is slated to include clubhouse space for up to 60 teams, as well as an indoor training center. The first phase of the project, known as All-Star Ballpark Heaven, is scheduled to open in the spring of 2014, and the original field and the two-bedroom house used in the movie will be preserved. This, you could argue, is a use of the Dyersville property that does far more for the growth of the game than the tourist attraction did. "The model for travel-ball sites is the one in Cooperstown and how well that's done," Boggs said. "We basically came up with the concept of killing two birds with one stone. Not only is this a famous movie site, but it adds the fields and a complex so that the kids and their families can stay. "It opens up the opportunity for parents in places like California, Oregon, Washington and Nevada so that they don't have to drive all the way to the East Coast. They can turn it into a vacation to the Midwest." Boggs said dozens of teams from around the country have already signed up to play on the property next year. He, like so many others, is stunned by the growth of travel baseball. When Boggs was growing up and learning the ins and outs of the sport, such a thing wasn't even on his radar. "It was too expensive back then," he said. "Now it's the vogue thing to do. The days of just playing in your local Little League are over." So, too, are the days when baseball was a default option for the amateur athlete, which is why it is always encouraging to see people in Boggs' position act as ambassadors for the game. "[My involvement] gives a face to this project," he said. "It's not just some investment group going forward with some project. It's a Hall-of-Fame face that they can put with it." Talking to Boggs about this Iowa farm, I was reminded of another Hall of Famer. One of the great thrills of my sportswriting life, to date, was getting to know Bob Feller quite well in his later years, and so I can assure you Feller was no fan of Dyersville's Field of Dreams (I'm not exactly sure how he felt about the movie, but I can probably take a pretty good guess). That's because Feller grew up on what he considers Iowa's real Field of Dreams -- the Van Meter farm he and his dad plowed and converted into a ballfield. It was called Oakview, for it sat on a hill overlooking a forest of oak trees. A 13-year-old Feller and his father cut down about 20 trees to make the posts for the backstop, and they served as groundskeepers on the field, which would stage games and tournaments for Iowa boys for several years. (You want to make a baseball movie geared toward fathers and sons? There's your movie.) Anyway, Oakview always held a very special place in Feller's heart, because it was a place where a kid could sharpen his skills, bond with his friends and form a lifelong love affair with baseball. So while Feller didn't exactly embrace that Hollywood creation in Dyersville, I'd like to think he'd be in favor of what Boggs and Co. have in mind. "The main thing," Boggs said, "is giving kids another option at furthering their ability." His is a Field of Dreams that's actually worth watching.