Field of Dreams: A mission of gratitude

By Chuck Gibson (aka: Crazy Legs) 

Dyersville, IA (October 31, 2022) – Hi, they call me Crazy Legs. I’m a member of the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings vintage Base Ball team.

My first view of the Field of Dreams – Dyersville, Iowa – Baseball Heaven (Photo Chuck Gibson)

We (the 1869 Red Stockings vintage base ball club) visited Dyersville, Iowa on a special mission Friday-Saturday, October 21-22. Yes, I saw the movie “Field of Dreams” on the big screen in 1989. I’ve seen it many times since and I’ll watch it again, and again, and again – whenever I get the chance. This was the first time I visited the actual Field of Dreams. This was about more than baseball.

“Build it and he will come” – Famous line from the movie:

I can only imagine how wide my eyes were when I saw the Field of Dreams baseball field for the first time. It was magic. The plush green grass of the infield surrounded by the diamond outline of sandy base paths – first base, second base and third base firmly secured in place around the diamond. Home plate, the batter’s box, 60 feet, 6 inches away Pitcher’s mound all bathed in warm sunshine. And there it was, beyond the infield and lining the expansive green outfield, the tall corn stalks of the cornfield. I walked directly out to the corn stalks in centerfield where the baseball ghosts first appeared in the movie.

“Is this Heaven?”  – The question made famous when asked in the movie.

In the film, Kevin Costner’s character Ray Kinsella answered: “No, this is Iowa.” But for me there was no doubt: Yes it is Heaven. The instant I stepped onto the field, I was a kid again. I could see my dad. I could hear his voice. I was taken back to my youth.  Many came before me and many more will follow our footsteps onto the Field of Dreams – Baseball Heaven in Dyersville, Iowa. They too will be taken back to the game of their youth.

Standing in front of the wall mural in downtown Dyersville, Iowa – “Is this Heaven? No, it’s Iowa. (Photo Sue Gibson)

“Hey Dad, want to have a catch?” – Ray Kinsella to his dad John Kinsella.

 Believe me, they’ll feel it. I did. Memories flooded back as I was “having a catch” just like so many I had with my dad before. Yes it is Baseball Heaven, not just Iowa. You could see it on the faces of every kid, both young and old, as they joined our 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings on the Field of Dreams Saturday, October 22. It was a special day in a special place taking us all to a special time.

Creating a special moment, conjuring up special memories, connecting with the visitors and the townspeople was our mission. We are known by our nicknames, just the way it was back in 1869 when the Red Stockings became the first professional base ball team in history. Batman, Tex, Jack Rabbit, Paper Boy, Clay Bucket, Socks, Bluff and me, Crazy Legs came to show respect and gratitude to the people of Dyersville on behalf of the Cincinnati Reds, the Reds Hall of Fame and Major League Baseball.

“Ease the pain.”  – A line from the movie and our mission too.

For the residents of Dyersville, Iowa, hosting the MLB “Event game” which took place the last two seasons (2021- White Sox vs Yankees and 2022- Reds vs Cubs) more pain than celebration. Our manager Perry Thacker (aka: Batman) saw their pain and proposed our mission of gratitude. We came to ease the pain.

Our mission of gratitude began in the classrooms of Dyersville Elementary School and the Mercy One Hospital Senior Care Center on Friday, October 21. We visited every classroom from K-6 throughout the day. The faces of the kids and teachers alike lit up as we entered their classrooms in our authentic 1869 Red Stockings game uniforms. The kids responded immediately to Hank, Perry’s service dog. Perry explained how Hank is at the ready to help Perry in a medical emergency.

Surrounded by a Dyersville Elementary School classroom of kids Perry Thacker (Batman) and Hank, his service dog, took center stage with the 1869 Red Stockings in the back l-r Crazy Legs, Bluff, Clay Bucket, Paper Boy, Tex, Socks and Jack Rabbit seated (Photo Sue Gibson)

Batman and Hank took center stage sharing the storied history of our 1869 Red Stockings and our brotherhood. “What!” was the shocked response from the school children as they learned we play with no gloves just like it was in 1869. They were shocked at how hard the ball is when they squeezed it, pounded it into their hand, tossed it up and caught it when we passed authentic vintage base balls around the room. Perry told them how only one ball was used in a game and often had to be re-stuffed with whatever was handy (like walnut shells in the original ball Batman has at his home)  and stitched up during the game to resume play.

We introduced ourselves the way it was done in 1869 and before we play a vintage base ball game today. One at a time, we took a step forward, tipped our cap to the kids and called out our names: Tex, Paper Boy, Clay Bucket, Jack Rabbit, Socks, Bluff, Crazy Legs and back to Batman. The classrooms buzzed with excitement. The game came alive in the classroom with every story Perry shared. The kids were mesmerized and amazed listening to stories like the one about William “Dummy” Hoy – an outstanding baseball player who could not hear or speak. He overcame his inability to hear the umpire call out strike or ball by having a teammate give him a sign after each pitch indicating strike or ball. He is credited with inventing the use of signs in baseball. Coach’s signs, catcher’s signs and the universal strike, ball, and out signs used by umpires all started with a talented ball player who could not hear or speak.

William “Dummy” Hoy exhibit in the Hall of Dreams museum in Dyersville, Iowa (Photo Chuck Gibson)

In the Senior Care Center at Mercy One Hospital, Perry shared more about the great game of baseball including the story of our 1869 Red Stockings who won 81 games before losing for the first time. The seniors enjoyed the stories and interaction as much as the kids. The kids and seniors raised their hands high as soon as Perry opened the floor for questions. There was always a question about Hank, the service dog, but there was plenty of questions about baseball for us too.

Laughter filled the air and smiles covered the faces of the young and the old alike. Time stood still and we went back to a different place and time where baseball history came to life.

We departed with a joyous “Huzzah!” – 1869 version of today’s hooray.

“Go the distance” – Ray Kinsella being urged to continue his quest

Saturday took us out onto the Field Of Dreams. Oh what a special time for all! Imagine arriving at the Field of Dreams to find the 1869 Red Stockings emerging from the cornstalks in the outfield. You cannot put a price on the smiling faces of hundreds of visitors who joined us on the field to have a catch, step up to the plate for a turn to hit, to run the bases, to field a ground ball or fly ball, or to come out of the cornstalks with the 1869 Red Stockings.

1869 Red Stockings emerging from the cornstalks in centerfield on the Field of Dreams Saturday, October 22, 2022) (Photo Sue Gibson)

Tex at bat on the Field of Dreams Saturday, October 22, 2022 (Photo Sue Gibson)

It meant everything to me to have a catch with seven year old Adonis and then watch him and his seven year old brother Parker hit the ball hard during their turn batting. Smiles stretched across the face of their mother and grandfather as the boys brought the game of baseball fully alive on the Field of Dreams. Others, both young and old, came throughout the day to play the game, hear our stories and share their own baseball stories.

Crazy Legs ready to hit on the Field of Dreams Saturday, October 22, 2022 (Photo Sue Gibson)

Crazy Legs coming out of the cornfield at Field of Dreams with new friend Ronnie from Arizona (Photo Sue Gibson)

The joy was evident each time Jack Rabbit met a new visitor and shared his love of baseball enhancing their Field of Dreams experience. The scene repeated itself hundreds of times with all the Red Stockings playing a role from Tex pitching, to Bluff hitting balls deep into the cornstalks, and everyone in between having a catch, posing for pictures and sharing a moment to make special memories; to make Dreams come true on a fall Saturday in Dyersville, Iowa at a baseball field which truly is a Field of Dreams.  

Crazy Legs & Jack Rabbit shared their 120 year love of the game with visitors to the Field of Dreams Saturday, October 22, 2022 (Photo Sue Gibson)

1869 Red Stockings pose with a group visiting the Field of Dreams from Wisconsin (Photo Sue Gibson)

THANK YOU DYERSVILLE! 

Crazy Legs and all the 1869 Red Stockings say Thank You Dyersville, Iowa. Thank you for your gracious hospitality, for all the smiles and for memories that will last us a lifetime. Huzzah!

We came to give back, but the people of Dyersville, Iowa gave us so much more. We only hope we made a difference for you too. Here is some evidence our mission of gratitude was accomplished.

This from the Mercy One Hospital Senior Care Center:

On Friday October 21, 2022, the residents at Dyersville Senior Care enjoyed learning about the great game of baseball. The residents even got to meet Hank the service dog, also a very important member of the team. The residents enjoyed getting to feel the difference in weight of the baseballs from back in the day and other differences of the game. We would like to thank them so much for taking time out of their busy schedules to visit us at senior care and would love to invite them back on their next visit. The guys were very interactive with our seniors and Perry was informative and very entertaining. What a pleasure and quite the surprise as we have never experienced anything like this before. What a special treat for our residents.

Again, Thank you so much.

Cassi Spillman, Senior Care Activities, MercyOne Hospital

This from Field of Dreams Movie Site:

On behalf of the staff at the Field of Dreams Movie Site, I would like to express our deepest appreciation for your recent trip to tour not only our site, but to visit additional sites in the Dyersville community. Your group wonderfully represented what is so good and wholesome about the game, and we heard nothing but glowing compliments from those in the community that you interacted with…both the young and the young-at-heart.

Please express our gratitude to everyone who made the trip with you, you represented your city and organization well!

Sincerely,

Craig Purcell

On-site Manager, Field of Dreams Movie Site