Every nation has myths that it lives by. England waits the return of King Aurthor, Germany, Barbarossa. With their more limited historical horizons, Americans prefer to mythologize their sports, especially baseball, and to project their Americanness into an Abner Doubleday or Mighty Casey.
Twenty-five years ago, a dreamy nostalgia for small town America became part of baseball lore with the release of the iconic movie Field of Dreams, with its ghosts of long-dead baseball stars emerging from the head-high cornstalks of middle America.
Most of the film was shot in the little eastern Iowa town of Dyersville, with the local movie set having since assumed a status among baseball fans as something of a baseball Mecca second only to Cooperstown.
Myths survive so long as they can avoid the critical eye of history, not easy when this happens to come from your own place of origin, which, in this case, tells us the people of Dyersville, 131 years earlier, had indeed built it, but that someone else had come. And they weren’t playing baseball but the venerable old English game of cricket.
Now, the 1850s had been flush times for this carryover game from the era of English colonialism. Absent a World Series, All Star game and images of fathers and sons playing catch, cricket was becoming the sport of choice for many Americans at that time. Towns all over the country were forming clubs, with at least a half dozen in the Hawkeye state itself following this trend.
For the folks in Dyersville, the high water mark for cricket seems to have come over the summer of 1858, when the local side took up a challenge from the cricket club in nearby Independence.
The contest was rather one-sided. The Independence players were mostly American novices, while their opponents were stacked with some experienced English players (among them lead-off hitter Alexander Hancock, today known to history as the great-grandfather of Ernest Hemingway).
By the end of the day the Dyersville cricketers had won the game by nine wickets and returned to their farms that evening never to know they had preempted, by over a century, baseball’s claim to this unique little corner of its mythology.
Hollywood likes to stick with what sells, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Tinseltown return to Iowa someday to shoot a sequel to Field of Dreams. If the project happens to fall into the hands of some detail-obsessed director, audiences may be surprised and puzzled, this time around, to see shadowy figures emerging from the cornstalks, shouldering strange, flat, paddle-shaped bats.
Though they shouldn’t be if they’d noticed the sequel’s subtitle: based on a true