People & Places

Ray Kinsella's father returning to Field of Dreams, again, for 30th Anniversary

Actor returning to the heaven he found in E. Iowa

Melinda Sue Gordon/Universal Studios photos

John Kinsella (Dwier Brown) is ready for a catch in “Field of Dreams.” Brown, an actor based in Ojai, Calif., is retuning to Eastern Iowa to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the film in festivities Saturday at the film site in Dyersville and Sunday at the Kernels baseball game at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Cedar Rapids.
Melinda Sue Gordon/Universal Studios photos John Kinsella (Dwier Brown) is ready for a catch in “Field of Dreams.” Brown, an actor based in Ojai, Calif., is retuning to Eastern Iowa to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the film in festivities Saturday at the film site in Dyersville and Sunday at the Kernels baseball game at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Cedar Rapids.
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One simple question changed Dwier Brown’s life.

Thirty years ago, he stepped out of an Iowa cornfield and uttered, “Is this Heaven?”

Why yes, it was.

The Ohio native who now lives with his wife in Ojai, Calif., had just six minutes of screen time at the end of “Field of Dreams,” but that brief appearance and signature line opened doors for him in Hollywood, leading to a star turn in “The Guardian” the following year.

“In Hollywood, it’s helpful to have a movie that people can say, ‘Oh, you remember him from ...’ Certainly, for six minutes of screen time, that gave me that recognition in spades,” Brown, now 60, said by phone from his home.

He’s returning to Eastern Iowa this weekend for two celebrations of the 30th anniversary of “Field of Dreams,” the movie shot near Dyersville, where the ball diamond carved from a cornfield continues to draw visitors from around the globe.

Brown played John Kinsella, a former minor league player and late father of Ray Kinsella, played by Kevin Costner. The two never reconciled after a rift when Ray was 17. They argued over the guilt or innocence of John’s idol, Shoeless Joe Jackson, one of eight White Sox players accused of throwing the 1919 World Series in a gambling deal, in what became known as the Black Sox Scandal.

Now an adult, Ray is the novice farmer who heard a voice saying the movie’s other famous tagline, “If you build it, he will come.” Believing the “he” to be Jackson, Ray builds the ball diamond, against all the warnings that he’d go bankrupt tearing up the cornfield.

Spoiler alert: At the movie’s end, Ray discovers the “he” actually refers to his father, who has emerged with the other ghost players for a game there. After an awkward meeting between father and son, as John turns to disappear back into what’s left of the cornfield, Ray mends their broken hearts with a simple invitation: “Hey, Dad? You wanna have a catch?”

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AREA EVENTS

Fans can catch up with Brown today during the 30th anniversary celebration at the movie site in Dyersville and have an actual catch with him following the Kernels’ home ballgame Sunday afternoon at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Cedar Rapids.

He’s been to the movie site more than a dozen times since it was turned into a tourist mecca following the hit film’s 1989 release. He hadn’t been to Iowa before landing the movie role, but he grew up on a farm in Ohio, no stranger to “enormous” cornfields and baling hay. “And I lived in a house like the one in the movie,” he added.

Ironically, while he did play Little League Baseball, when he tried out for high school freshmen baseball team, he got cut. He ended up having the last laugh.

“My joke now is that it’s my picture that’s in the Baseball Hall of Fame,” he said. “I think I got the better end of that deal.” His photo hangs in the “baseball movies” section at the Cooperstown, N.Y., museum.

ENDURING POPULARITY

The film’s father-son theme resonates with fans, as well as the actor, and he believes it’s a driving force in bringing people to the movie site.

“Whether you’ve had a good relationship with your dad or a bad one, I think we all are charmed with the idea of having a second chance to make that right,” Brown said. “That applies to any relationship that we perhaps botched the first time around.”

He said that especially comes into play with the stoic men of his father’s generation, whose lives were shaped by The Depression and World War II.

“So many of those relationships had an unspoken quality,” Brown said, “and so having a catch or getting a chance to meet your father when he was your own age is probably a universal desire or at least (begs) the question, ‘Would I like my dad if we were contemporaries — would we be friends?’ I think (the movie) hits a lot of chords that way. And there’s obviously the magical part of that movie, or the rich fantasy that I think is fairly universal.”

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So Father’s Day weekend is the perfect time for Brown to dust off his glove and have a catch. He captures that spirit in his 2014 book, “If You Build It ...” subtitled, “A book about Fathers, Fate and Field of Dreams.” He travels the country selling his book and meeting fans, and will visit about 40 ball fields this year.

And after 30 years, the movie isn’t just an Iowa thing.

“It’s definitely popular elsewhere. I’ve been in Florida, three times in Mississippi, Charlotte, N.C.,” he said. “There’s no place like Iowa for ‘Field of Dreams’ lovers, but they’re all over the country. I have Iowa people come up to me everywhere in the country. They’re very proud to tell me they’re from Iowa, so I try to give them an extra good hug.”

FILMING A HUG

Brown has his own heart-tugging story about filming the movie — a story “not too many people know,” he said.

He was cast in the movie in Los Angeles, and was planning to visit his family farm during his time in the Midwest. Then he received a phone call saying his father was jaundiced and in the hospital. He told his mom he was coming home the next week, which she said should be fine. But he had a feeling he should go right then, so he rearranged his travel plans and went a week early.

His father died the day he arrived.

“He was clearly hanging on until all of his babies came home to the nest,” Brown said. “Fortunately, I got to talk to him. He was lucid, but by that night he drifted (and) passed on.

“We had his funeral, and then 30 days later, I ... played a dead father coming out of the corn to have a catch with his son. I auditioned for this part using my imagination, then suddenly, with the reality of it, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to make it through the scene.”

But he did make it, feeling his father’s spirit around him every step of way. He hit his home run.

 

Because They Built It

 

• What: Meet Dwier Brown, who played John Kinsella in “Field of Dreams” and uttered the famous tagline, “Is this heaven?”

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• Dyersville: 30th anniversary celebration, 10:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. today, Field of Dreams site, 28995 Lansing Rd.; Brown will be meeting fans and selling his book, “If You Build It,” from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.; details at Fieldofdreamsmoviesite.com/30th-anniversary/

• Cedar Rapids: 30th Anniversary “Field of Dreams” Day at the Kernels game, 2:05 p.m. Sunday, Veterans Memorial Stadium, 950 Rockford Rd. SW; Brown will meet fans and play catch on the field after the game; details at Milb.com/cedar-rapids/tickets/promotions

l Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

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