Sports

At Field of Dreams, big-league baseball will return to Iowa for first time in 145 years

Keokuk built it in 1875, and apparently no one came

It is being said the game between the New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox near Dyersville’s Field of Dreams next Aug. 13 will be the first Major League Baseball game in Iowa.

Which is true, unless it rains hard enough. In that case, no game. It will be good for the corn, though. Or will it? Is rain good for corn in August? Hey, it will be good for my lawn, so that’s something.

Anyway, there actually has been something that was considered the nation’s top baseball league in Iowa. The predecessor to MLB as we know it was the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, and it held its last game in Iowa on June 14, 1875, when the Keokuk Westerns closed their short, unhappy lives with a 1-0 loss to the New York Mutuals.

The Westerns played just 13 games before going out of business, and won but one. Of their 12 players, just three batted higher than .170. Paddy Quinn and Charley Jones could get the bat on the ball, of course. Pigtail Billy Riley? Not so much. He and most of his teammates were banjo hitters.

“Banjo hitter” is a baseball term from the 19th century, if not earlier.

Mike Golden — which also happens to be my show business name — pitched every one of the 113 innings the Westerns played. Now, it’s considered a good start if a pitcher goes six innings without getting shelled.

For those who don’t get around, Keokuk is Iowa’s southernmost city. After its National Association franchise came and went in about the time it took Mike Golden to pitch nine innings, the city got pro baseball back 10 years later with a Western League team. “The Keokuks,” as they were known, lasted one year.

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In the 20th Century, Keokuk had pro teams in the Iowa State League, the Central Association, the Mississippi Valley League, the ILMO League and the Three-I League.

This may come as a jolt to the good people of Cedar Rapids who thought their Midwest League team’s name “Kernels” was original, but the Keokuk franchise was the Kernels from 1952-1957. They got the name because the Hubinger Company, a supporter of the franchise, made cornstarch.

The 1955 Keokuk Kernels were fearsome. They went 92-34 and won the Three-I League pennant. Cedar Rapids should be so lucky as to have Kernels of that distinction. Keokuk hasn’t had a pro baseball team since 1962 when the franchise moved to Dubuque, which hasn’t had a pro baseball team since 1976. Now a major league game will be played in Dyersville, a mere 25 miles or so from Dubuque. And with the New York Yankees, no less, not some low-level pro baseball team like the Dubuque Packers or Keokuk Kernels or Kansas City Royals.

A lot of people think “Field of Dreams” is really moving. It moves me to change the channel.

I’ve watched “Bull Durham” and “A League of Their Own” many times, and my opinion as a professional film critic is this: They’re the New York Yankees of baseball movies and “Field of Dreams” is the Keokuk Westerns.

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