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The Field of Dreams Game – Part 2: Crisscrossing Iowa Like a Presidential Caucus Candidate

Updated: Apr 21, 2023

Despite growing up in the Midwest, I had only been to Iowa a few times to cover Michigan football and hoops games back when I was in college as a photo editor for the student-run Michigan Daily. Other times, I had just passed through Iowa as part of cross country journeys and my traveling largely had been confined to the Interstate. This time, I really wanted to explore the state and take in more than just the Field of Dreams game. When I planned my journey, I was not sure that I could even get a ticket to the 'Field of Dreams' game, so I wanted to have the consolation prize of seeing at least one minor league baseball game and other attractions in the state.

Although admittedly impressive with their extensive offerings, I suspected Iowa offered much more than the “World’s Largest Truckstop”.

In particular, I wanted to check out one of the best regarded minor league ballparks on in Davenport on the eastern edge of Iowa. Davenport is one of the “Quad Cities”, which is a misnomer since the region has somewhere between 5 and 7 cities depending on the source. The biggest “quad” city is home to the Quad City River Bandits’ Modern Woodmen Park, which did not disappoint. With a view of the Mississippi River and the Centennial Bridge, the setting was practically perfect other than the occasional flooding that I have seen in the news over the years.

Modern Woodmen Park in Davenport, IA is perfectly situated along the Mississippi River.

Beyond the ideal location, the park features a mini amusement park including a coaster, a carousel, a dunk tank and a huge Ferris Wheel overlooking the diamond. I was so transfixed with the view from the Ferris Wheel that I rode it twice in an attempt to capture a perfect photo. Everything about this ballpark was top notch. To cap the experience off, the team owner Dave Heller even stood at the ballpark entrance and welcomed fans before the game and thanked them after the postgame fireworks ended. I can’t wait to return to this park with my own sons given the amazing game experience.

The carousel overlooking the playing field rivals the Centennial Bridge for dominence at Modern Woodmen Park.

The National Anthem played at both the ballpark and amusement park along the Mississippi River.

Left: Team owner Dave Heller (far left) personally greeted fans entering the ballpark.

Right: A postcard perfect Iowa sunset, unnaturally with cornstalks.

As luck would have it, another Iowa landmark tradition shared its opening day with the Field of Dreams game – the Iowa State Fair. Like many Americans, I have seen the State Fair every four years in the news as presidential candidates woo voters while chewing on corndogs. While I can assure you that I am NOT running, I knew that I could not miss the Fair. Beyond the corn dogs, which I tried and absolutely loved (really, not a candidate for office), there were fried foods galore. If one’s stomach could endure it, fairgoers could consume fried versions of bacon wrapped Italian sausage, pecan pie, fruit kabobs and cheese curds, not to mention a slew of other stick-based foods.

For the vegetarian or “health conscious” folks, there were options such as the Veggie-Table. Culinary treats extended beyond fried foods, with the line for pork being over two NYC city blocks long at lunch time.

As a fan of the absurd, I made a beeline towards the Agriculture Building. I needed to see with my own two eyes a 915 pound pumpkin and the crown jewel of the fair – the BUTTER COW!!! I had heard rumors of such a culinary art treasure for years, but never thought my schedule would afford me the opportunity to see it in person.

After snapping my photos of the top ten pumpkins, I entered the building containing the buttery bovine (very meta) only to see that the line for a close-up view of the cholesterol calf snaked the length of this airplane hangar of a building. Given that I had an OCD infused schedule to keep, I decided to sneak an inferior picture from behind the lengthy line and hit the road. When I got back to the interstate and saw a series of highway signs reminding motorists to “Buckle Up Butter Cow”, I felt a sense of peace having just seen her in person.

Left: The Butter Cow in all of its glory, albeit from behind the long line of well wishers.

Middle: Butter art isn’t just for cows.

Right: Friendly reminders to motorists from the Iowa Department of Transportation.

While the baseball scheduling gods did not provide me with any other minor league games during my visit, I wanted to at least get pictures of Iowa’s other farm clubs’ ballparks. Even though major league baseball had never before occurred in Iowa, the state has a long history of minor league baseball and some older classic parks remain in use.

Like Davenport’s near ballpark masterpiece, Des Moines’ Principal Park (formerly Sec Taylor Stadium) sits on a river front. Moreover, the home park of the Iowa Cubs, the AAA-East affiliate of the Chicago Cubs, also boasts great views of Iowa’s capital city’s skyline. Cedar Rapids is home to the Kernels (oddly, the only corn based team name), the High A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins. They play at the utilitarian Veterans Memorial Stadium (opened 2002). One the western side of Iowa, the Sioux City Explorers play in the independent American Association of Professional Baseball at MercyOne Field at Lewis & Clark Park. The oldest park is NelsonCorp Field, built in 1937, which is the home of the Clinton LumberKings of the collegiate Prospect League.

For an agrarian state best known for its corn, Iowa had it’s share of urbanity too. In particular, its capital city Des Moines featured a funky skyline that belied its home as THE Butter Cow. Other towns were a bit more low-key and felt like they were right out of the quadrennial news reports about presidential candidates kissing babies and shaking farmers’ hands while wearing crisp new overalls.

Left: The Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines.

Middle: The Robert D. Ray Asian Gardens along the Des Moines River.

Right: A heated political discussion in front of Sabula City Hall.

Given that Iowa is better known for their college sports than major league baseball, my campaigning travels also extended to football stadiums around the Hawkeye State. I had been to University of Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium back in the early 90s, but had never seen the rest of the state’s football stadiums. Luckily, with campuses getting ready for arriving students, it was easy to get a peak inside the football stadiums for the University of Iowa, Iowa State University, University of Northern Iowa and Drake University.

Left: Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City, Home of the University of Iowa Hawkeyes.

Right: Jack Trice Stadium, Ames, Home of the Iowa State University Cyclones.

Left: UNI-Dome, Cedar Falls Home of the University of Northern Iowa Panthers.

Right: Drake Stadium, Des Moines, Home of the Drake University Bulldogs.

It’s hard to describe, but driving through the ever-present corn and soybean fields In Iowa is strangely beautiful and hypnotic. Photographs do not capture the warm glow that reflects from hot August sunlight bouncing off the fields. The color of the sky cannot be found in the 64 Crayola box and makes the state feel other-worldly on a sunny day (a rarity in the Midwest).

Near the border by the Mississippi River, the corn fields yielded to magnificent and unexpected river valleys. Overall, the drives between Iowa destinations was more compelling than I ever could have imagined. The only major blight that I saw was a raging car fire on the opposite side of the highway. Luckily, nobody appeared to be injured so I allowed myself to wonder if it was a bad omen for my perpetually underwhelming baseball team.

All photos and text: Copyright Ken Smoller 2023 (aka Stadium Vagabond).

For more stadium, travel and sports photos, follow the Stadium Vagabond instagram page.


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