Men in authentic 1920s wool baseball uniforms emerge from thick stalks of corn. They quickly take the field for some boisterous innings of America's favorite pastime.
This isn't the famous Lansing Farm from the movie Field of Dreams, and Rogers Strickland isn't Ray Kinsella. But this self-storage developer and owner of Kansas City-based Attic Self Storage is living the character's life. Well, sort of. Strickland did chop down three acres of cornfields to make room for a baseball diamond. And he does play with the Ghost Players, some of whom were actually featured in the famous film--but only once a year during Strickland Family Farm's annual Field of Dreams baseball game in Weston, Mo.
The family event, slated for Aug. 16, is part fundraiser, part plain ol' fun. When Strickland found himself facing his 50th birthday in 2000, he decided to throw a gigantic baseball-themed party. He tapped the Dyersville, Iowa, Ghost Players, a group of amateur baseball players who entertain audiences around the world, to perform at the celebration. He had assembled his own team to take on the formidable foes and looked forward to buying vintage baseball uniforms when a meeting changed the event from a party to a fundraiser. As a board member for the YMCA Camp Wood Scholarship fund, it seemed only natural for Strickland to combine his birthday party with a cause.
Now in its fourth year, the family event draws hundreds and raises thousands of dollars for the YMCA Camp and a local sports charity. Strickland has stuck with the baseball theme, ensuring just about everything is circa 1920s. Attendees take a wagon ride from the parking lot to the venue. Baseball players wear authentic wool uniforms, and antique cars surround the field. There's also an old-fashioned, two-story concession stand with an announcer's review booth above it. Everything matches Strickland's 1885 farmhouse. "It's an all-day, old-fashioned, county fair kind of day with baseball and a charity auction. It's a whole lot of fun for a lot of people," Strickland says.
It's also a good moneymaker. In 2002, Strickland's event grossed $70,000. The YMCA Camp was a recipient of about $40,000, with another $5,000 going to the local sports association. The money is raised through ticket sales and corporate sponsorships, which last year drew $15,000. The bulk of the money--roughly $50,000 in 2002--is raised in an auction. Last year's auction included hunting trips, a John Deere lawn tractor, resort vacations, four-wheel all-terrain vehicles, and some silly items such as a wooden coffin with cross baseball bats and two old-fashioned outhouses. "We have a lot of fun with the auctions," Strickland says.
The Ghost Players play two four-inning games; one with the Kansas City Royals alumni team and another against Strickland's handpicked bunch. Strickland has no trouble finding guys to fill the roster, even if the uniforms are a bit scratchy. "You have to be willing to wear wool to play," he says with a laugh.
Another tradition is the star of the show getting thrown out of the game for charging the umpire after he calls a few obvious strikes balls. "That's a requirement. I can't play ball, so I have to get thrown out pretty early so I don't embarrass myself," Strickland jokes. The elaborate display is all part of the entertainment. Although the Ghost Players have won the past three years, Strickland is hoping to topple the giants this summer. His team began practicing in the spring.
The Field of Dreams event has grown by leaps and bounds over the years. It takes about 200 people to plan and make it a success. More kids' events have been added, including hayrides, a wagon of corn for playtime, chickens to feed and other farm activities.
In 2002, the daylong affair added another component. Strickland arranged for 75 kids from the inner city to be bussed to the event as part of the national Return Baseball to the Inner City (RBI) program. This year will be no exception. Along with the RBI program, kids can also participate in a baseball clinic, led by Kansas City Royal alumni and the Ghost Players, who will also perform their famous comedy routine. There will also be a "Diamond Dig," in which participants hunt for a pair of diamond earrings valued at $500, and a pick-up baseball game for families. "It's become a multifaceted baseball event where we have a lot of fun," Strickland says.
For more information, visit www.ghostplayers.com.