MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Thursday night, 8,000 people gathered in a cornfield in Iowa to watch a baseball game. Millions more viewed the contest on television, as the iconic movie, “Field of Dreams” met real life in Dyersville, Iowa.
Before the Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees made their pilgrimage to rural Iowa, hundreds of thousands of movie and baseball fans had visited the setting of the film.
Among those visitors was WVU assistant football coach Jeff Koonz, who recently marked the 10th anniversary of both his wedding and his visit to the Field of Dreams, which, not coincidentally, each took place on the same day.
Ten years ago, Maura McDermott, who grew up in Delmar, Iowa, which is about 55 miles southeast of Dyersville, was preparing to wed Jeff Koonz near her hometown in a ceremony slated for 4 p.m. To keep the groom and all his friends from wreaking havoc during the day in Dubuque, where the wedding was being held on the banks of the Mississippi River, they went on a road trip to the Field of Dreams
“I had an objective to keep my groomsmen busy during the day, so we went to Dick’s Sporting Goods, got a wooden bat and went out to Field of Dreams, which was about a 45-minute drive,” remembered Jeff with a smile. “I had my whole family and my groomsmen with me. The stadium where the game was played the other night wasn’t there then – they built that two years ago – but the original house and the original field where the movie was filmed were there and open to the public.”
The baseball diamond for the movie was built across two farms in Dubuque County, which were originally owned by the Lansing and Ameskamp families. The site has been a tourist attraction since the film was released in 1989. The Koonz outing was one of many events to use the baseball field since Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) “had a catch” with his dad.
“We got married on a Friday, so we were there on a Friday morning, and it was wide open,” recalled Koonz. “There were only six other people there, and we went out and did B.P. (batting practice) for like four hours. We could have stayed out there all day, but I wasn’t going to be late for my wedding. I probably wouldn’t be married today if I did that.
“It was a special day,” smiled WVU’s linebacker coach. “We had our photographer there, and he took pictures of the guys coming out of the corn. It’s a great memory.”
Starting on a baseball diamond in the middle of an Iowa cornfield, Jeff and Maura have built a heck of a life together. They now have three children – Mary Margaret, Jameson and MacKenzie. Jeff is the son of a legendary junior college football coach who followed his father into the profession and has since climbed the ladder through the college ranks. It started with graduate assistantships at Auburn (2004) and Texas (2005-06) and then he moved into full-time jobs at Iowa State (2007-08), Texas (2009), Louisiana Tech (2010-13), Cincinnati (2014-16), North Texas (2017-18), Ole Miss (2019) and now West Virginia (2020-present). He serves as WVU’s inside linebacker coach and special teams’ coordinator.
Though Koonz and his Mountaineers are in the midst of preseason camp, he made sure to catch some of the White Sox and Yankees in the Field of Dreams Thursday.
“I did see the game last night,” said Koonz the next afternoon. “It was a nostalgic memory for my wife and me.”
Koonz’s own afternoon in the Field of Dreams was a great moment. Unlike Chicago’s Tim Anderson, whose walk-off into the right-field field proved to be the gamewinner Thursday over the Yankees, though, Koonz’s wooden bat from Dick’s didn’t provide any deep shots that damaged either silk, cob or stalk.
“We didn’t have any heavyhitters that day,” chuckled Jeff. “My groomsmen and I had a blast, but we didn’t hit any into the corn. It was a special day, though.”