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If You Build It They Will Come, Again

The corn lining the outfield is tall again this year. The iconic white farmhouse, with its wraparound porch and picket fence appear unaffected by time. The mythic baseball diamond and lush outfield looks just like it did in the movie made 17 years ago.

And for a couple hours Friday evening, hundreds of children and parents raced around the bases, played catch or hit soft pitches all over the field made so famous in the 1989 movie "Field of Dreams."

For 10-year-old Alexis Turner, the visit included a brush with Kevin Costner, the film's star who returned Friday for the first time since filming concluded here.

Costner joined about 5,000 people who packed the field for a free screening of the movie. The event, sponsored by the online movie rental company Netflix, is the fifth stop in a 10-city tour featuring classic movies at the locations that helped make them special.

"My dad pointed him out to me. I didn't even know I was standing next to him," said Turner of Goshen, Ind., who fielded balls while Costner tossed pitches to one young hitter after another.

"He told me to 'step back honey,' ... when one, a bigger hitter, came to bat," said Turner, in the middle of touring several major league ballparks with her father. "This is easily my most favorite part of the trip."

The movie, about a farmer who becomes convinced by a mysterious voice to build a baseball field in the middle of his cornfield, is based on the Ray Kinsella novel "Shoeless Joe."

But the story transcends the seemingly crazy notions of an Iowa farmer, touching on the power of dreams, American ideals and personal healing, redemption and relationships.

"I was only 14 when the movie came out, and it was immediately one of my favorites and still is," said Jennifer Lukenbill, who drove her husband and children eight hours from their home in Nevada, Mo., to see Costner and the movie.

"I can't watch it even today without feeling the way I did the first time. It was the first time I saw my dad cry — and the last time," she said.

Filmed in 1988, the movie turned a plot of land owned by two local farmers into a mythic site still visited by more than 65,000 people each year.

Like the ball diamond, not much has changed in Dyersville since the film crew and stars like James Earl Jones, Ray Liotta and Burt Lancaster invaded this small eastern Iowa town during filming.

A new hotel has been added, the downtown has undergone a beautification and lighting project and several new companies have moved to town.

The population — 4,035 — has increased by about 100. Tourism — fueled by the "Field of Dreams," the historic Francis Xavier Basilica and the National Farm Toy Museum — still pairs with agriculture as the area's chief economic engines.

"I think initially, the natives thought interest in the field as an attraction would taper off," said Dyersville Mayor Jim Heavens, who estimated more than 1 million people have visited the field in the last 17 years. "But it's been pretty steady over the years and it's one of those things that continues to make a connection with people."

But visitors also got a sense of the dispute between the two families that own the land. The Lansing family, which owns the farmhouse, right field and most of the neatly manicured infield, elected not to be a part of the event. So at 6 p.m., officials closed off their property, forcing moviegoers to plant their folding chairs in left and center field.

But for many, like Dan Dunavan, a 65-year-old retiree from St. Louis, the turf tension is irrelevant.

"I just wanted to come up and see this," said Dunavan. "It's a cornfield pretty much in the middle of nowhere. And everything looks the same as it did in the movie."

Before the screening, Costner, sporting a gray T-shirt, jeans and a ball cap turned backward, played a 75-minute set with his four-piece band. The concert was one of the first public appearances for the group, said Costner's publicity officials.

"I feel like I will forever be connected here to the state of Iowa," Costner told the crowd. "I've never lost my feel for what we did here. This was a perfect time for me to come back. This is our secret here tonight in the corn."

Before stopping in Iowa, the Netflix Rolling Roadshow screened "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" in Chicago, "Jaws" in Martha's Vineyard, Mass., and "Clerks" in Red Bank, N.J. The tour also includes stops in Colorado, Utah, Arizona before ending in San Francisco with the showing of "Escape from Alcatraz."