Every game is at home

Tuesday, May 17, 2005
It was practice night at the Dirnbergers' Field of Dreams Monday near New Hamburg, Mo. The ballfield sports a chain-link backstop and a home-run fence. The field can also be lighted.

NEW HAMBURG, Mo. -- The Field of Dreams stands right beside a county road near New Hamburg, prominently displayed to any motorist who might pass by.

There has been no attempt to the keep this place secret, with its towering light posts and massive backstop, not to mention the sign hanging on that backstop that says "Field of Dreams" and the street sign on the driveway that says "Ball Park Road."

On Scott County Road 244, right beside a wheat field -- that used to be a cornfield, of course -- the field has sat, providing a venue for a family of ballplayers and their friends.

"Everybody knows about this thing around here," said 76-year-old Monica Dirnberger. She and her husband, Vincent, own the land the field sits on, and it was 78-year-old Vincent who did much of the work to enhance the field.

The Field of Dreams used to be nothing special -- just another field in a sea of fields. That was until the Dirnberger children -- all 10 of them -- started playing baseball in the back yard and busting out windows on the 100-plus-year-old farmhouse.

So Vincent Dirnberger cleared out a field a little further from the house, where the family has played ball for decades. It wasn't until seven or eight years ago that the lights and fence were finally put up.

He related a story about the time when the lights and fence were being installed. A salesman came up to the house and after a brief chat, told him the place was a spitting image of the actual field in Iowa where the movie "Field of Dreams" was made. That was when corn was still planted instead of the wheat.

"So I named this place Field of Dreams," he said.

Vincent Dirnberger has always had a great passion for baseball, a passion that has passed on through the entire family, from Monica to the couple's 27 grandchildren.

As a young man, he once hitched a ride all the way to St. Louis to participate in open tryouts for the Cardinals while they still played at Sportsman's Park. He was invited for a second tryout at Cardinal spring training in Florida but couldn't afford the trip.

That love of the game was passed down to the Dirnberger children.

"It's been in the blood," said Monica. "The poor kids had no choice but to play ball."

Their daughter, Jo Ann Heisserer, remembers spending sunny days outdoors with her siblings and their neighbors playing the game and the honors some of the family members have garnered on the field.

"That field has produced a lot of stars," she said.

Heisserer's daughter, Andrea, learned skills on the field that contributed to her Kelly High School softball team winning a state title in the late 1990s.

The Dirnbergers and their enthusiasm for baseball and softball is well-known around New Hamburg, as is the field they let local teams use to practice on.

On Monday afternoon, a girls' softball team from New Hamburg was using the field, which has not only lights and a backstop but an outfield fence with a sign in dead center reading 253 feet.

"The field used to be shorter, but we had to keep making it longer because we kept hitting the ball farther," Heisserer said.

The team's coach, Danny Tetley, has known about the field for years and is still amazed by it. "If I could go back 35 years and do it all again, I'd love to have a place like this," Tetley said.

One of the girls practicing was 11-year-old Carissa Dirnberger, a granddaughter of Vincent and Monica. Carissa said she's watched her siblings play on the field, just like the generation before her, and is glad to have such a nice place to practice.

Her grandparents have been more than happy to make the field a place where not only family but other locals can have safe fun.

"That field has kept a lot of kids out of trouble," Monica Dirnberger said.

msanders@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 182

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