Diamond in the rough: Ballpark hidden among Oxford County cornfields
Ryan Flanagan, CTV Kitchener
Published Thursday, September 14, 2017 5:01PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, September 14, 2017 6:49PM EDT
If you build it, they will come.
That infamous line may not have been what Mike Van Boekel was thinking of what he decided to clear space in his cornfield for a baseball diamond – but it didn’t take long for that idea to become a reality.
Officially, the diamond on Van Boekel’s rural Oxford County farm is known as the Van Boekel Field of Dreams. (Here’s where we should mention that in the movie Field of Dreams, the oft-quoted line is actually delivered as ‘If you build it, he will come.’)
Unofficially, people in and around Bright know it simply as the baseball field in the cornfield.
“You’re trying to explain where you live and (people) say ‘Is it near that ball diamond?’ You say ‘That’s actually are house,’ and it’s pretty cool,” says Van Boekel’s son Greg.
Van Boekel, a lifelong baseball player and coach, built the field in 2010. His sons were earlier, and were starting to hit the ball farther. Sometimes it was going across the road. Sometimes something else got in its way.
“I was a bit worried about my kitchen window,” says his wife, Jennifer Van Boekel.
Initially, the diamond’s existence was a relative secret, known only to the Van Boekels and people who happened to see it while driving by.
In time, word of the field-within-a-field spread. Truck drivers pulled over to take photographs of it. One couple asked permission to have wedding pictures taken at it.
It also hosts plenty of baseball games, including fundraisers for local baseball programs.
“If absolutely anybody wants to use it at any time, that’s fine by us,” Van Boekel says.
“That’s what it’s there for.”
Out of the countless games hosted at the field over the past seven years, there’s one Van Boekel will never forget.
One afternoon, he was watching his kids play catch on the field. All of a sudden, a man showed up in an old-time baseball uniform.
“This guy just started walking out on the field, the bat over his shoulder … and then (came) another one,” he says.
All in all, there were eight men in the antiquated jerseys.
“Nobody said a word, and I’m just sitting there almost flabbergasted,” Van Boekel says.
Enough children to make up two full teams then emerged from the cornfield, along with dozens of spectators. Then they started playing.
To the layman, it was a strange sight.
But to anyone who has watched Field of Dreams, there was no doubt about what was happening. And to Van Boekel, it was a touching tribute to his efforts to use baseball to bring people together.
With reporting by Randy Steinman