Populous-designed ‘MLB at Field of Dreams’ named BaseballParks.com Ballpark of the Year
September 8, 2021
Populous-designed ‘MLB at Field of Dreams’ in Dyersville, Iowa, has been named the 2021 BaseballParks.com & USA TODAY Sports Weekly Ballpark of the Year. It marks the 11th time in Populous’ history that the global design firm has earned the Ballpark of the Year award, which in 2021 is shared with MLB, BrightView and BaAM Productions, nicknamed the ‘Dream Team’ by MLB.
“Populous was privileged to design the Field of Dreams Ballpark and bring the magic and poetry of the iconic film to life,” shared Populous senior principal Todd Barnes. “Between five years of planning, two attempts to build the ballpark during the pandemic and the unmatched innovation, creativity and thought required from the entire ‘Dream Team,’ we are grateful to MLB for the opportunity, and honored to earn Ballpark of the Year for the 11th time in our firm’s history.”
The game, played on August 12, 2021, was an event six years in the making, and took place next to the original site for Field of Dreams, the 1989 baseball film featuring Kevin Costner, Ray Liotta, James Earl Jones and Amy Madigan.
Populous has designed more than 20 major league stadiums in the last three decades, including Coors Field, the site of this year’s MLB All-Star Game. The last time Populous was recognized with the Ballpark of the Year honor was in 2016 for the Fort Bragg Game.
The award is presented annually to the new or remodeled baseball stadium that best delivers what fans want in a ballpark. Nine ballparks were up for the honor in 2021, including two additional Populous-designed ballparks: Atrium Health Ballpark in Kannapolis, North Carolina and Toyota Field in Madison, Alabama.
“Not since 2009 have there been so many new ballparks in a single year,” explained Joe Mock, founder of BaseballParks.com and member of the advisory panel. “There are some truly special parks that opened this year, but after visiting all nine, I’m confident that we’ve chosen the one that had the greatest impact on the sport and its fans.”
Populous partnered with BrightView and BaAM Productions on the MLB event, the planning of which began in 2015.
“MLB at Field of Dreams was a special night for everyone who experienced the event in-person, the millions of fans who watched at home, and for the entire sport,” said MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred. “Our ballpark in Dyersville demonstrated an attention to detail that reflected the look and feel of the movie, making it a spectacular setting for a game.”
Designing the Fan Experience
As part of the ‘Dream Team’ for the Field of Dreams game, Populous steered the master plan, which connected the original movie site and the new regulation field, through a full design process, providing the feasibility study, ballpark and supporting structures design, in addition to the event services and transportation support.
Populous’ design included facilities for broadcast and press operations, sponsorship, transportation, security and ceremonies. The firm also implemented comprehensive signage plans for wayfinding as well as the overlay plans. Populous provided in-game and on-site operations staff to ensure the event ran smoothly, as it has for other large-scale events such as the Olympic Games, Super Bowl and the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.
This, among other planning elements, created a one-of-a-kind experience that set the event apart from other neutral-site sporting events, according to Barnes, who has guided master planning for both new venues and events in already-constructed stadiums. With the ability to build the experience from the ground up, the nostalgia of the film was preserved, while still allowing the site to be a functional sports and spectator venue.
The design process began with the original site visit in 2015 and continued through March 2020, when the work was stopped for four months due to the pandemic. In June 2020, the team reconvened to adapt to the new facility and venue needs.
The necessary changes took hold in expanded facilities for teams, staff and fans. Both clubhouses were expanded to accommodate health guidelines and distancing, as were the press box and other operations booths. The new layout also included space for an expanded broadcast operations area for FOX.
To achieve the adjusted MLB goal of an 8,000-fan capacity in 2021, a combination of chair seating and bleacher-style seating was installed to conform to the site while preserving the backdrop of the cornfields.
The most important aspects of the original design remained, evidenced by the proximity and connection to the original movie site. Populous, by way of the master venue plan, helped designate the areas in which fans could be transported from the movie site just a baseball’s throw away to the full-size, regulation field by making their way through the outfield corn. With each aspect of the venue designed with the fan in mind, from walking onto the Lansing Family Farm to entering the new field, a one-of-a-kind experience was created for attendees, and was conveyed in a special way to television viewers with the pregame entrances of both teams, led by Costner.
Populous also worked with the transportation team and MLB to facilitate the transportation program and guide parking concepts. With adjacent land available for parking, the ‘Dream Team’ avoided off-site parking for fans, minimizing the need for constant shuttles and the chance of bottlenecked crowds after the game concluded.
“After working on this project for six years, it is great to win this award,” said Mick Michel, Dyersville city administrator. “We took great care in carrying forward the vision of Populous, BaAM and BrightView. We really felt the love and passion for the game on August 12, because it was a reflection of our community.”
Overall, the event became an instant classic because of its iconic venue, not to mention the game itself, as the Chicago White Sox delivered a walk-off home run to top the New York Yankees as fireworks erupted from the cornfield backdrop. It was the most-watched regular season MLB game in 16 years, drawing in 5.9 million viewers.
Please contact Populous Senior Public Relations Coordinator Claire Kramer with further inquiries.