DYERSVILLE, Iowa — All-Star Ballpark Heaven is going pro.
Ownership group Go the Distance Baseball announced Friday that an independent professional baseball team will call the planned baseball and softball tournament complex home. The team will not be affiliated with any Major League Baseball franchise, and Dyersville is just the second site announced in the new league.
Stadium and team ownership plans still are pending, but players could take the field as early as 2014, officials said.
“For years, northeast Iowa has been trying to get professional league baseball to the area,” said Denise Stillman, president and CEO of Go the Distance Baseball. “We’re excited for that to become a reality now.”
The yet-unnamed Northern League team will play in what Stillman had called a “ceremony field,” a larger, 5,000-seat stadium with more amenities than the tournament fields. Plans for the stadium will have to be modified to include even more features, Stillman said, like clubhouses with showers for the players.
Young tournament players and their families will benefit from watching their older, professional peers, she said.
“It’s a wonderful mix,” Stillman said. “It gives our players and their families that come to the tournaments something new and exciting to see and, hopefully, catch a game at the professional league level.”
The Northern League, originally founded in 1902, folded a few years ago. The league is being relaunched under new ownership and Commissioner Dan Evans, a former general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dyersville-based team will be only the second club in the new iteration.
But Evans called the All-Star Ballpark Heaven site a “catalyst location” that will help attract other teams and locations to the league. He said that was why the announcement was made before an ownership group had been found to operate a team out of Dyersville.
“History has proven that that location brings people in from all over the world,” he said.
He predicted the league could have eight to 12 teams by next season and noted that league officials are looking from the Midwest to the east coast and even into Canada.
Craig Wallin, of Elkhart, Ind., owns the other Northern League squad, the Elkhart County Miracle.
Wallin, a former baseball announcer, was in the midst of building a stadium for his upstart club when Evans approached him about joining the revamped league. Evans’ major league experience, along with the historical pull of the Northern League, made it an easy sell, Wallin said.
“I know the Northern League is an iconic American baseball league. There’s no doubt about that,” he said. “(It has a) rich history and tradition.”
The Dyersville team’s proximity to the Field of Dreams movie site will be a major selling point for Elkhart fans and players, Wallin said. He said he already is planning tour bus promotions linking the two cities.
Dyersville Mayor Jim Heavens said the announcement strengthens the tourism potential of All-Star Ballpark Heaven.
“That’s certainly a plus,” he said. “I think that’s something that the people at the Field of Dreams can do right off the bat, so to speak.”
The prospect of professional baseball likely won’t strongly impact members of the Residential and Agricultural Advisory Committee, according to member Matt Mescher. The group, which is engaged in multiple lawsuits over the city’s actions related to the baseball complex, is against any kind of commercial development in the largely agricultural area, he said.
“We’re not against this project,” Mescher said. “Where that is going to go was never supposed to be commercial property.”
He also questioned whether the zoning change approved by the Dyersville City Council, which is being contested in one of the court cases, permits professional baseball on the property.