Iowa is home to the original “Field of Dreams,” but the story of how baseball first came to the state is the topic of a free presentation Sunday in Atlantic.
John Liepa, a history professor at Des Moines Area Community College, says he’ll dispel some of the myths about the invention of baseball and the evolution of the early game in the U.S. Liepa says Iowa produced 222 major league baseball players over the years, including Hall of Famer Bob Feller from Van Meter.
“Of the 99 Iowa counties, over 80 have produced at least one major league player,” Liepa says, “and we have at least eight small towns like Norway, Iowa, Bancroft, Iowa, Neola, Iowa, Ida Grove, Iowa, that have produced two or more.” The first mention of the game coming to Iowa was in 1858 and he says the Civil War played a role in accelerating baseball’s spread. Liepa says more than 40 Iowans who made it to the major leagues played fewer than ten games.
Also, Iowa claims seven Hall of Fame inductees. “You’ve got three of those Hall of Famers from the southwestern part of the state, Feller from Van Meter and Fred Clark from Winterset,” he says. “And a lot of people have never heard of Dazzie Vance who was from Orion, Iowa. There have been a handful. You’ve got a couple of really good players from the Council Bluffs area, Stan Bahnsen was Rookie of the Year and Jonathan Lieber was a good pitcher, too.”
Liepa will bring a lot of memorabilia with him to use as part of the presentation, including three cases full of old baseball cards.
“I’m going to bring some books that deal with Iowans that have played in the major leagues, and then a few books that deal with the myths surrounding the origins of the game of baseball, but I like to at least have the audience get a sense or a feel for what this hobby is like going back,” he says. “The first baseball cards and pictures could go back predating the Civil War.”
His collection includes the oldest-known Iowa baseball card. The free presentation, entitled “How Iowa Met Baseball: The Myths, The History, The Players,” will be held Sunday at 1:30 p.m. at the American Legion Memorial Building in Atlantic.
(By Ric Hanson, KJAN, Atlantic)