EP. 24 - Former White Sox Outfielder Ron Kittle Recaps the MLB Field of Dreams game, with NCGA President John Linder

September 15, 2021

EP. 24 - Former White Sox Outfielder Ron Kittle Recaps the MLB Field of Dreams game, with NCGA President John Linder

Sep 15, 2021

NCGA's involvement in the baseball game in Dyersville, Iowa was a "stalk-off" home run for corn, for MLB and for America.

 

The Field of Dreams is an iconic movie for baseball fans and corn growers alike, and the image of an idyllic baseball diamond set amongst the Iowa corn stalks has endured now for decades.

 

But this summer, the NCGA had the opportunity to be part of Major League Baseball’s plan to bring baseball back to that field in Dyersville.

 

And on this episode, we’ll relive the event with Ron Kittle, former White Sox outfielder and 1983 AL Rookie of the Year, as well as NCGA President John Linder.

 

Together with Jon and Dusty, they'll revisit the planning that made this special event possible, share stories from game day and explore Ron's career in Major League baseball. Plus, John Linder shares the tale of his run-in with actor Kevin Costner at the game itself.

 

 

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Ron Kittle:

If nobody knew what the Corn Growers Association is all about, they do now, due to that game out there. It was absolutely perfect. I mean, I'm learning everything new about corn myself.

 

Dusty Weis:

Hello, and welcome to Wherever Jon May Roam, the National Corn Growers Association podcast. This is where leaders, growers, and stakeholders in the corn industry can turn for big-picture conversations about the state of the industry and its future. I'm Dusty Weis, and I'll be introducing your host, Association CEO Jon Doggett. From the fields of the Corn Belt to the DC beltway, we're making sure the growers who feed America have a say in the issues that are important to them, with key leaders who are shaping the future of agriculture.

 

Dusty Weis:

The Field of Dreams is an iconic movie for baseball fans and corn growers alike. That image of an idyllic baseball diamond set amongst the Iowa corn stalks has endured now for decades. This summer, the NCGA had the opportunity to be a part of Major League Baseball's plan to bring baseball back to that field in Dyersville. On this episode, we'll relive that day with Ron Kittle, former White Sox outfielder and 1983 Rookie of the Year, as well as NCGA President John Linder. If you haven't yet, make sure you're subscribed to this podcast in your favorite app. Also make sure you follow the NCGA on Twitter @NationalCorn, and sign up for the National Corn Growers Association newsletter at ncga.com.

 

Dusty Weis:

With that, it's time to once again introduce Jon, Jon Doggett, the CEO of the National Corn Growers Association. Jon, the NCGA had a chance to be a part of something truly special recently. On Thursday, August 12th in Dyersville, Iowa, the Chicago White Sox played the New York Yankees in the middle of a beautiful field of nine-foot-tall corn next to the historic Field of Dreams movie site.

 

Jon Doggett:

You know, Dusty, we've done and seen some really cool things at NCGA, but I don't know anything that compares to the spectacle that unfolded that night in that very, very special field of corn. In this episode of Wherever Jon May Roam, we're going to relive that experience with two of the very few that got to watch it live from the stands in Dyersville. First is NCGA President John Linder, who watched it all go down from a few rows right behind home plate. Welcome, John.

 

John Linder:

Really glad to be here. Boy, what an awesome experience, Jon.

 

Jon Doggett:

Absolutely. Our very special guest today is former White Sox outfielder Ron Kittle, who was there with his former team. Ron was the American League Rookie of the Year in 1983 with the White Sox, who played in that league through 1991. Ron, thank you so much for being with us.

 

Ron Kittle:

I appreciate the opportunity to talk about a little bit of a fantasy and a little bit of heaven out there in Dyersville.

 

Jon Doggett:

That's right. It's not heaven, it's Iowa. Ron, you're the first major league ballplayer we've had on this program. I've got to ask that question every kid asks. What's it like playing professional baseball?

 

Ron Kittle:

I've had to answer it a million times, and it never changes. It's an opportunity to go out there and compete at the highest level, compete with camaraderie, with friends that you get to know all through the minor league days. The minor league days is where you start, Jon, is you make no money. I was making $500 or $600 a month trying to make an apartment, a car payment. In 1982 when I got to the big leagues, I made $32,000. It was really funny. Four years prior to that, at graduation of high school, I was an ironworker and I made $72,000. I took a cut in pay to get to the big leagues, but it's a dream.

 

Ron Kittle:

You watch TV, an action movie, you want to ride a race car. You see a motocross, you want to ride a motorcycle. It's just that. I grew up playing baseball. When the street lights went on, I went home and I was done for the day. It just became a passion, to go out there to compete, play catch, and have a catch with your dad or whatever it is. Maybe a little play on the movie words, but it was a great opportunity.

 

Jon Doggett:

What were a few of your proudest moments as a ballplayer?

 

Ron Kittle:

I think having my family be able to watch me. My role as a baseball player came up a little differently. I had basketball scholarships, football scholarships, none for baseball. I hit extremely well for baseball. When you play in the Midwest, Gary, Indiana, you don't play a lot of games, but I also wore glasses. The old-time scouts just turned away from anybody who had glasses. They said, "You'll never make it to the big leagues." Well, one day I just went to a tryout camp for the Los Angeles Dodgers and I did very well, and they signed me to a contract.

 

Ron Kittle:

I was almost getting ready to go to college. I said, "You know what? I've got to show this scout that I can play in the major leagues." That became my mission, to go out there to play with glasses. If you a baseball fan of any sort, there's not many players who ever played with glasses. I could not wear contacts, so that means even less people wore glasses, probably I would say maybe 10 in the whole major leagues, but I had to prove somebody wrong. You know, I got my chance to play, and I think I did all right with it.

 

Jon Doggett:

You know, Ron, talking to somebody like you who came into the league from a non-traditional background, you talk about how you worked as an ironworker prior to getting into the world of baseball. How do you think that changed your approach to the game and your approach to training, and your desire to play the game?

 

Ron Kittle:

I had a tough dad. I mean, literally. If I would have died, he probably would have yelled at me and said, "Get up and walk it off," or something like that. When I tried out for the Los Angeles Dodgers, I started in 1977. I go to Vero Beach and I had a great spring training. I go down to Clinton, Iowa. There's another corn belt for you right there. My first at bat, I hit a double. Mike Scioscia hits a single, I score, and a catcher catches a ball improperly and jams me, and breaks my neck and paralyzes me at home plate. That's my first game, first at bat in all professional baseball.

 

Ron Kittle:

It took me three or four months before I started having any movement at all. I played a little bit that year and I did all right, but at the end of the season, my ears were killing me. My teeth were bleeding. I mean everything hurt on me but my neck. I get checked out, and the guy goes, "You've got three crushed vertebrae and a cracked spinal cord. Are you stupid?" I said, "Obviously I was." When you're 18, you just want to play sports or get a chance.

 

Ron Kittle:

I had the screws in the halo in my head, and I was done. Doctor told me, "You'll never play again." Inside of me I was angry, but I wanted to go prove this guy wrong again for wearing glasses. I just worked out to be the best shape I possibly could. If I told you the whole story ... I don't know how long the show's going to be if you want to hear the story, because you can't make this up. I mean honestly, a scriptwriter couldn't make it up.

 

Ron Kittle:

I go back ironworking. I weighed 185 after I healed up a little bit, and I played for a semi-pro team, one game, one at bat. I drive over, and I'm as strong as you possibly can get. Long hair, beard, suntan, muscles from ironworking. The first pitch the guy threw me at this semi-pro league was right at my head, and I haven't swung a bat in over a year. I kind of whipped my head back, almost like a cartoon character when your head falls off. The next pitch he threw me, I was in Midlothian, Illinois, and I hit a ball over the light tower, over the fence, on the highway. It's never been done before.

 

Ron Kittle:

Fortunately, the guys driving down the street, it hit in front of their car. The two people were Bill Veeck and Billy Pierce from the Chicago White Sox, the owner. They went to the next exit and they said, "Who hit the ball on the highway?" I'm hiding, thinking I broke the windshield. They gave me another opportunity. It was on a Tuesday. Friday I tried out for the White Sox out of a second trial camp, and I got a chance to prove I was pretty good. That's how it happens. I mean, that's a story in itself.

 

Jon Doggett:

Not only did the stars align, the planets aligned on that one.

 

Ron Kittle:

One hundredth of a second in any direction, this story doesn't happen. It really doesn't. Bill Veeck owned the Chicago White Sox at the time. He's also the first one that planted the ivy at Wrigley Field. There's a little piece of trivia for you. Billy Pierce was a White Sox pitching great of the '50s and the '60s. Like I said, something was lined up, somebody was looking after me, and I got a chance to play in the major leagues for 10 years. It was pretty good.

 

Jon Doggett:

In other words, Ron, if you want to do something, you get somebody to tell you that you can't do it.

 

Ron Kittle:

Really, you know, my whole life has been like that. I like that challenge. I tell my kids I will never let anybody outwork me. I'd rather die of a heart attack than let somebody outwork me. I've got to prove people wrong, that I can do it. I'm 63 years old. I work out. I can't say I work out fitness-wise, but I work at my property every single day. I mean, I hauled two and a half ton of boulders the other day, like mushball-sized ones, cantaloupe, into the back. I dug them out of the ditch. I did it all by hand, on the hottest day of the year. I just like working. I don't consider it work. I consider it a workout. I just have fun with it.

 

Dusty Weis:

You know, John Linder, president of the National Corn Growers Association, I listen to a story like Ron's and I think to myself, "Boy, that work ethic sounds like just about every grower that I've ever met in my life." You've spent a career working the fields out in Ohio there, John. Hearing a story like that, does that resonate with you?

 

John Linder:

Oh, it really does. I can't say that I go move rocks around the properties so much anymore, because I grew up as a kid picking rocks out of fields. Half the fun of that was the dirt clod fights I had with my brother, if you can imagine, stone too. We got pretty good at pitching those. I never did play baseball, but boy, it's so enjoyable to watch really good talent play a great game like it happened at Field of Dreams. You know, you're right. Many times folks say you can't do that. We get entrenched in the knowledge that we've had as a history, and think we just need to continue doing things we always did. You don't get anywhere, do you, Ron? You need to think for yourself, and you really need to try new things and really go for it. I can so relate to the stories he's telling of his history. It's amazing.

 

Ron Kittle:

Well, you're lucky I'm not a neighbor of yours at a farm, because that's how I got all these doggone rocks. They would till up the field. I would literally take my wheelbarrow out there and fill it up probably 30, 40 times in the back of my property. I'm building a fire pit with them, and the farmer comes over and he gives me a bottle of Jack Daniels, and I never even met the guy. He goes, "I've dented up many a blade on those things over there, tilling those fields up."

 

John Linder:

Well, Ron, I'll do a little better. I'll get you a side-by-side with a tilt bed. You just come on out.

 

Ron Kittle:

Like I said, it's exercise for me, but I've got a great appreciation for farmers. My uncle was a farmer in Minnesota. He had corn every year. I got my little taste of what corn was. Like right now, these county fairs. When I'm riding my motorcycle, I'll pull into a town that has a fair, and they've got hot buttered corn. They dip it in there. Grease is dripping all over your face. I salt it up like crazy. Yeah, I could probably go for about four or five ears of that right now.

 

John Linder:

We'd all have to wash our beards. I think there's four of us that would have a little issue of a napkin won't quite cut it with that sweet corn.

 

Dusty Weis:

Yeah. Hot soap and water. That's the only way to go. Ron Kittle, you talk about working on your property and riding your motorcycle. Since your retirement from baseball, I understand you've kept busy with a lot of cool hobbies and side hustles, including I understand you do a lot of woodworking and a little bit of metalworking. How'd you get into that? What do you love about it?

 

Ron Kittle:

Well, my graduation present was a piece of paper that said, "You're an apprentice ironworker for American Bridge." Everybody else had a party thrown for them, a car. I went to work the next morning at 4:30 in the morning with my dad. That's where I made all my money, but he taught me a great work ethic. I went to work, because he was getting older and he was not healthy. I went out there. I worked twice as hard as everybody else out there to protect my dad, and he knew it.

 

Ron Kittle:

I dabbled a lot. I learned how to weld. When I travel around the country and I speak for Fortune 500 companies, I say there's five things I can't do, sing, dance, give birth, do my taxes, and fifth-grade math. They changed everything now, but there's nothing I can't make, physically. I know nothing about automobiles and cars or nothing like that, I'll take that to my buddies who are mechanics, but if I see something, I can make it, and I can make it better.

 

Ron Kittle:

This table that I'm on right now, the legs are three-inch I-beams, which is an ironworker underneath it. The top is two-and-a-quarter-inch. It's 80 x 80 ash, which are bats, and the tabletop weighs 548 pounds. I just like nice things. I like them built well, and I've always been like that. I always tell everybody it's that CDO. It's like OCD but in the right order. CDO, you get it? It's my ADHD all in one. I sleep three hours a night. I constantly work. I just love it. I mean, if I had nothing to do, I go crazy.

 

John Linder:

Ron, it sounds like there's a lot of comparison between the industries you cut your teeth on and farming. Hard work is so much part of what you did. I've got to tell you, when I drive up to Chicago, I drive right by that plant. I marvel at the engineering that goes into that bridgework. It's pretty phenomenal, as a farmer. I really like to look at things that are manufactured like yours. You're going to have to show me your table sometime.

 

Ron Kittle:

It's not bragging. I just keep busy because I've been restless my whole life like that. I mean, my parents used to say I'd walk into the house when the streetlights would go on. I would just walk in from playing all day or doing something. I would just do a Nestea plunge, on my face. My older brother would drag my feet into the room, and I'd have a little scab on my nose from him dragging me. I was just unconscious, but it's just like that.

 

Ron Kittle:

You know, you're bringing back. We drove out to Dyersville from Chicago, a three-and-a-half-hour drive from my house. You're seeing what's going to be a spectacular event. What's really cool, John, is MLB didn't let anybody go inside and see it before, the facilities. No cameras were allowed, nothing until the day of the game. I've got a little backstory on that. I was part of the original group that went in to purchase this.

 

Ron Kittle:

I drove for, I think, five months straight, two times a week. I had to go in there and present our case to prove why we deserved to build a field in there from the Lansing family. We met with the drainage board, the town commissioner. I was in there, and my attorneys go, "Here's things that you can't say." I said, "Well, you just got the wrong guy to come do your work for you," and I opened it up right there.

 

Ron Kittle:

One of the neighbors who is still on the site is still fighting to not have the fields there. If you were there, you've seen the big house up there with all the barns. They bought the property because of the movie site. That's the only reason they bought it. They had never even heard of Dyersville before. That was my first thing. I said, "Listen here." I said, "I bet you my entire life and my dog ... and I'll never risk my dog ... that you bought your property because you wanted to be associated with the movie site."

 

Ron Kittle:

We wound up getting it from the Lansing family. It was 173 acres out there. I've been there. I played catch on that little movie site. I took motorcycle groups out there. I did batting practice one day for five hours. Jon, it could be either one of you, or Dusty could have been out there with your dad and your grandkids. I threw batting practice the entire day for five hours straight, to every person who went up there, because no matter how bad you are, I can hit your bat. It's not to hit a home run. It's just the ambiance of what's going on out there. I think it's a spectacular place. Hopefully you all saw the movie, right?

 

Jon Doggett:

Oh, of course, absolutely.

 

John Linder:

Absolutely.

 

Ron Kittle:

I mean, it still gives me chills, and I've seen it probably 20 times. When the players came out of the outfield ... John, you can relate to this. It gave me the chills. It was like movie theatrical. It was just perfect. Like Kevin Costner said, it was perfect.

 

John Linder:

As did I. I got those same chills, and I think 8,000 other folks. It was great to be there to experience that with 8,000 of your closest friends. I say that truthfully, because everybody wanted that experience, and, oh, what an experience.

 

Ron Kittle:

Everybody I have talked to about that game, whether they saw it in person or saw it on TV, they all talk about that moment when the players came out from the corn, just how it was an awe-inspiring moment. It was truly, I think of all of the moments of that game, there were a lot of really great moments. For me that was the coolest part of the whole thing, was to see that. Like I say, after you've watched the movie a dozen times, that was a pretty neat moment. It was better seeing it on TV, because it was 105-degree humidity out there. All the women who had eyeliner on, it looked like they had war paint because it was dripping down their faces. I'll tell you what, either way, it was pretty spectacular.

 

Dusty Weis:

Jon Doggett, as the NCGA CEO, Ron had talked about the formation and the early planning phases of getting this thing off the ground. You were in the room when the corn growers decided to get involved with this project as well. Can you give us a little bit more of a background about how the NCGA got involved with the MLB Field of Dreams game?

 

Jon Doggett:

Absolutely. You know, Neil Caskey, our vice-president of communications, called me one day and said, "Let me ask you, have you ever seen the movie Field of Dreams?" I said, "Yeah, who hasn't seen the movie Field of Dreams?" He said, "Well, guess what. They're going to do it again. We have an opportunity to be involved in that. What do you think?" I said, "You don't need to ask me what I think. We're going to do this." We took it to our officers and then we took it to our board, and then we took it to our states.

 

Jon Doggett:

Boy, there's few things other than a $2 bump in corn that got people as excited as this. It was just a no-brainer. It was how do we get it done? What's it going to cost and how are we going to move forward? Then of course, the pandemic hit and the game gets put off for a year. All through that year, everybody said, "It's going to happen. It's going to happen. It's going to happen." Like I said, I've not seen anything that got folks as excited in our organization as this baseball game.

 

Dusty Weis:

You know, Ron, you are, in your current role, essentially a team ambassador for the Chicago White Sox. That gives you the opportunity to of course be a spokesperson for the organization, but also to get to know a lot of the players that are in the locker room right now. What was the reaction among a lot of these guys who are 24, 25, 26 years old, maybe weren't even alive when the Field of Dreams movie came out?

 

Ron Kittle:

This past year, I'm not allowed to go in the locker room at all. Not even in what we call the surrounding area, the concourse. You can't even go down there, because it's all MLB Tier 1 approved. I heard through the grapevine, a lot of the people never saw the movie. They're into different things nowadays, social media. They all saw the movie finally, and every one of them was super pumped to be there. I could pretty much say, out of the 30-some-odd teams in Major League Baseball, every single person but maybe 10 would have been extremely proud to be in the first game out there. I explained to Jerry Reinsdorf, Yankees-White Sox, the way they did it, was perfect. It was a big-top circus.

 

Ron Kittle:

I think the following year, supposedly with the Cubs and the Cincinnati Reds coming in there ... no offense to the Reds there, John, from Ohio ... but it's going to be a little bit of a upscale carnival, because the movie is not about the Reds or the Cubs or anything like that. The Cubs are nationally known for all this media throughout the world. I mean, I've been in Japan and the Cubs were on TV. I've been to Australia and the Cubs are on TV. I mean, they're just worldwide known out there, but the effect of it. I mean, these players went in early, because I was out there early also, and I still had to spend $475 for my seat. Now, did you get a free seat? I don't know. Did you?

 

John Linder:

I'd really like to not discuss what that seat cost.

 

Dusty Weis:

It was not a free seat.

 

Ron Kittle:

Okay. Now, my son, he's out in California. He goes, "Dad, I've got some clients." He's a golf teacher. He goes, "They'll give you 3,000 a seat." I bought four seats. I go, "If they get it to 5,000, they can come out there and I'll buy them the first batch of corn," but I didn't sell my seat. My wife wanted to go see it, and she was just overwhelmed with the whole thing.

 

Jon Doggett:

I want you to know that the morning of the game at Reagan National Airport, Washington, D.C., early that morning there was a man who heard that his flight to Iowa was canceled, and it was a sad and tragic moment as he lay on the floor sobbing uncontrollably, but we forgive you. I'll tell you what, I'm not going to forgive American Airlines for canceling not one but two flights on me that day. Anyway, I hope you all enjoyed the game in person, but Dusty and I watched it on television.

 

Dusty Weis:

I started my travels to get there that day at 4:00 in the morning in Nashville, Tennessee. I'm getting texts from Jon Doggett, "This is a problem." I'm thinking, "Oh, I hope it doesn't transfer. You own that problem. I'll just keep traveling." Fortunately I made it there in good shape, and I really felt bad for Jon, but such an opportunity. That was the opportunity. You got to meet the groundskeeper, and here's a story about the wind really coming in and wreaking havoc on the site and sticking up 1,000 corn plants. Now to hear you, Ron, share about the background work in procuring the site for this.

 

Dusty Weis:

You know, 90 million acres corn raised in the U.S. This is a perfect field for this game. Thank you for securing that site so this could take place. It's so meaningful to every corn farmer in the nation. They really, really appreciate the fact that we could do a cornfield ballgame again that was as meaningful as a movie set. We all have our favorite moments of the movie, but we all now have really favorite moments, whether you watched on TV or in person, of that game. You know, you talk about your life being choreographed. How can you choreograph a game like that, Ron? Tell us a little bit about what you saw and you felt.

 

Ron Kittle:

I was more impressed finding out that they hired this guy and paid him a lot of money to make sure they put sticks on those corns when the winds knock them down. I guarantee it. They're out there waxing the leaves. I mean, it was absolutely perfect. They cut the corn maze out. Remember that, the corn maze? Did you walk in it? I don't know if you did or not.

 

Jon Doggett:

Yes. That was the National Corn Growers corn maze, yes.

 

Ron Kittle:

I'm going to tell you one thing, I couldn't get out of the doggone thing, and it was so hot. Sweat was dripping down my face like it was crazy. I bought the authentic White Sox jersey, and I have them over here to my right. I bought four with my number 42 on it. I played with number 42. It's retired in every ballpark in the country due to Jackie Robinson's respect. It came in a size 38, and I wear a 50. It literally looked like I was some overweight man. I called the company who made these, and she goes, "Oh, my gosh." I sent one back and she goes, "Yeah, it was mismarked." I will auction these off, but I bought the corn grower. It was an Iowa State logo with corn growing on it. I'm going to auction off these four jerseys here with the patch sewed onto it. If they want an autograph, I'll sign it. If not, but I think they cost me like $320 a jersey for the authentic ones, the same ones that the players wear.

 

Ron Kittle:

I couldn't get out of that corn maze. I was getting frustrated. I was dying of thirst, because you know there's humidity inside the corn mazes. I'm not too big, but I walked right through the doggone thing sideways, just to go. I started heading to the light. I was a hunter hunting a bear. I was going through the wickets, and I got out. One of the kids that was working there as security, one of my real good friends' son who got asked to be a security guard there, he was screaming my name and taking pictures. That made it almost more fun, because I got to know him.

 

Jon Doggett:

Ron, I will neither confirm nor deny. I may have stepped in and said, "I'm not going to do this today," and stepped back out.

 

Ron Kittle:

Yeah, that was a wise choice. Now, I just thought it took postponing the game to make this event even better. I think if they would've did it last year at this time, it wouldn't have been as climactic. It wouldn't have been as good because the White Sox team stunk last year, but they're playing pretty good baseball. The Yankees, they were in a hot streak out there.

 

Ron Kittle:

I usually leave early when I work the ballparks, just to beat traffic out of Chicago. I left early before Timmy Anderson hit the home run, but I was in center field. I don't need to be in a seat, watching it from home plate. I was closer to the home run than the people in the stands. The people that I was guests with, other White Sox, it took them three and a half hours to get home after the game. It took me 45 minutes to get back to Galena, so I could stay in my hotel and have a cigar.

 

Dusty Weis:

Let's talk about that for a second, Ron, because you could not have scripted a better baseball game. Fellows were just bombing it over the wall into the corn all day. The Sox stake out an early lead, but then the Yankees rally to go up 8-7 in the top of the ninth, only to have it snatched away by Tim Anderson in the bottom of the ninth. You've been around the league. You've played for 10 years. You've been to a lot of baseball games. Where does that moment, the stalk-off home run, they call it, where does that fall in your all-time pantheon of great baseball moments. Top 50, top 20, top 10? Where are we at?

 

Ron Kittle:

I'm saying it's probably in the top 20, and it's probably worldwide more famous now due to social media. Because when I played in the '80s, there was only one or two sports programs. This Week in Baseball, you would catch it. Now you've got Instagram, you've got Twitter, you've got TikTok, you name it. I'm still trying to figure out when Timmy Anderson was doing this. I still haven't figured out what he did, when he was running around the bases like ... I don't know. Flipping boogers off his fingers or something? I couldn't tell you. I think he said, "It's finished." You know, he was trying to say it's done. I might guess, but Timmy's a good kid. He's a real good player. When he signed to the White Sox, his parents walked up to me ... and they're White Sox fans ... and he goes, "Mr. Kittle, you've got my permission to pound my son Timmy in the head if he does something stupid." Well, when you're six-four, 250 pounds, you can beat a lot of people up out there.

 

Ron Kittle:

My wife recorded every single interview streaming from all the networks, the game officially, but what made it so spectacular is the announcers didn't get sidetracked, talk about other stupid stuff. They stayed focused on the movie scenes, on the property site, on the people in attendance. The White Sox got 1,600 tickets and the Yankees got 1,600 tickets. That was the deal. We had to buy them. I'd buy them from the White Sox. The other ones went into a lottery where other people got it or influential people, a local guy who's a CEO of a company. White Sox auctioned off four of them for charity, four seats, four jerseys and the hotel room in Galena. He spent 60 grand on it.

 

Jon Doggett:

What's the line from the movie, the Field of Dreams movie, when the older fellow is sitting there and he's talking about how it's money they have, it's peace that they lack? "They'll pay anything to come to the field of dreams." I think that's what you see right there.

 

Ron Kittle:

Yeah, James Earl Jones. I mean, if nobody knew what the Corn Growers Association is all about, they do now, due to that game out there. It was absolutely perfect. I mean, I'm learning everything new about corn myself. I was told, because my brother-in-law worked for DeKalb Corn. Is it true that one silk goes to every kernel? That's what I heard.

 

Jon Doggett:

A hundred percent right.

 

Ron Kittle:

There's only typically one corn ear on every stalk. I took a picture the other day of some with two, and one had three and one was a little tiny one. That might've been the hybrid. I've never seen that.

 

John Linder:

I want to draw a visual for you. You said you left early, as you many times do, he got the home run before you left the field. It was amazing. I never thought anybody left when the White Sox players were out on the field, bringing her family out, taking photos and videos of the feeling they had, capturing that cornfield in the background for the ballpark. It was just a lot of fun to just watch those folks get to appreciate the opportunity to win such monumental game. For me, to frame it with corn was just over the top. Just a wonderful experience. I'll thank you again for your part in that.

 

Jon Doggett:

Absolutely. You know, we talked about the price of the tickets. It was pretty cheap compared to the value that we got out of that game, to have the announcers talk to one another about, "You know, that corn, that's not sweet corn out there. Most of the corn grown in the United States is field corn." Jon Linder and I can say that all day long and nobody will listen. Joe Buck says it, it's a whole different story. Those are the kinds of things, that we have to meet people where they're at. We can't expect them to meet us where we're at. This game just gave us that ability to do that. That was just so, so neat.

 

Jon Doggett:

I've got to tell you, I have friends and family who have nothing to do with the corn industry who have called me, who have texted me, who have emailed me and said, "That game was wonderful. Oh, by the way, I didn't know that this was field corn," or I didn't know this or I didn't know that. What great opportunities we've had with this program. It just boggles my mind.

 

Dusty Weis:

Jon Linder, I wanted to ask you too about the educational impact of the thing. As a grower yourself, what did it mean to you to see the message of the Corn Growers being broadcast out to a national audience like that during this game?

 

John Linder:

You know, Dusty, one of the reminders as you get caught up in the game, I tweeted out that I took an excellent photo of someone hitting one of the home runs. To be able to say in that tweet that words cannot describe the feeling I feel when the home run hits the cornfield. In the seventh inning, they were carrying out the National Corn Growers banner and putting it behind home plate. To know that that's going to be on national TV was just a reminder that this was such an opportunity to engage folks at a level they haven't had an opportunity to engage with us.

 

John Linder:

The MLB folks after the game, I mentioned sitting in the stands and nobody's really leaving. We finally said, "You know, they do have a place where we can go to connect with some of the folks from MLB," so we left and did that. The questions about corn, so basic. We overthink it, right? "How'd you get the rows so straight?" "Oh, they're planted with a planter, drawn straight through the field. Every 30 inches, we're dropping seed. You know, that spacing, we spend a great deal of money to make sure that spacing is equal between those plants, so they are very prolific and emerge together, so that the ear height is the same, so the production from every plant is the same."

 

John Linder:

For them to think about that being photosynthesis. That is solar energy. We're taking the sun and producing a protein to produce feed value. You know, the aha interface. We overthink the story. They don't need to know the nitty-gritty details. They want to know how much care we give into what we do, and they can see it. It wouldn't be that way if we didn't put that kind of care into it.

 

John Linder:

What a great experience, and it makes one think about how you do tell corn's story. I've always been a person that said you've got to understand your audience whenever you message. We missed a few times, but I think this was an eye-opener to an opportunity to engage a broader audience at a level for which they can appreciate.

 

Dusty Weis:

You know, Jon Linder, you mentioned one of the what I would assume was a goosebumps moment for you, seeing the NCGA logo unfurled on the banner out there on the field. We didn't yet touch on the other goosebumps moment that you had. You actually got some face time with the one, the only Kevin Costner, out on the field, star of the Field of Dreams himself. Tell us about that. How did that happen?

 

John Linder:

Well, that's a story a lot like Ron's. We can cut it off at any point you want to, but we stopped in Dyersville ... which if I go back next year, which I plan on it, I need to stop and see Ron in Dyersville ... but we stopped to visit with folks there. Someone said, "There's a really big line out there already." We're thinking, "Oh, my goodness, we've got 3:30 batting practice that a couple of us get to attend." We're sitting out on the road, not moving at 3:00, and thinking there's no way.

 

John Linder:

Well, they dump us off, and we don't know where we're going. We head in from the parking lot, across the bridge into the movie set, the field of dreams, right? Where do you go? It's all corn. How do you get to that stadium over there? They said, "Well, just walk in the corn." I've been in a cornfield. Just choosing randomly a path is not always going to get you where you want to go. We figured it out. It was such a great experience.

 

John Linder:

We're hoofin' it, and we're asking anybody that might know, because we actually don't have passes. We're just on the list. I showed them a picture of the gate we need to be. "Oh, yes." We're sweating by then, Ron. I mean, it's the shirt, and it's wet. We're getting around to the far side of the stadium to find someone that we don't even know who they are, so we can get in for branding practice. Well, we made it.

 

John Linder:

Chris Edgington and I, first vice president, president, we get out there and we're standing at the corner, that little chained-off area for us to watch batting practice. Who comes by us on the left, straight up behind us? Kevin Costner, and we're thinking, "Well, we've got to see if we can engage him." He is actually a very generous individual. He is standing there with his arms crossed, and he's really not watching batting practice. He's taking in the set, because he's got a performance to give. He's got his arms crossed and just taking the day. Then I'm thinking, "How do you do this without being rude?"

 

John Linder:

A couple Mr. Costner questions, you know? The first one, the guy next to him just turned at me and smiled like, "You're not going to get there. You might as well quit now." We asked him the question, "How's it feel to be back in Iowa?" Oh, he turned and he said, "Somehow it feels like I never left." A couple other real short engagements like that.

 

John Linder:

Then he turns and he says, "I suppose you gentlemen would like a photo." Well, I didn't say it, but you know what came to mind. "Ya think?" Yes, of course I do. My wife would shoot me if I didn't get that opportunity. She really loves that photo, because it's Chris and I and Kevin Costner. I hand the phone to a friend who actually had passes too, and he takes a picture. Mr. Costner is walking away, and he said, "It didn't take. I didn't get it." That's the first time I called him Kevin, and I said, "Kevin, would you mind coming back? We didn't get the photo." That was the second photo. You'll probably see the panic of my eyes, but he was just as generous and personable in the photo the second times as he was the first.

 

John Linder:

Yes, that's my wife's favorite photo. She likes to take her thumbs on the screen and zoom in, and pretty soon I'm not in the photo and it looks really great. She could kill me for saying that, but she's very generous. She gets the humor in it as well. I've also tried to share it with folks, say, "What would you pay me for the photo so you can get your face Photoshopped in there?" You know, there's some people saying, "That's a calculated thing. I could buy that. I could use that." What a great experience, to engage with someone that the work he did in his movie allowed us as corn farmers in the U.S. to connect with consumers. Couldn't say thank you enough to Kevin Costner.

 

Ron Kittle:

One quick thing. I got yelled at during the game, because I know when it's going to be quiet in between switching innings. He's sitting down there with his son, and I started to go. I yelled. I said, "When is season four of Yellowstone?" He looked around with his sunglasses on with no expression. My wife took a picture of him, and no answer. Then all the drunks behind me started yelling, "Season four, season four."

 

John Linder:

I think I might've heard that moment.

 

Ron Kittle:

Yeah. I got to meet him earlier, with Bull Durham and all that stuff years ago. Having him there made the event even more special. The corn was absolutely perfect. You know, the little path to get out to the other fields is phenomenal. I mean, you can't even ... it's a Hollywood scriptwriting, what they did. Like I said, I'll be there next year doing something, because I like just doing something. You'll probably see me out there, but bring fans, I'm telling you, because it was hot. It was a hot one out there.

 

John Linder:

No doubt about it.

 

Jon Doggett:

Well, this time, I am going to go at least one or two, maybe three days early, so that I don't have to deal with the airlines and bet as to whether or not the flight's going to get canceled. This has been a very special podcast, and I thank both of my guests, Jon Linder, a corn farmer from Ohio, and he is the NCGA president, and our very special guest, former White Sox outfielder Ron Kittle. Gentlemen, thank you much for being on the podcast. We very much appreciate it. I'm NCGA CEO Jon Doggett, and we hope you'll join us again soon for the next episode of Wherever Jon May Roam, the National Corn Growers Association podcast.

 

Dusty Weis:

That is going to wrap up this edition of Wherever Jon May Roam, the National Corn Growers Association podcast. New episodes arrive monthly. Make sure you subscribe in your favorite app and join us again soon. Visit ncga.com to learn more or sign up for the Association's email newsletter. Wherever Jon May Roam is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, with editing by Doug Russell and production oversight by Larry Kilgore III. It's produced by PodCamp Media, branded podcast production for businesses, PodCampMedia.com. For the National Corn Growers Association, thanks for listening. I'm Dusty Weis.

 

 

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