Dale LeMonds looked at a 2-acre patch of dirt on his property and envisioned a lifetime of memories.
What he saw was a perfectly manicured baseball field carved out of a hill, with views of the Rocky Mountains to the west and downtown Denver to the north.
The diamond would be “the best playing surface in Colorado behind Coors Field” — his own “Field of Dreams” on the Front Range, where he and his sons could foster their unbreakable bond with the game.
What he built was LeMonds Field, which features the same sod, dirt and warning-track mix as the Rockies’ stadium, plus several other cherished baseball artifacts that make the diamond seem straight out of Universal Studios.
“My favorite parts are mornings and nights on the field,” LeMonds said. “Coming out and hitting fungoes to the boys, throwing batting practice to them and whoever else wants to come up and join.
“They say the game never leaves you. It definitely doesn’t out here.”
LeMonds built the field in 2012, shortly after purchasing the 20-acre property in southeast Parker. This was after he got kicked out of a nearby park by a police officer, who told the coach that he and his squad of 5-year-olds needed a permit to use the field — even if no other team was booked at that time.
Thus sparked LeMonds’ motivation to create his own bucolic slice of Americana, which he spared no expense in constructing over a sixth-month period.
LeMonds won’t estimate how much the field cost in total, but he paid $65,000 at an auction just for the tractor that appeared in “Field of Dreams.” Based off the quality of the materials used, and large-scale effort it took to build the diamond, the bill is surely well into six figures.
“I don’t even want to add it up,” LeMonds said with a laugh. “It’s not a money thing — it’s a for-the-love-of-the-game thing. Luckily, I still have pennies in the bank to keep paying for it.”
The field features immaculate grass and edges coupled with a perfectly level infield.
The bases were used in a Rockies game. The home plate in the infield is from Yankee Stadium, while another in a flat-ground area off right field is from Fenway Park. The netting behind the field is from Coors Field, and there’s about 100 seats from the stadium installed around the diamond.
More than 5,000 yards of dirt were moved or trucked in during construction. And to keep his grass verdant, LeMonds installed a 10,000-gallon water-storage tank beyond center-field.
“When we were building it, a lot of people were wondering why we were moving all this dirt,” LeMonds recalled. “They thought we were putting a gas station in. They thought we were building a church.”
Well, sort of.
The man who dreamed it
While LeMonds relishes every moment with his kids on his field, and every homer he gives up in batting practice, the 47-year-old calls the hours he puts into groundskeeping each week his “meditation time.”
“It’s a hobby for me, and I get out and mow it as much as I can,” LeMonds said. “Some people have a garden; I have this. I do a lot of the mowing and all the edging myself. And I do it because in the end, there’s nothing like coming out here and playing catch with your kids.”
LeMonds’ four boys — Gavin, 15; Jett, 13; Maverick, 11; and Bentley, 5 — are all seamheads just like their dad, who pitched at Eastern Arizona before finishing his college career as an All-American at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. A Division-III coach once described him to reporters as “not the second coming of Nolan Ryan, but he’s a smarter pitcher.”
The heady right-hander then went into coaching, serving two seasons as an assistant at the University of Richmond. There, then-Spiders head coach Ron Atkins recalled LeMonds — who worked with hitters, catchers and outfielders and was the team’s batting-practice pitcher — as a key behind-the-scenes cog in the program’s record-setting 53-win season in 2002 that fell just short of Omaha.
“I could tell immediately he was a serious baseball man — and in time, I’ve come to understand he’s a baseball nut,” Atkins said. “He loves the game and he’s never minded working at it. And the one thing about Dale, when he goes about something, he goes about it the right way. He’s going to follow through on it and do it right, and that pretty well sums up the field that he’s built there and the (youth) program that he’s running there.”
In addition to family use, LeMonds Field is the home of the Colorado Jets, the youth baseball program LeMonds founded. All of his boys came up through the program. Bentley is about to begin his first season with the “Little Jets.” Jett and Maverick are still Jets, and Gavin is a freshman shortstop/right-hander at IMG Academy in Florida, where he was the middle school MVP and Gold Glove Award winner last year.
It’s all part of LeMonds passing down his passion, just like his dad did for him growing up in Mukwonago, Wisc., where Robert LeMonds threw batting practice to his sons every night at a makeshift sandlot behind their house.
In Parker, LeMonds also put up a cage in the basement and the family built a dance studio into the house — the latter catering to daughters Lucy, 18, who will soon dance at Florida Atlantic, and Chloe, 16. Outside the garage, a graffiti mural depicts the boys playing ball and the girls dancing.
Gavin LeMonds knows the property he’s growing up on is … special.
“Taking B.P. every night on the field is still sort of like a dream,” he said.
By day, Dale is the owner/CEO of multiple Aveda Institutes. Getting out of coaching, and into owning beauty schools and destination spas/salons, gave him the time and financial freedom to pursue his own Field of Dreams.
That all of it came after Dale and his wife, Lisa, pulled up stakes in Richmond 21 years ago with a few $20 bills and a beat-up pickup truck makes it all the more rewarding.
“I use his (post-baseball) success in a lot of my talks and presentations to coaches and so forth,” Atkins said. “He just went after it with the beauty schools and the field, and he’s very successful at what he does. The field is sort a reflection (of his career).”
The LeMonds Field centerpiece
LeMonds’ emphasis on making his diamond feel like “Field of Dreams” came to a head three years ago, when he purchased the 1977 John Deere 2640 tractor featured in the classic 1989 film starring Kevin Costner.
Lisa’s father fixed up the radio on it, so LeMonds takes it for rides around the property while listening to Rockies games. He also recently built a gazebo to display it.
“I keep that tractor close to my heart because it is a special piece,” LeMonds said. “We stayed at the Field of Dreams property (in Dyersville, Iowa), and man, it gave me goosebumps. When you flip the light switch to the field, you’re like Kevin Costner. It’s incredible. We were out there playing whiffle ball until past midnight.”
After buying the tractor, LeMonds became friends with Becky and Don Lansing, the former owners of the 193-acre farm that includes the field. The property, which hosted MLB games the past two Augusts in a stadium constructed adjacent to the movie set, is now owned by a group headlined by Frank Thomas. The former White Sox slugger and his associates have plans for further developing the rural tourist attraction, though it’s not hosting an MLB game this summer.
The Lansings, who sold the property in 2011, appreciate that their tractor (which was original to the farm) “has now found a proper second home where it will continue to serve in the capacity that’s most befitting to its true nature,” Becky explained.
Of course, the Lansings’ movie-made circumstances were much different than LeMonds’, whom Becky cracked has “way too much time and way too much discretionary income on his hands.”
“The Dubuque Chamber of Commerce, in conjunction with the Iowa Film Board, asked for volunteers in a number of counties to go out and scout the country roads of Iowa,” Becky Lansing said. “Many other states became involved and (Universal Studios) looked at over 250 farms from Georgia all the way to Canada when they came to settle on our farm. So no, we didn’t build the field. We weren’t as crazy as Dale.”
LeMonds is not the only individual to emulate Costner’s Ray Kinsella character. From her time living on the farm that still draws thousands of fans annually, Becky said she knows of around a dozen home-built baseball fields around the country. There are likely many more than that.
Here in Colorado, there is the Bigfoot Turf Farm field in La Salle, which hosts games for youth, high school and collegiate summer teams. There’s also the saga of the home-built field in Arvada, where resident David Brown’s effort to turn a horse pasture into a diamond was met with stiff resistance from a neighbor and eventually presented legal issues.
Neither of those diamonds has the combination of privacy and resplendence of LeMonds Field, which Dale doesn’t allow the public to use due to liability reasons.
“There are many people who have built these kinds of venues in their own backyards, or in their sandlots down the street,” Becky said. “And it never surprises us that people do this, because of the pull of the game. … But Dale, there’s no question he’s in (the 0.1 percent) of those people.”
A second Field of Dreams?
It should also be no surprise to Becky, then, that LeMonds is considering building a second diamond — this one full-sized — on a 20-acre plot he bought in 2015 that sits beneath the current field.
While the fences at LeMonds Field were originally 180 feet, with a 46-foot mound and 60-foot bases, LeMonds has since expanded the diamond to its current size. The field now runs 280 feet to left- and right-center, 260 feet down the left-field line, and 250 feet down the right-field line to the house, which serves as the far right-field fence. The bases are now 80 feet. And LeMonds took out the original mound, replacing it with a portable one for flexibility.
But eventually, LeMonds knows all of his sons will outgrow his midsized diamond. With a metal bat, Gavin is already routinely cranking pitches over the 15-foot raised left-field fence, over the road, and onto the neighbor’s property. The neighbor’s house is about a 450-foot shot to left, but that could be in bombing range soon for Gavin, whose power on the field can be somewhat equalized with a wood bat.
“If Gavin comes back here in the summer (during high school and college) to train, I’ll need to do it,” LeMonds said. “He’s outgrown this field. I’ll still have Bentley, who’s 5 now, and still needs this field for a while. But the need for another field will become (more pressing).
“And if I did that second field, I could rent it out to high schools and men’s leagues and other teams. And in doing that, it could be a really fun place for the community to soak in the game. You’d have great views at a pristine field.”
At night, the lights from the traffic on nearby Hilltop Road already look like the cars streaming into the Iowa farm in the final scene of “Field of Dreams.” That tableau could be a reality for LeMonds: If he builds it, they will certainly come in a town with a dearth of quality ballfields.
In the meantime, he’s still got plenty of upgrades in mind for the current field.
LeMonds plans to build a barn in right-center, which would house cages, a clubhouse and become part of the fence. He’s looking into lights. He has plans to re-install a new dugout, put in a new outfield fence made of reclaimed wood to increase the diamond’s vintage feel, hang a scoreboard on the back of the house and construct a true bullpen area.
Plus, there’s the matter of the critical finishing detail, beyond the fence. LeMonds’ baseball brain won’t rest until it’s figured out.
“Every year there’s something else to do,” LeMonds said. “But I won’t be done until my corn’s in.”
This story was originally published by The Denver Post, a BusinessDen news partner.