How an Iowa couple is celebrating their love, while honoring a late friend at Field of Dreams

Brice VanDrimmelen was biking back from his job at the Ankeny Police Department when an email popped up on his phone.

He could see only a short description from the notification, but he does remember it saying something like "Congratulations!"

“You get so many emails saying you’ve won something or whatever, and I thought it was a scam,” VanDrimmelen said. “I didn’t even look at it. I just deleted it.”

VanDrimmelen knew there was a lottery to buy Field of Dreams tickets, but he didn’t know that his wife, Alishia, had entered both their emails. Even after he got to their home in Granger and saw people on Facebook saying they hadn’t won the lottery, it didn’t click that the email he had received earlier might not be a scam after all.

But then Alishia sent him a text while putting their daughter to sleep.

“She asked if I’d gotten an email,” Brice said. “We almost completely missed out.”

The VanDrimmelen family takes in an Iowa Cubs baseball game in Des Moines.
The VanDrimmelen family takes in an Iowa Cubs baseball game in Des Moines.

After a brief delay in trying to log into their account, Brice and Alishia secured tickets along the third base line at the Field of Dreams stadium in Dyersville, Iowa, to see one of their favorite teams, the Chicago Cubs.

The Cubs are something the couple bonded over. They took their first trip together to Chicago for a game.

They beat the odds by getting a pair of very limited tickets to this year's Field of Dreams game. But the ticket lottery win isn’t the only incredible part of Brice and Alishia's story.

It will be an even more special night for Alishia, who will see the vision of a friend she never met come to life.

More: 'These guys are magicians': Meet the brothers behind the corn at the 'Field of Dreams' site

An fate trip to Chicago

Alishia didn’t originally mean to connect with Brice. Both of them were in the Iowa National Guard, and when Brice popped up in Alishia’s "people you may know" section on Facebook, she added him, thinking that Brice was another officer from a unit she’d worked with that summer.

At least that’s Alishia’s side of the story.

“He doesn’t believe me,” Alishia said. “On his profile, he had a hat and sunglasses, so I didn’t realize until after I messaged him. He thinks I just added him because he’s so handsome. And, of course, he is.”

While their connection was an accident, Alishia and Brice realized they had more in common than they thought.

They both did CrossFit, but at different gyms.

They were both in the National Guard.

Both were divorced with children.

And both of them liked baseball.

More: Couple had big plans for 'Field of Dreams' movie site. They are blown away as others make it happen

Pretty early on in their relationship, Alishia and Brice took a trip to Chicago to see the Cubs play. While Alishia did a lot of the planning, it wasn’t the game or the Chicago-style pizza that stuck out most to Brice.

Alishia and Brice VanDrimmelen on their first trip together, to Chicago for a Cubs baseball game.
Alishia and Brice VanDrimmelen on their first trip together, to Chicago for a Cubs baseball game.

“I relied on her to find our Airbnb and food and stuff like that,” Brice said. “One of the things I remember the most is that five-hour drive, we had like five hours of actual conversation.”

Since that trip, Alishia and Brice have blended their families, getting married in December 2021. Baseball games are still a part of their lives, with family trips to Iowa Cubs games over the summer. And it was one of the ways the couple thought about celebrating their first wedding anniversary.

With the Chicago Cubs playing in this year’s Field of Dreams game on Thursday in Iowa against the Cincinnati Reds, it was a can’t-miss opportunity — even if that meant celebrating their anniversary a few months early.

For Alishia, there were other reasons to not miss this year’s game in Dyersville.

A connection to 'Field of Dreams' movie site

In 2016, Alishia was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called epithelioid hemangioendothelioma, or EHE, that grows from the cells that make up the blood vessels. While the actual number of people with EHE may be higher, only one in every 1 million people is diagnosed with this cancer worldwide, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Alishia was told she was the first person diagnosed with EHE in Des Moines.

She went looking for others sharing her experience to connect with. Alishia joined a Facebook group open to those with EHE and their loved ones. It was there that she connected with the only other person in the group from Iowa: Denise Miarecki Stillman, then the owner of the "Field of Dreams" movie ballfield and surrounding land.

Alishia and Stillman’s timelines with EHE were similar. Both women had tumors in their livers, as well as some spots in their lungs. Alishia had surgery to remove some of her liver but ultimately needed a full transplant.

Turns out, when the pair connected, Stillman had just gotten her own liver transplant.

Denise Stillman, CEO of Go The Distance Baseball, is recognized before a celebrity game at the "Field of Dreams" movie site on Saturday, June 14, 2014, outside Dyersville, Iowa.
Denise Stillman, CEO of Go The Distance Baseball, is recognized before a celebrity game at the "Field of Dreams" movie site on Saturday, June 14, 2014, outside Dyersville, Iowa.

“She guided me through that and gave me advice on what to expect with recovery,” Alishia said. “And she was a mom, too. At the time, I only had my two boys, so we connected on that. It was just me and her in Iowa kind of going through this rare journey, trying to figure out what’s expected.”

More: How the Cincinnati Reds and Chicago Cubs will get to Iowa for this year's Field of Dreams game

Alishia said that a lot of their conversations focused on how to balance life with a cancer diagnosis and being working mothers on top of that. Baseball was also a source of conversation.

“We were getting to know each other,” Alishia said. “I told her what I did for a living, and then she told me she actually owned Field of Dreams. I played softball through college, and baseball and softball have always been a big part of my life. So, we talked a little bit about that.”

It was a connection that Alishia valued, especially while she was going through different treatments for her cancer. But Stillman died in 2018 from the cancer, and the pair never had an opportunity to meet in person.

“I was waiting on my liver transplant when we connected,” said Alishia, who has been in remission. “I had to stay relatively close waiting on my transplant, and she was recovering from the transplant, so she couldn’t travel far either. I think that’s one of the hardest things because we never actually met in person.

“We connected and talked so much, and she really helped guide me through everything, but we never got to meet, and then she ended up passing away. There’s a memorial at Field of Dreams for her, and so that’s the only way I can kind of get peace with it.”

Stillman and a group of investors purchased the "Field of Dreams" movie diamond and the Lansing Family farm in 2011, with the intention of creating a destination for baseball fans and youth tournaments. She approached Major League Baseball in 2015 about building a stadium on the land. The project was put on hold, and Stillman died before seeing her dream come to fruition.

While the VanDrimmelens’ trip to Dyersville is first and foremost a celebration of their love, it will be bittersweet for Alishia. She’ll get to see her favorite MLB team play at Field of Dreams in person — and experience how her friend’s vision came to fruition.

More: The Cincinnati Reds are connected to the Field of Dreams through the 1919 World Series

Looking forward to Thursday

It’s been a busy couple of years in the VanDrimmelen household.

Alishia and Brice recently had a daughter together, and Brice is back from a relatively recent deployment. Alishia is finishing up her MBA, and Brice is finishing his bachelor’s degree. Brice participated in his first RAGBRAI this summer.

Alishia and Brice VanDrimmelen with their four children.
Alishia and Brice VanDrimmelen with their four children.

So, seeing the Cubs play in the Field of Dreams game came at the perfect time.

It will be a moment for Alishia to see her friend’s dream come to fruition, and for Brice and Alishia to take in a baseball game, just the two of them.

And then it will be back to reality for the couple.

“It’s just one thing right into the other,” Brice said. “We keep saying we’ll do all this when stuff settles down. But life is never going to settle down.”

Alyssa Hertel is the college sports recruiting reporter for the Des Moines Register. Contact Alyssa at ahertel@dmreg.com or on Twitter @AlyssaHertel.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Field of Dreams game will be a bittersweet moment for this Iowa couple