On Friday, Sept. 16, history will be made unlike ever before, with America’s past time played as it never has in the past. On a three and a half acre piece of land, where some of the most memorable moments in baseball history (real or on the big screen) where derived, the first of its kind will take place. This history will be played on a field unlike any other. A field that holds some of the most memorable baseball moments across the entire lifespan of the sport. In a town sporting just over 4,100 residents where the nationally known Field of Dreams movie site resides, there will be at least one more first.

Two years ago, Major League Baseball brought the first-ever professional game to the historic site. This very summer, the minor leagues jumped into the mix with the first-ever MiLB game at the Field of Dreams complex on the MLB-style field. Now, with less than one week until go-time, many are eagerly awaiting the first-ever collegiate game to be played on the very grounds the famous 1989 Universal Pictures movie was filmed. It will involve two collegiate teams based within the great state of Iowa including Briar Cliff University out of Sioux City battling Luther College baseball out of Decorah. From the Norse program which was founded in 1872 and the Chargers program around the same time frame, a fall season scrimmage will take place, again the first ever such contest of its kind to be played at the Field of Dreams movie field.

“It’s really cool to have this opportunity and to be apart of what will be a very memorable day,” said Briar Cliff baseball head coach Corby McGlauflin. “This is amazing for the players on both sides but it’s also big for both communities. Something like this has never happened before so to be the first, is something special.”

It’s been a wild year-plus ride to get to where we are now, with plenty of excitement spilling over as fans, players, and coaches alike wait for their chance at history.

“There has definitely been a lot of work put in behind the scenes from both the Briar Cliff side and the Luther side,” mentioned Luther College head baseball coach Bryan Nikkel. “There’s no doubt it will be a great event and the juice well worth the squeeze.”

It’s easy to see that there’s plenty of excitement to dive into. From the field dimensions (300 ft to left, 315 ft to right, over 350 ft to center) to the history of the field, there’s plenty of flashy tales to catch your eyes and ears. With that said however, there’s one storyline in particular that should not be overlooked. A story that bursts from the seams with inspiration. A story that might make the star of the Field of Dreams film, Kevin Costner, reprise his role. It’s a story with foundations similar to tales etched in the history books, never to be forgotten.

With that said, this tale in particular is one of a kind, in a league of its own, and it belongs to one person. Thirty-three years, $186 million (gross dollars, adjusted for inflation), and three Oscar nominations after the Field of Dreams movie came to be, such an inspirational tale resides with the one and only Nick Dufoe. The Adel-DeSoto-Minburn High School alum will be entering his senior season with the Norse baseball program and despite the opportunity to play on the storied field, the game will catch Dufoe right in the middle of his road to recovery. That’s where we’ve caught him, and where his story really becomes inspirational as he recovers from a collapsed lung.

Photo Courtesy of Luther College

The Uncommon Ailment

When it comes to thinking about athletic injuries, a collapsed lung is pretty far down the list, and rightfully so. According to several studies, only two percent of events such as collapsed lungs that require any medical treatment at all are sports related. While Nick does hit some of the typical markers of those who have suffered from collapsed lungs in the past (tall, thin build between the ages of 15-30) it still wields an odd feel about it as it’s quite uncommon in athletes overall. Going beyond that, a collapsed lung (also known as Pneumothorax), in any instance is uncommon as the occurrence is averaged at 7.4 patients per 100,000 population. It’s no doubt a challenge that very few have faced and a path as bumpy as ever.

“When I first experienced a collapsed lung, I had no idea what it was,” said Nick. “It’s just not something you hear about, let alone know how to handle.”

The exact type of Pneumothorax that Dufoe has suffered from is labeled Spontaneous Pneumothorax and occurs around a weakened area of the lung where a bleb occurs. Air is leaked into the pleural space between the lungs, putting pressure on the lungs and therefore leading to partial or complete collapsed lungs. Now, in most cases little or no surgery will come with Pneumothorax but that comes with the percentage of lung collapse less than 70-80 percent followed by a two-to-seven week recovery. For Dufoe, following his third event of a collapsed lung, the surgery threshold of 80-90 percent of the lungs being collapsed was met, thus thrusting him into significant surgery.

Now in life, let alone sports, the ability to breathe is second to none. In sports, the ability to breathe well and complete athletic action is paramount to continually being in the world of athletics. Not just one collapsed lung event, but multiple for Dufoe, put his baseball career at a crossroads.

“We had to sit down and have that conversation of what do we do here and where does baseball fall into his future,” said coach Nikkel. “The thing was it all was so spontaneous and out of his control and there’s now way to will yourself out of something like that. Instead you’ve got to really work your way back.”

Breathing Through the Pain

Nick Dufoe – Image Courtesy of Luther College Baseball

Now when it comes to playing the game, many athletes have experienced pushing through pain. The art of going out and still giving it you all despite the constant reminder that something isn’t quite right. Dufoe certainly has put himself squarely in the middle of that conversation with the obstacle he’s faced.

“You could see that Nick was one of those guys who put a lot of time and effort into and own his craft,” began coach Nikkel. “He has had some stories through his career of pushing past things. I remember he had some blister issues on his throwing hand and was just wiping blood off the baseball and getting back at it.”

Dufoe’s tenacity and ability to push through the pain prior to his run up with a collapsed lung was well noted. This then, is the part of the story that really shows that very dedication to his craft that seems to go above and beyond. During the late stages of the 2021 campaign, during the month of May, Nick started to notice something out of the norm.

“I remember waking up one day and was really hurting, just could hardly walk with how much pain my chest was in,” said Dufoe. “Thought it might be a rib or something and after a negative x-ray, they said it might be muscle spasms.”

Little did he or anyone else know the reality which was unfolding at the time. None-the-less, Dufoe went after the game with the same dedication with which he came into the Luther program. He ended up pitching four times since those first symptoms appeared. Dufoe ended up pitching 27 innings, capturing three wins, and tossing 15 combined strikeouts, all under the ailment of a collapsed lung. From there, both Dufoe and the Luther baseball team finished out their 2021 campaign. Following his performance in the conference tournament and two weeks following Luther’s regional battle, Dufoe found the shockingly concrete answer to his chest pain, and yes it was that very collapsed lung.

Here’s the real kicker though, beyond the rare occurrence in athletes, according to several studies such as one done by the Korey Stringer Institute, the rate of reoccurrence (of Spontaneous Pneumothorax) ranges anywhere between zero and sixty percent. More recent studies have found that number to be between ten and 30 percent for just ONE reoccurrence episode within a year’s time. For Nick Dufoe, he didn’t face reoccurrence just once, but TWICE and within a few months’ time frame. That means that those 15 strikeouts and 27 innings pitched came while the now senior was going through one of the toughest health battles one ever has to fight. In the end, it wasn’t a matter of being over worked or succumbing to a freak accident, it was ultimately an outcome (or series of outcomes) that was out of anybody’s control, let alone Nicks’.

The Fight Back

Luther College Baseball played their first home game since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic on Sunday, March 21, 2021 against Hamline. Photo for Luther College Photo Bureau by Danica Nolton

As one might expect, shortly after receiving news of the collapsed lung diagnosis, there were a few choices presented to Nick Dufoe. Surgery was the option that was highly recommended, but it sure didn’t take long for Nick to answer that call. There was plenty of motivation to go under the knife but in the end, all the choices were narrowed down to one reason pretty quickly.

“For me there was no other option,” started Dufoe. “I knew I had to do whatever it took to get back out on that field and play the game I’ve loved ever since I was a little kid. You only have so long to play this game, and I wasn’t about to let any more of my time to play slip away from me.”

So ultimately, Nick decided to go through with surgery and continue a fight that would send many away from the world of athletics. He had decided to not let go of his dreams, something that undoubtedly arose from his upbringing.

“As a parent it’s hard to watch your child go through an injury, let alone one like this,” began Greg Dufoe, ADM High School Superintendent and father to Nick. “There’s no quit in Nick. That’s one of the things we’re most proud of with him. He’s never been afraid to put in the work. He’s had his share of trials and he’s just been so steadfast.”

Interestingly enough, nearly a year after his initial symptoms of Spontaneous Pneumothorax, Dufoe went into surgery, allowing him to pitch 32 innings with a strikeout-to-walk ration of 3-to-1 during the 2022 season. That’s without mentioning the fact that Dufoe was void of any home runs given up on his ledger for the season, once again, all while suffering from an ailment that would down many others. The highs from that season however were quickly replaced by the struggle back, not just to normal life but to pitching shape. It was a struggle that tested the steadfast-ness of the senior hurler.

“It was a long year for sure and there was a lot of pain involved during the recovery,” said Nick. “For the first month or so following surgery it was hard to move very far. In fact, up and down the stairs was pretty much all I did for awhile.”

Since then, the fight has continued on for Nick but the fight has become a winning one for the collegiate hurler. His passion for returning to playing form has been unmatched and he is now picking up athletic activities and starting the final leg on his journey back. From lifting in the weight room to baseball throwing activities, Dufoe has come ever closer to returning full circle, something that seemed like a long ways away not too long ago.

“While it was unfortunate to see Nick go through that, I had no doubt in my mind he would get back on his feet,” said ADM High School baseball coach Jason Book. “He has always been strong willed and he has always found ways to improve his game.”

Fueled By Baseball Past

Nick Dufoe – Photo Courtesy of Luther Baseball

Of course, when it comes to those who know Nick Dufoe best, baseball just wouldn’t be the same without him immersed in the action. A strong accumulation of patience, determination, and intense focus that has been associated with the highest form of the game has always been in Dufoe’s arsenal. It’s been that way since the beginning, when Dufoe was finding his athletic passion. That very beginning that favored the stitches of a baseball more than anything else. Nick has always been engrained in athletics, but it was the help of family that brought his heart to the baseball diamond.

“His love of the game was developed through his uncle who pitched in the major leagues for 14 years,” began Greg Dufoe. “Nick still has memories of going to games in St. Louis and catching up with him and other big leaguers. That was really the foundation for his love of the game. From there he found that passion and has devoted his life to it ever since.”

That very individual who really helped spark his baseball passion is none other than Cal Eldred, former 14-year veteran and current pitching coach for the Kansas City Royals. Quite the role model overall, a right-handed hurler who originated from the Iowa town of Center Point and produced a more than solid career. Dufoe was able to see the former University of Iowa pitcher find success at the highest level after he was drafted 17th overall in the 1989 MLB draft. From there Eldred spent his first nine MLB seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers prior to a three year stint with the St. Louis Cardinals and a two year run with the Chicago White Sox. Looking back at his time catching his uncle pitch, it wasn’t hard to see why Nick Dufoe went the baseball route.

“When I was a kid watching him, I remember running out in the outfield and playing catch with Jimmy Edmonds,” started Nick. “He was fun to watch and to pick up on things he was successful with has helped me in my pitching career.”

Picking up on what Eldred was able to do certainly had its benefits. After all, the Urbana High School product did pour in 1,368 innings of work, striking out 939 batters along the way. Eldred managed five seasons of 80-plus strikeouts while sporting two seasons of 100-plus strikeouts. Beyond Cal’s 86-74 record and 15.8 WAR (Wins Above Replacement), Dufoe was also able to witness his cousin, C.J. Eldred, currently with the Kansas City Royals organization in the minor leagues.

While it was fun to watch and take notes from his professional baseball relatives, Nick Dufoe wasn’t shy about blazing his own path. He found varsity playing time early on as a sophomore and ran with it, accumulating over 95 innings on the mound and sporting a strikeout mark of 83 with just 48 walks allowed throughout his high school tenure. There was a lot to like early on when it came to Nick Dufoe and that was seen right away by ADM head coach Jason Book.

“I could tell early on that Nick had aspirations for playing baseball at the next level,” began Book. “Anything he needed to work on, he dove into it and gave it his all. You saw things like command and more really improve over the years.”

From there, all the hard work put in during his high school years caught the eyes of several programs including Luther and coach Nikkel.

“The first then when we saw him was the projectability piece,” began Nikkel. “You are looking for someone who will go all in on their career and who they are as a man. I think Nick has capitalized on those things and that’s why we’ve seen his velocity rise and his pitch-ability improve.”

It’s been no secret as to Dufoe’s success. There’s always been a number of ways to describe how number 23 operates and his road to success. Passionate, determined, unwavering dedication and of course, tough as nails. To go through a struggle such as Pneumothorax and still have a shot at playing another season is an indication of the true character of Nick Dufoe.

“Nick has always been the nose to the grindstone type of guy and the word quit has never been in his vocabulary,” mentioned ADM head baseball coach Jason Book. “He’s also been a high character guy, great teammate and overall great person.”

The Inspirational Tale Continues On

It’s not a complex formula for Dufoe, there’s no exponents or Bugs Bunny’s special drink (from Space Jam) but instead the willingness to fight on and the skill to go the distance. He’s homed in on more than just his craft of baseball, but the craft of being a fighter, a full on vision of inspiration. In times where all that ails an individual may have lies the field of play, Dufoe’s tale should be a piece of inspiration that pushes them to the next level. There will always be challenges but whether we struggle on a 1-2 count or fall short against leadoff hitters, we should all review the tale of Nick Dufoe, and know that if we follow a similar path, even health scares won’t keep us down.

While this article may not do full justice to his journey and fight, it’s been an absolute pleasure to be in the presence of someone so inspirational. In fact, might as well make that Dufoe’s middle name. Too many individuals with no health problems are quick to give up, let alone continue to pursue a dream. Dufoe let no obstacle take him off his path and that’s something we all can get behind.

So, while the inspirational Field of Dreams game may be going on, don’t forget that there’s been perhaps an even bigger inspirational tale leading up to the historic event. Overall, what a story it is, ahead of a game that will not soon be forgotten. One more thing is for sure, if anyone is deserving to step foot on the inspirational Field of Dreams field, it’s definitely the one and only Nick Dufoe.

Photo Courtesy of Luther Baseball

As for the game itself, while we may not see Dufoe suited up and ready for action, we will get to see two strong programs battle. What makes things extra special is that this scrimmage will feature the first-ever battle between the Norse, who reside within the Division 3 ranks of the American Rivers Conference, and the Chargers who reside in the NAIA ranks of the Great Plains Athletic Conference.

So in all, we will have the first ever collegiate game played, a storied journey by Nick Dufoe leading up to the game, and the first ever battle between these two teams. There’s certainly a lot of excitement surrounding what will be a day to never forget. Even with that said, within the pageantry, the history, and the over 2,200 attending fans, this will also be a game with a further purpose for both teams.

“If we’re getting on that field, we’d better try to be getting better,” began coach Nikkel. “This will be bigger than just a baseball game but we are playing against someone with a different uniform. We do have more use for the game as well as we’ll be looking at guys and where guys are at as we gear up for the spring season.”