June 7, 2006
AT PLAY IN THE FIELDS OF THE FATHERS
With Father's Day approaching, I wanted to tell you about a magical place. It was not expressly designed to show children what fathers look like in their finest moments, but that's how it works out nonetheless. It's called the Field of Dreams - the place in Dyersville, Iowa, where the movie was filmed.
The place is really about being in love with baseball. And if you're someone who finds a hot dog unsatisfying without a green field and white diamond in front of it, if you love April because it marks the return of Cardinals, Orioles and Cubs, if you regard the designated hitter rule as mankind's original sin, you too must someday go to the Field of Dreams.
Perhaps the movie seemed to you impossibly idealized. I am here to tell you that the reality, that baseball field in the middle of tall green cornstalks, is even better.
It isn't just the movie, though the ghosts of long-dead baseball giants hang heavy in the air and mind there. The magic is in the people who come to the Field of Dreams, not to be photographed against the cornfield backdrop, but to play the game.
You see, boys and girls come with their bats and oversize gloves. They are all ages, from gawky adolescents who have just found they can throw a fastball, to the littlest tykes who swing at balls that haven't yet been pitched.
To make it baseball, and not just fathers playing catch with sons, requires a team. And magically, as people arrive throughout the day, they are melded into teams. The fathers, who undoubtedly were the ones who insisted on coming here, go out to coach the kids. They take kids who've never met each other before -- big and little, black, white and brown, girls and boys -- and turn them into teams. Over the course of the day, players come and go, but the teams and the game go on.
The dads show batters a better stance, instruct pitchers in the nuance of the curve ball, teach the fielders the art of the double play. They explain the rules and make sure everybody's playing fair.
When the big kids start to show off, throwing hard, deadly pitches that the little kids can't see or hit, the fathers take the pitchers aside, compliment them on their fastball, and warn them that it isn't safe to throw it here and now.
Sometimes the dads take a turn at bat themselves, taking care not to hit the ball too hard. They play the game fair, but at a gentle, loping pace that lets kids hope they could throw them out at third. The dads might pitch a few innings themselves, with a lazy overhand the kids have a decent chance of hitting.
It's not like Little League at all, where so often winning is what matters and only the kids who are good at hitting and pitching ever get in the game. Everyone gets a chance to play here on this field in the middle of the corn. It's something they will always remember, even without the endless rolls of film their moms are shooting as they sit on the benches in the hot sun.
The loveliest thing about the Field of Dreams is how it brings out the little boy inside these men. They are reliving their boyhood love affair with the sun, the grass, and the sport. But they are also passing on to their sons and daughters their romantic attachment to the game. In the tenderness of their teaching, they are showing their children, and maybe their wives, just how fine a man each of them can be.
The sun's not always shining on the Field of Dreams, and the sky's not always cloudless blue. But you'll remember it that way. Oh, yes, you'll remember it. Forever.
Is this heaven? No, it's Iowa -- a place to fall in love again with baseball. And a place to see men at their best, and realize anew why we admire and love their species.
Happy Father's Day! And thanks, Dad, for everything.
This is a modified version of a column I wrote for Fox News Online in July, 1999.
NOTE: My thinking is always a work in progress. You could mentally insert all my columns in between these two sentences: "This is something I've been thinking about," and "Does this make any sense to you?" I welcome your thoughts. Please send your comments about these columns to: marylaine at netexpress.net. Since I've written a lot of these, some of them many years ago, help me out by telling me which column you're referring to.
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