Observing US:
A column about America,
by Marylaine Block
originally published by
Fox News Online, 1998-2000

#43, July 16, 1999


by Marylaine Block

Some of our visiting presidential candidates stopped off to play a game of softball at the Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa the other day. For once, they weren't talking about taxes and ag policy. Instead they were debating about whether Shoeless Joe should be admitted to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The Field of Dreams can do that to you. 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, Tigers, and Yankees, 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 come, 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 ones and small ones, girls and boys, black, white and brown -- 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 speed that gives the kids a chance to throw them out at third. The dads might pitch a few innings, 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 is not always shining on the Field of Dreams, and the sky is not always cloudless blue. But you'll remember it that way. 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.

Politicians could learn something useful there, don't you think?

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