He built it 30 years go, and they still come

Harkening childhood baseball memories
Thu, 07/18/2019 - 4:30pm

My father said to me, “Have you seen this movie ‘Field of Dreams’? It’s really good; you should see it.”

I knew the film would resonate with my father, but I was wondering why he mentioned it to me. It wasn’t something he did very often, as we haven’t always been so forthcoming, or open with each other.

I watched the movie and understood; it’s a father and son thing, the sharing of a rite of passage, a commonality. It’s about the difficulty fathers have talking, or communicating, with their sons.

There’s also something transcendent about baseball, the smell of the grass, the feel of a brand new baseball, or a leather glove. Of course, fathers and sons always seem to gravitate to playing catch, it’s just a natural thing to do instead of speaking with each other.

When I was growing up we called it “hardball.” It wasn’t baseball, it was hardball, and had a serious connotation. It embodied everything that “once was good,” as the line from the movie says, especially in describing what were simpler times in pastoral America.

The most famous line from the film is: “If you build it, he will come.” Those words are spoken by a whispery sounding voice to farmer Ray Kinsella in his cornfield. After some contemplation, it leads Kinsella to make a decision on a whim that changes the course of his life.

I think the reason my father enjoyed the movie is that he associated with Kinsella, who was played by Kevin Costner. Kinsella, who hears the voice and then plows under his corn to build a baseball field, is portrayed as a liberal hippie, who drives a Volkswagen van, the same type my father drove. While Kinsella drove his van to Boston to meet an author, Terrance Mann (James Earl Jones), my father took his to New York to transport performers appearing at his club called The House of Pegasus in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

The House of Pegasus was a proving ground for musicians, like Phil Ochs, members of groups, such as the Mamas and the Pappas, soap star Gloria Loring, who could belt out a tune, and comedian George Carlin, among many others. My parents became friends with some of them, and indulged in what the turbulent 60s had to offer, which my mother claims played a role in the demise of their relationship.

I fell in love with baseball at a young age the first time my father took me to Fenway Park to see the Red Sox play, something we did routinely. Kinsella takes Terrance Mann to Fenway, which leads them on an unlikely journey to find Moonlight Graham, an elderly doctor who once had big league dreams and aspirations.

I had my own big league aspirations. Unfortunately, they were cut short by an arm injury. I took the sport seriously, training diligently, tossed a no-hitter in high school, and earned an invitation to spring training with the Red Sox.

I remember my father’s religious attendance at my baseball games, watching from behind the backstop, never from the stands. Some people mistook him for a baseball scout, since he was always puffing on a cigar.

Playing organized baseball was great, with the uniforms and everything, but one thing I loved was playing backyard-style baseball with my neighborhood friends. The writing of this story was sparked by the Murphy family who played some backyard-style baseball at Heinz Field last week. The Times published a story about it, which can be found here: https://bit.ly/2O7ndCW.

As for “Field of Dreams,” the most memorable scene in the movie is when Ray’s father, John, arrives at the baseball field, and father and son play catch.

“It’s so beautiful here — for me it’s like a dream come true,” says John. “Is this heaven?” he asks.

Ray replies, “It’s Iowa.”

“I could have swore it was heaven,” says John.

“Is there a heaven?” asks Ray.

“Oh yeah,” says John. “It’s the place dreams come true.”

Ray looks around the field, then over at his wife and daughter sitting on the porch swing, before turning back to his father. “Maybe this is heaven,” he says. A moment later, he asks his “dad” if he wants to have a game of catch. It’s a tearjerker of a moment.

While Ray and his father play catch under the lights, headlights from a line of cars approaching are seen off in the distance, bringing people to the field. The inference is that Ray’s actions to build the baseball field were not inane, and they would bring prosperity.

Proving that point in reality, not fiction, is that Becky and Don Lansing, owners of the Lansing Farm in Dyersville, Iowa, where the field is located, turned the site into a successful tourist attraction. In October 2011, a company called Go the Distance Baseball purchased the property to maintain the operation. (fieldofdreamsmoviesite.com/.)

The house that was used in the movie, can be rented per night. Go the Distance hosts events, including the Ghost Players, formed by nearby resident farmer, Keith Rahe, who play baseball on the field. On June 15, Go the Distance celebrated the movie’s 30th anniversary on the property.

It’s hard to believe when the film was released in April of 1989, it earned a pedestrian $531,346 during its opening weekend at the box office. It would go on to gross $84,431,625 worldwide.

The message is simple: follow your dreams, no matter how big or small.

If you build it, who knows, you may get to toss the ball around, and make some cherished memories.