When I was younger, I was captivated by the movie, Field of Dreams. It was so different from anything I ever saw. The story was real, yet it wasn’t; but it didn’t feel like a fake view of the world around me, even though it incorporated elements of magic and the supernatural. The core of the story was as true as any other; the story of a man’s love of his family, and the powerful faith he had that brought the ghosts of baseball past alive in a cornfield in Iowa.
The movie also served as a connection between my father and I. My dad loves baseball, and he always shared that with us as kids. There was no shortage of baseball movies for a child in the 80’s, so we had plenty to bond over when the season ended. We made each other laugh, whether it was my recitation of a Field of Dreams monologue, or my dad doing his best Coach Lou impression to deliver the classic Major League line “Forget about the curveball, Ricky… Give ’em the heater!”
But Field of Dreams was always above and beyond the rest. It wasn’t only a poetic movie about the love of the game, but also about the love of family. It seemed to resonate with fathers and sons, this story of a man getting a second chance to connect with his father. My dad never said so out loud, but you could see that recognition on his face while we watched the movie. I spent time thinking of my connection with him as he thought of his connection with his own father.
I watched the VHS tape over and over. I watched it till the picture started to hiccup and the color faded from the frames. I memorized the stats and the lore that was woven into the script that played out and researched the baseball players named. But it was a long time before I paid attention to the credits, and saw that my favorite movie was actually based on a book–Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella.
I found a copy of the novel at the local library. I couldn’t have been older than eleven-years old, yet I sought out this book that was clearly above my reading level. But holding that novel in my hand, knew I had to read it; and in doing so, it changed my life.
I learned so much about writing in those pages. Writing didn’t have to be so straight forward, stories can be as fluid free as the imagination, and it didn’t matter how out there the story is if it connects. I learned about style and the experimental ways people use similes and metaphors–hell, the book taught me what those things were to begin with.
It made me want to write. I wanted to use words, to piece them together in a way to make people feel the way that Kinsella’s book made me feel. There’s a sort of power in that; a way to connect with many people in a very intimate way. I wanted that.
I’ve lived in Wisconsin for the past two years, though we’re planning to move back to Ohio this summer. I was talking with my wife this past weekend about wanting to visit the real field before the move, and she suggested that we just go–neither of us were working the next day, so it seemed like the perfect time.
So we headed off to Dyersville, Iowa… home of the Field of Dreams movie site.
The drive down was not long in either time or distance, yet it seemed to be the most exhausting four hour drive I’d ever experienced. Wisconsin is a collection of knotted hills and valleys, a beautiful landscape that seems to go on forever. I joked with my wife that Wisconsin, while extremely pretty, seems like a mousetrap; its borders always seem just out of reach, as if the state was magically shifting beneath us to keep us in Packer country.
We stayed the night in a motel outside of Dubuque, which was comfortable enough. I had trouble sleeping, though, waking up so early that the sun was barely rising over the flat landscape of Iowa. My past two years in Wisconsin made such a flat stretch of land foreign to me.
We headed to Dyersville after breakfast. I could feel the anticipation swelling in my chest as we turned onto Lansing road. Google maps informed me that our destination was just around the bend, not more than a mile out.
I saw the field first as we pulled down the driveway, the well manicured grass of the outfield, and the raised pitcher’s mound where a father stood, ball in hand. He pitched to his kid, using the patience and control that only parents know. I stood and watched them play for awhile, standing along the first baseline, careful not to step into the field of play.
You could see many parents around the field, all of them playing catch and pitching to their own kids as they gave them batting tips. None of the kids swung the bat hard or well enough to drive the ball into the budding stalks of corn beyond outfield, but they kept at it till they made contact. And when the ball went bouncing across the infield or flying into shallow outfield, the kid would do the ceremonial running of the bases.
I immediately felt a pinch in my chest, regretting making the trip without my dad. Having him there would have made it more special in a number of ways, and I could practically seem him there, smiling out at the field. But I found enjoyment in standing beside the bleachers, the fictitious Kinsella home looming behind me as I watched the families at play.
My wife and I went on the house tour, getting to see the varying rooms of the first floor where Ray Kinsella and his family lived throughout the story. Teresa, the tour guide, did a wonderful job. She shared so many fun and interesting stories regarding the house and the Lansing family, the house’s original owners. She did all this with such ease and joy, expertly moving us through the house as a little girl bounced between us with a mandarin orange gripped in her tiny hand.
I highly recommend taking the tour if you ever go. They had some great memorabilia on display, including baseballs signed by the movie’s stars, a signed copy of the book, and photos from the time. If anything, you can do what I did and gaze out the Livingroom’s bay window, the very same one through which Ray first saw Joe Jackson standing in the outfield.
It may sound silly, but the thrill of being there was rejuvenating. It was almost like that feeling you get when you hear a song you hadn’t heard since high school. The same angsty feelings you had back then come rushing back and you feel invincible once more. Sometimes you can even pinpoint a specific time when you heard that song in your past, and the very thoughts from then are alive and well in your head.
I would be lying if I said it was easy to drive away from the patch of grass and dirt. We came so far for such a short visit; it almost didn’t seem right. But we can’t dwell in one place forever, not even those magic places–and yes, that field in Dyersville is most certainly a magic place.
My wife Laura and I stood beside the field a little longer before leaving. However, we didn’t see the ghosts of baseball past out there, but a strange mingling of past, present, and future. There were the families there as they were in that moment, the smell of the grass and leather in their noses, the sound of the aluminum bats as they lofted the ball through the air; there were the kids that might someday bring their own children back to this baseball field in Iowa. And with us all were the ghosts of our collective past, the memories we share that center on that magical field and the game we love.