Father’s Day Thoughts on the Field of Dreams Game

This year's Field of Dreams Game will be played in Rickwood Field, Birmingham, Alabama, on 20 June. No matter. From the first such game on the Iowa farm where a fictional Ray Kinsella rolled out a baseball field amidst his corn in the 1989 film, based on the real W.P. Kinsella's novel Shoeless Joe, the game provokes how much the film's climax hits too close to home, for me.

The adult, fictional Kinsella gets to reconcile with his father on the field, the father frozen by death in his young adulthood, wearing a Highlanders uniform, with a catcher's chest protector and shin guards. Father and son in Field of Dreams were estranged by disputes including the one in which the son chastised the father for worshipping a badly tainted baseball hero. Father and son in my case were estranged by contradictions that would be called child abuse today, followed by the 10-month battle against cancer that my father lost in 1966, when I was 10 and he, 39.

My parents were foolish enough to believe nothing but physical discipline, with no concurrent attempt at real teaching, applied to mere human childhood mistakes the same as to real misbehavior or disobedience. Confirmed decades later by an unimpeachable source (my father's sister), my parents wanted children in the worst way possible — only to have no patience for children merely being children.

My father, alas, was even more foolish for believing the way to teach a son who didn't know how to fight was to beat him even more violently, accompanied by every demeaning insult he could throw. The thought that a son needs to be taught to defend himself, that it isn't knowledge with which you're born, was never programmed into his software.

My father's death stole any hope of eventual rapprochement in this world from me. Fantasy thought it is, the rapprochement between John and Ray Kinsella to conclude Field of Dreams was and remains something I envied (and shed a tear upon) every time I watch the film. The few things I had in common with my father included baseball. (And, in fairness, music, my interest in and facility for which my father encouraged but my mother rejected. I've come to believe that giving me my first guitar, a kind of hand-me-down acoustic, just a few months before his death, may have been Dad's way of apologizing for the abuses.)

I don't remember whom he declared to be among his baseball heroes, other than his having been a Dodgers fan since their Brooklyn years. He spoke of various players without singling one out as a particular favorite, at least within my earshot, while I had as heroes assorted hapless early Mets plus Sandy Koufax, Willie Mays, Juan Marichal, Henry Aaron, and Bob Gibson, among others.

But I do remember numerous catches, a few trips to the Polo Grounds and then Shea Stadium to see those embryonic Mets, and, in one fathers-and-sons game, my ripping a line drive off his crotch when he deliberately lifted his glove above it because (he admitted it later) he didn't want to be the reason I made a hard out.

For all the contradictions and abuse, whenever I watch the Field of Dreams climax I'd give whatever I have to give to see my father walk toward me one more time, whether or not he wore a baseball uniform, and slip a baseball glove onto his left hand when I slip mine on and say, "Dad, want to have a catch?"

How do you capture the essence of a famous film on a live broadcast between Major League Baseball teams? Asking demands we ask just what that essence really is.

Is it giving eight disgraced baseball players a new home and a chance to recover by the gods what their misbehaviors — ranging from the morally criminal to the complicit to the willfully silent — stripped from them in the mortal world's furies?

Is it the old, long-gone fans who refused to believe those men could have been anything other than victims of their own caprices, married to those of a purportedly unscrupulous baseball owner (and that theory has been debunked, too) and the professional gamblers a few sought to finance their intended subterfuge?

Is it re-discovering a truth enunciated in short form and long double-negative by Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson? We try every way we can think of to kill this game, but for some reason nothing nobody does never hurts it. Or in long form by James Earl Jones as J.D. Salinger's stand-in Terrence Mann?

People will come . . . they'll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They'll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they'll watch the game and it'll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters . . . America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past . . . It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again.

Is it an otherwise composed, ordinary Iowa farmer compelled to restore an un-restorable purity to men who could have destroyed baseball, but engaged his lost father enough to return to earth, fostering the rapprochement too many fathers and sons — including mine, wherever he is in the Elysian Fields, with me — wish with each other but never find?

My own fortune includes being a father myself. By marriage and mutual engagement, not biology. The marriage is long past; my fatherhood, never. We made each other father and son. I did my best with whatever I had, for a son whose intelligence and will overcomes his compromise by a speech and language impairment, and whose heart is too large to be contained.

He joined his southern California softball team winning silver at the national 2018 Special Olympics. (His first plate appearance in that event: a healthy home run.) During the tournament, his coach told me and he affirmed: he credited me with teaching baseball and softball to him. There was no one more proud of my son at that Special Olympics than his father.

All I ever did was observe, see what he had beyond the love of baseball we shared at the outset, then let him develop what he had on his time, through his eyes, ears, and hands, through his heart, never once imposing mine upon him. (He imposed one of his own: his boyhood heroes were Shawn Green and Vladimir Guerrero.) I'd learned the hardest way how damaging the other ways around could be.

The 2020 coronavirus pan-damn-ic prevented in-person time with my son for a good while. We missed the pleasures of going to Angel Stadium (he is a to-the-death Angels fan), sharing a game, sharing an atmosphere, with accompanying talk, theory, and hopes of catching a foul ball. No one needed to tell either of us it wasn't quite the same as direct human engagement. But lo! we crossed Opening Day off the bucket list, and I was even able to snag a foul ball (hit by an Astro in pre-game batting practice) for my son.

He moved to Las Vegas last October, and we have had the pleasure of far more conversations over lunches and other activities. Including, soon enough, a baseball game at the Las Vegas Aviators's handsome little ballpark on the northwest side of town.

We will probably each watch the Field of Dreams Game, thinking our own thoughts while the Giants engage the Cardinals, thinking how this year's game won't be played where a field and a novel was made into a film of fantasy that raises questions not always simple to answer. When not contemplating the good, the bad, the excellent, the dubious, about the play of the actual game.

As I write now on Father's Day itself, it's far simpler to replay the fictional Ray and John Kinsella reconciling with a simple game of catch. Even more simple to remind myself how much more fortunate I am, for having overcome my own parental estrangement and bereavement. For knowing I can still talk to, counsel, listen to my now-adult son, and even play catch with him when conditions allow — for pleasure, not atonement.

Leave a Comment

Featured Site