BASEBALL HAS ALWAYS BEEN THERE
All That Once Was Good

Home, where my heart is waiting.

 

In Field of Dreams, James Earl Jones’s character Terrance Mann gives the most important speech.

It’s only $20 per person. They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And 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. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. 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, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and it could be again.

I was in college and not thinking about baseball when Field of Dreams came out. Today, it makes far more sense to me than it did back then. I wasn’t old enough. I was close to peak physical condition in 1989. I could not fathom the way age would catch up to me. My memories of baseball were not yet thick.

I just had a birthday at the end of June, and as I start the first few years of my 50s, I remember that wide-eyed 21-year-old in 1989 who could run five miles like it was nothing. I used to be an athlete.

Additionally, I spent hours and hours playing first base so my younger brother could practice playing second and shortstop. He was pretty good back then.

Sports, and more specifically baseball, have been a part of my family since before I was born.

I spent my birthday weekend watching my nephew play baseball. Four days of nothing but sitting with my brother and his family and our parents, watching a soon-to-be 16-year-old have a little bit of fun on the diamond. He looks like a baseball player. The smartest player on the field, my nephew was nearly always the best player when he was younger.

When he was learning the game at six years old, he decided to become a switch hitter on his own. He’d take a few swings on one side and then a few from the other. He wanted to be a catcher because his favorite player (Yadier Molina) on his favorite team (St. Louis Cardinals) was a catcher and was always on the television screen. He plays second, short, third, catches, and pitches. He’s a versatile player.

Honestly, my nephew is flat-out a pretty good baseball player. It’s no surprise. It’s in his genes.

I never knew my grandfather, but I’ve been told he was a decent baseball player. Two of his four sons were better than decent. They would have been major league players had they been born a decade or so later with the advent of expansion. Instead, my uncles got as far as AA and AAA before calling it quits and becoming coaches and teachers.

My Dad and my other uncle were also pretty good baseball players, but they didn’t follow the path of their older brothers. They never played pro ball; they just played baseball and softball on local teams for the fun of it. It was at one of those games where my Dad met my Mom, so I’ve got baseball to thank for me being here too.

I played Little League and grade school baseball, but I wasn’t good enough to play in high school. With my accident blinding me in my right eye, I was done as soon as the pitchers could throw a curveball. On the other hand, my brother was significantly better than me, and he maximized his talent. I got to tag along and help him practice. Our father hitting ground balls to him at second while I covered first was a regular occurrence. My brother played on little league teams, all-star teams, and traveling teams. Our Mom saw him hit an inside-the-ballpark homerun in grade school. We both went to Illinois College, and while I ran cross country, my brother played baseball.

The one thing constant in my life is baseball. Even though I never really collected cards or memorized statistics. I loved watching the game. A few years ago, there was talk of bringing in a minor league team to my central Illinois town. It didn’t come to fruition, but I think I would have been there on day one and probably many more days after just to soak in the sun, the smell of cut grass, the crack of wooden bats, and the smack of a baseball hitting a catcher’s mitt.

Like the quote above, baseball has marked the time. For several years, every Fourth of July meant baseball games, from softball tournaments to all-star games. When I was 12, I was good enough to make the Khoury league all-star game. I remember playing the game in the heat and enjoying the fireworks afterward. My Dad tells the story of him playing in a Fourth of July baseball tournament just a week after I was born. I think I was in the stands for those games, but I don’t remember.

If it wasn’t me or my Dad playing, my brother was spending time taking ground balls at second and batting leadoff in a Fourth of July tournament. That’s the way it was all summer long. I always felt it was an honor to sit in the stands and watch baseball. My mother did it a lot. I don’t know how much she ever personally enjoyed it, but she always loved seeing her boys and her husband happy. That’s the way she was this past weekend too. We were always happy playing baseball.

Baseball has been a part of my past, but it’s also a part of my present. There is no greater joy than going to a baseball game with my brother and discussing tactics and approaches to the plate or talking about hitting the cut-off man and throwing strikes. If I have an above-average understanding of the game, my brother and father have doctorates. Both are so much smarter than me, and it’s always fun to sit and learn. I was blessed with five games last weekend to do just that, and I loved every minute of it.

Baseball marks the time. Time keeps marching on. The next generation of my baseball family now has their turn at the plate. Happiness is a warm sunny day with baseball to watch.

It reminds us all that once was good, and it could be again.

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