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Weeping for a nation built on a Field of Dreams

I have close friends who have different views on race relations, politics, immigration, vaccinations and fighting crime. Yet, we can still talk baseball.

In this June 22, 1997 photo, people portraying ghost players emerge from a cornfield as they reenact a scene from the movie “Field of Dreams” at the movie site in Dyersville, Iowa.
AP Photos

I enjoy watching the White Sox. This year’s team is a lot of fun. But that’s not why I love baseball.

On Thursday, the Sox are scheduled to play the New York Yankees at the Field of Dreams in Iowa. The name comes from the novel “Shoeless Joe” by Ray Kinsella, which was made into a movie featuring a character named after the author. I’m guessing most people know the famous quotes from the movie.

“If you build it, he will come.”

“If you build it, they will come.”

But that’s not what the movie is about.

It’s about the line near the end of the movie, where Kinsella’s character says to the last player standing on the field, as the sun is setting: “Hey, Dad, wanna have a catch?”

That is the heart and soul of the movie. The reason it has staying power. It’s the connection over generations between fathers and sons, and mothers and daughters, through baseball and the simplest of shared memories, a game of catch. Some time spent together.

A moment in time. Or as Kinsella says while watching his daughter play with her mother just before that exchange with his dad: “Maybe this is heaven.”

Maybe the closest any of us will get, anyway.

For me, baseball will never be quite the same as it once was because I can no longer pick up the phone and talk about the game with my father. We will never again go to a ballpark together and sing, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Eat hot dogs. Ask the vendor to toss us a bag of peanuts.

Oh, how I loved bringing my baseball mitt to the games. We only went to double headers back in those days, full nine-inning contests, not the shorter seven-inning games played at double-headers today, because you had to get your money’s worth.

It was expensive going to baseball games back in the early 1960s, and the average family couldn’t afford it more than a couple of times a year. You had to pick your spots.

We always went to Yankee games because my brother, for some strange reason, was a fan of the Bronx Bombers and their star Mickey Mantle.

We used to argue about that. No more. Like my father, he is gone.

We had terrible arguments, my father, my brother and me. A lot of them were about the Vietnam War, just like the character in “Field of Dreams.” I said things I will always regret. Nevertheless, we could always talk about sports and baseball.

The same is true today. I have close friends who have different views on race relations, politics, immigration, vaccinations and fighting crime. Yet, we can still talk baseball.

A character in “Field of Dreams,” a tortured writer named Terence Mann, urges Kinsella to build a diamond in a corn field and says:

“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.”

Late in life, just a few years ago, I met a fellow named Ray. We became instant friends. It was a surprising thing because we were both past our prime. But he loved the White Sox.

Now he too is gone. COVID took him last winter.

I will think about him Thursday, and about my father and my brother. The game is what binds us together. And maybe there is hope for a nation at war with itself.

We built this country despite our differences, like a diamond rising out of a cornfield.

Maybe this is heaven.

philkadner@gmail.com

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