Catching the magic at the Field of Dreams…again!

For the last two summers right about this same time, we have done something specialIMG_3669.jpg with our two grandsons, kind of a last-of-summer vacation thing.

Last year it was a day trip over to Dearborn, Michigan, to visit the Henry Ford Museum and adjoining Greenfield Village. The four of us enjoyed every minute of that day, and we still often mention that we’d like to return and see all the other things that we didn’t have time to get to. And I’m sure that we will do so sometime down the road.

This year, since we’re both home from the cottage for a few days, we thought it would be neat to take the three-hour drive over to Dyersville, Iowa, home of the Field of Dreams–the farm where the movie was filmed in 1988.

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Playing catch with the grandsons as I did with their dad years ago.

What would make this trip all the more special is that we had taken the boys’ dad—our son—there back in the early 90s when he wasn’t much older than they are now. Playing catch on that magical field with my son all those years ago was, indeed, special, and to do the same with my grandsons seemed like a pretty good thing to do!

As always, we had kept an eye on the weather forecast because it would be rather pointless to set off all that way if rain was imminent. But fortune smiled on us and the day dawned overcast, promising to be in the high 80s by afternoon. Leaving by 7:30 would allow us to reach the place out in the Iowa cornfields by late morning, before the heat became too stifling.

And so, with the wheelie cooler chock full of bottles of water and snacks, we hit the road and enjoyed the countryside, with the flatness of home giving way to the rolling terrain of northwest Illinois, our journey taking us over US-20 past Rockford, Freeport, Stockton, Galena, and over the Mississippi River at Dubuque, Iowa. Dyersville and the Field of Dreams is just a short drive onward from there, and we had no trouble locating the charming place once more, even after so many years.

Jackson and Matthew spent most of the trip there watching the movie on a laptop. For Jackson it was the first time he’d seen it, and we all agreed that it was a good thing he had so the site would mean more to him.

If you build it, he will come…

Of course, I’ve seen the movie countless times over the years, and never fail to get caught up in the story and its homage to baseball and the role it plays in so many lives, generation after generation. I would think that even non-baseball fans would find something intriguing in the tale that starred Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones.

IMG_3693The movie was based on the book Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella. Interestingly, I read this book for the first time this summer, and knowing we were going to be visiting the movie site, I wanted to compare the original story with the film’s treatment of it.

To say that it had many diversions and changes would be a vast understatement. Although I usually prefer the original work, in this case I tend to lean toward the Hollywood version—grudgingly, of course! Not sure about some of the “additional” characters the author included in the original, and I think the story worked fine without most of them. But that’s merely my opinion, mind you.

Go the distance…

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“Lefty” Jackson hurls a strike from the Field of Dreams mound.

The hour or so we were there, playing catch, batting with other kids and adults there for perhaps the same reasons, was just enough and well timed. After a brief snack break on a picnic table under some beautiful tall pines near the old farmhouse, the heat had begun to rise, the boys were sweaty and dusty, and Carolyn and I were hot and ready to get back into the air-conditioned comfort of the Equinox.

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“Slugger” Matthew knocks one to center!

A quick visit to the gift shack to check things out, and then we were ready to pull out of the place and begin our trip back home to Illinois. And, of course, it was about that time when we were all ready for some lunch. Our plan was to stop for a nice sit-down meal (no drive-thru, fast-food adventures this trip!) and enjoy the cool atmosphere and some good food somewhere around Galena.

As it turned out, we continued through the Galena area and on to the small town of Stockton about an hour away. To our delight, right there on our route in the small town was an attractive log building named JJ & Freddie’s. The service was friendly and attentive, the food was good,

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Matthew and Grandma relaxing in the cool comfort of the restaurant on our way home.

the draft beer I enjoyed was quite refreshing, and the air conditioning was superb! Each of us was fully contented at this point.

Re-fueled and refreshed now, we were back on the road to home and I even managed a nice nap as Carolyn got us home in good shape around 4:30. The hot afternoon couldn’t diminish the wonderful morning’s fun and smiles we’d all shared on our little trek over to the magical Field of Dreams.

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About to enter the corn after a good workout on the Field of Dreams.

That magic summer…

images-1.jpegIt was summer 1964. The railroad had just transferred my dad from Huntington, Indiana, to Ashland, Ohio, and we were in the process of moving. At first I had been enthusiastic about it all, but then as summer rolled around, and my Pony League baseball season with it, I wasn’t so thrilled about the move at all.

As things developed, we had a pretty good team, and I was patrolling center field, making catches that, in distant recollection now, still amaze me! And I actually was hitting the ball more consistently. And it wasn’t only me. Every other player on that team had somehow metamorphosed into steady players and excellent teammates.

It’s pretty much a cliché now to say that we “came together” that summer, but I know of no other way to put it, nor can I think of another group, club, team, or organization I’ve ever been a part of and say the same thing about it. We came together, indeed!

Even practices out at an old rural school several times a week were something to which we looked forward to with the eagerness of the typical fourteen year olds that we were. Often, my good friend and I would pedal our bikes the three or four miles out to the school and meet up with the others. Along the way, we’d have serious discussions about when I was images-3.jpeggoing to have to leave for Ohio and what it would do to our friendship.

As much as I wanted to put those kinds of thoughts out of my head and focus on baseball, there was always something there to remind me about how things were soon going to change in my life. I never wanted to admit that I would be a long way from the friends I’d known most of my life, so I usually tried not to take any of it too seriously.

On the last day of school that year, several parents had a graduation party for us, kind of an “end-of-junior high-getting-ready-for-high school” gathering. During the party, it seems that all anyone wanted to talk about when I was around was how I felt about having to move. I put on a fake persona, one where I shrugged it off and joked about it all, but, truth be told, I was really torn up inside.

And that’s where that summer’s magical baseball season helped. Why we–a ragtag group of basically mediocre ball players–turned into a championship team, is still beyond my wildest sense of reasoning. But we did, winning the championship with stellar pitching, timely hitting, and game-saving defense along the way.

Meanwhile, my parents and my sisters had made the move to our new home in Ohio in Unknown.pngearly August, but I still had a few weeks left of the season. I was invited to spend those days at my good friend’s house so I could finish out. Plus, I had been selected to be the starting center fielder for the All-Star Game, and I couldn’t miss out on that honor.

Somewhere in my “vault” of treasured memories and other pieces of my past is a faded newspaper article about our team winning the championship that summer. There’s an accompanying team photo with our smiling faces as we hold our trophies proudly and throw out endless wisecracks. We’re all sweaty, dirty, and very happy!

What I recall most clearly, though, was that the day after the photo appeared in the paper, I was on a train traveling to my new home in a strange and unfamiliar place and wondering what lay ahead, and the magic of that team of mine tucked away forever.

We all vowed to stay in touch and get together whenever the opportunity presented itself. For a time we did. But we all grew out of being fourteen year olds and our lives found their own varied paths. Eventually, I adjusted to my new surroundings and made some very good friends there. Yet, fifty-two years later, I still remember that magic summer!images-2.jpeg

Opening Day for the White Sox…

Well, it’s finally here: Opening Day for the White Sox, although it’s on the road in Texas. It’s always wonderful to reach this day because I love baseball season and the game itself, and it signals the beginning of another spring and summer filled with hope, fun, and disappointment–mostly disappointment. Whatever the feeling, though, it’s baseball time once more!

I watched the whole game today as the Sox took on the Rangers, last year’s American League representatives in the World Series, and I wasn’t too upset even though the Sox lost, 3-2. Lots of changes have taken place, but it’s still the White Sox and I can root for no other. My allegiance goes back to the late 1950s, so I’ve been down many a road with many a White Sox team that promised, yet didn’t really deliver. Regardless, I hung with them all the same.

Converesely, there’s that lovable loser ball club on the north side that has, for whatever reason, endeared itself to a great majority of followers, content to faun over them ad infintitum. I still know not what their infernal attraction is, but I can never follow them, nor do I have any interest in their success as each season winds along. For me, it’s always been the White Sox–through the good and the bad.

According to most “experts” in the Chicago media, there’s really no reason whatsoever to put any faith in the White Sox this year. According to them, the Sox are sure to  be total losers and quite distant from any kind of challenge to winning their division, not worth much at all. However,  I can’t agree, being a Sox fan and having witnessed other minor miracles through the years. True, this year’s team doesn’t have a Dick Allen or Bill Melton, a Wilbur Wood or a Terry Forster. They don’t even have the Big White Machine to fire up and explode around the ballpark between games of a doubleheader (remember those?).  The many moments at Old Comiskey continue to echo about in one’s memory, and will be forever etched in the minds of all of us who had the pleasure (?) of being there for them.

The current White Sox? We shall see exactly what they do have! All I know is…it’s baseball time again. Time for Ed Farmer and Darren Jackson to keep me company all summer on my little black radio up there in Michigan as I sip another cold one on the porch late into a Michigan night or make my way around the lake on my pontoon. It’s all good! Go, go, go, White Sox…