In 1996, I got to play on the Field of Dreams. It was as magical as I could have hoped.
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Tonight (August 12, 2021), Major League Baseball will play a game on the site of the movie. It’s in Dyersville, Iowa. This will be the first major league game ever played in the state.
When I received my call from seminary to be pastor in Guttenberg and McGregor, Iowa, I had no idea I would be living twenty-five miles from the Field of Dreams. It was only when we were moving and neared Dyersville that we saw a sign for the field.
We soon visited on a Sunday afternoon. The place was busy. No organized game was being played, but only people shuffling in and out every several minutes.
No one was catching. Pitched balls were being retrieved and tossed back to the pitcher. Though I had no glove, I stepped into the catcher’s spot. The pitcher was lobbing the ball, so when the batter missed or let a pitch go through, I was able to catch it.
After a couple of batters, I asked the next person in line if I could have my turn. I could have batted the rest of the afternoon. To be polite, I took perhaps six or seven pitches. I grounded some to infielders. I think I hit one good one to the outfield. I was 39; I wasn’t yet too over the hill.
I didn’t want to leave the field, but there were others waiting their turn.
I’ve been a baseball fan since I can remember. I played organized ball from the youngest we could in the 1960s. All the way through high school I played pick-up games, many of them in the field of one of my good friends, Brian Cribbs. As an adult, I played softball for years, often in two leagues at a time, usually leading my team in hitting. I used to have a huge baseball card collection. I’m a student of baseball history. I’ve watched thousands of games on TV.
Oh, and I’ve enjoyed watching Field of Dreams a few times. I always experience a deep sense of nostalgia.
Hearing about tonight’s game found me reflecting on that Sunday in 1996 when I played on the Field of Dreams, and wondering what it is that gives us the magical feeling I experienced. It got me thinking about other things that take us back in time, send us off to other places, mentally and emotionally place us in beloved times in our lives (or even in tragic and terrible moments).
Smells do it. Turkey roasting takes me to my grandmother’s house. A certain cologne (the name of which I do not recall) brings to mind my mom. The time I drove into a metro Chicago manufacturing district and smelled Cocoa Puffs permeating the neighborhood set me back at our kitchen table at 4931 Wilcox Street in Montague.
Songs do it. My long-time favorite pop song, 10cc’s 1975 hit “I’m Not In Love,” transports me to our Wilcox Street basement, where I played that song over and over and over to the frustration of everyone else in the house. Countless other songs invoke strong feelings. You could surely name a dozen of them that do quick and deep work on you.
Photos do it. I was recently searching for a photo. I didn’t find it. I spent an hour on the task because I kept getting tripped up on what pictures were doing to me. Photos from when I was a clown in a parade in McGregor, Iowa found me mentally walking that route, even longing to do it again. Photos from a Tigers’ game in the ’70s put me right back in that seat on the third base side, and I could see everything as if it were being played in that moment.
Dates do it. Birthdays do it. Anniversaries of weddings, or deaths, or accidents, or the day you moved in to your new house, and many more do it.
Places do it. It happened to me last month, as it always does when I go home to Montague. It’s one reason I love to go jogging when I’m home as I can cover most of the town and the slow pace allows time for memories to blossom and bloom, and good feelings to flow from my head to my heart.
And that’s what happened when I played on the Field of Dreams.
After my turn at bat, I grabbed Kim and our four kids. We walked along the edge of the field, out to the outfield, so we could enter the corn and walk into the field as the players did in the movie. It was July and the corn was pretty tall, so we got the full effect.
Typing this piece did its good work on me: it took me back, doing what places and smells and songs do in us. The memories engaged my head and sent them to my heart.
And it was magical.