There's a wonderful scene in the movie Field of Dreams where the character Terence Mann, played by the ridiculously mellifluous-voiced actor James Earl Jones, breaks off in something of a soliloquy about the nature of baseball, and not just the nature of baseball in an Iowa cornfield, either:
"... 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..."
Tomorrow marks another Opening Day in major league baseball and with it all the promise that a new season brings. I can't wait. Yes, the season is too long, the players are paid too much, the off-the-field distractions are too many, and yet...
I remember the first time I went to a major league baseball game. It was a night game in Philadelphia, in old Connie Mack Stadium, probably around 1965. I was stunned when we walked through the concourse to find our seats. The field, bathed in what must have been the light of 10 million candle watts, seemed unreal and magical, and I was hooked. Forever. I still get the same sense of awe whenever I walk into a major league ballpark.
So baseball connects me with my youth.
There is something alluring about a baseball field — its symmetry, its geometry and, despite all of its perfections, its quirkiness. Who knew that 90 feet was the perfect distance between bases, not too long, not too short? Who knew that 60 feet, six inches was the perfect distance between the pitching rubber and home plate? Who figures those things out?
Lexington's Holt-Moffitt Field has those same exact dimensions, but then it has that steep rising absurdity of a hill in left field that is in play and is a part of the game. It almost always confounds opponents. It's home-field advantage personified. It's a beautiful thing.
Baseball connects me with my dad.
I once read a critique of Field of Dreams that described it as a male weepy. True, true.
The movie came out in 1989, less than two years after my father died. I was still negotiating the pain of his death when we went to see it. I remember sitting in the theater with my wife, totally enjoying the flick, until the very end, when Kevin Costner's character, Ray Kinsella, meets his estranged, long dead dad on that magical field. "Hey dad?" croaks Costner. "Want to have a catch?"
I fell apart. So did most of the folks in the theater, I think. Couldn't stop the waterworks.
I've seen this movie 1,218 times, and I break down every time this scene plays out. I know I'm going to break down. I plan for it. There are times when it actually feels good to break down. Dad taught me baseball. He taught me how to throw, how to hit, how to catch.
What is more compelling than a catch between a father and son? So this movie really scores with me.
There are tons of fun baseball movies: Bull Durham, Rhubarb, Pride of the Yankees, A League of Their Own, Eight Men Out, It Happens Every Spring... The list is nearly endless.
And, so, here is another Opening Day. Marking time once again.