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Field of Dreams
I am in Iowa. I am reminded of this fact when I leave my hotel room each morning. The landscape rolls away in every direction, immense, endless, impressive. These must be the largest farms on earth, a great expanse of harvested fields dotted with old, white farmhouses, crowded by huge barns and the inevitable shiney-topped silos. There is a natural beauty here, particularly early in the morning as the sun rises across the long horizon. No mountains or rivers to inspire, no seacoast, no virgin stands of hardwood or pine, just a charm, an earthiness that connects and soothes. This is bare-bones America, the Heartland. Towns tiny and silent, old brick 1880's banks and not a McDonalds in sight; a land where you wait ten minutes for your hamburger to be cooked.
The people are white, blue-eyed, Protestant, polite; hard workers who drive pickup turcks and listen to country music and root for Iowa State. They listen to high school wrestling on radio. The drivers have a habit of raising one fore-finger in greeting as you drive by. And they live in the land that contains the Field of Dreams.
You recall the movie, Kevin Costner building a baseball diamond in his cornfield, encouraged by that mysterious whisper, "If you build it he will come." The ensuing travels to Fenway Park, then Minnesota, picking James Earl Jones and a young Burt Lancaster in his attempt to unravel the mystery. It has become one of the most beloved baseball movies of all, culminating in Costner's character Ray Kinsella reuniting with his father on the ball field.
I was reminded of the movie dialogue's entry into the sports lexicon while recently in Detroit where the current controvery is whether Detroit Stadium should be replaced, and a popular slogan is, "If you build it they won't come."
I know baseball. I know that W.P. Kinsella wrote "Shoeless Joe", the novel upon which the movie was based. I know Kinsella must be rolling in his proverbial grave because Hollywood has Ray Liotta, in his roll as Shoeless Joe, batting right handed. I know Kinsella did not write the traumatic father-son ball tossing scene in his novel, but saw it added by Hollywood screenwriters. I know Babe Ruth idolized Shoeless Joe Jackson and said in his autobiography that he modeled his batting style after his. I know Shoeless Joe was illiterate, but I find it difficult to believe that he misunderstood what was happening in the 1919 World Series. The mess culminated in the infamous eight Blacksox being acquitted in court, but banned, nevertheless, for life from professional baseball by one Kennesaw Mountain Landis. I know Kennesaw Mountain Landis was named such because his father fought for the Union at Kennesaw Mountain outside Atlanta, and was so indelibly scarred by the experience he named his son after it. I know years later, working in a liquor store back home in South Carolina, Jackson spied Ty Cobb walk in one day to buy some spirits. As he turned to walk out Cobb recognized his old adversary, and asked why he hadn't said hello. "Because I didn't think you or any of the old fellows would want me to," Jackson replied. What I don't know is how to get to the Field of Dreams.
I drive north up route 151 through wooded hills, interrupted now and then by vast, rolling farmland. I sense huge pig farms as I turn off on 136 North. Finally I arrive in Dyersville, a larger town than I expect, and see a sign proclaiming "Farm Toy Capital of the World." I get directions from a tourist booth across the street from the sign, and follow a lonely, silent country road until I see the light standards, and I pull into the long driveway.
It is a lovely sight. I cross a small bridged brook and enter the farm, pull up before the white picket fence in front of the house. The farm sits on a slight rise which affords views of miles of farmland in all direction. I suppose there are facts I could gather, talk to the owners of the farm about how many people come here now, learn more about the old-timers games that are held; find out stuff.
But I don't care. The field requires all of my interest. I look at the small stands, at the spot where the little girl fell and was saved by Doc. I walk where Ray Kinsella tossed the baseball with his father. I look out over the field toward the corn, gone now, the face of the earth like the stubble of a two-day-old beard.
It is silent, I am the only one here. I see Shoeless Joe Jackson, that tragic figure, walking from the outfield, forever young, forever lost. He was one of the greatest ballplayers of all, but because of that infamous World Series he will never be in the Hall of Fame. And yet, isn't this the Field of Dreams?
My Baseball Encylcopedia says Shoeless Joe ended his career at age thirty-one with 54 home runs, 785 RBI's, and a stunning .356 batting average. But I also know the encyclodedia contains mistakes, such as saying that Tip O'Neil, the great 19th century Canadian ballplayer, died in Woodstock, Ontario, on December 31, 1915. I happen to know that Tip O'Neil died of a heart attack stepping off a trolley in Montreal on News Years Eve, 1915. So I think Shoeless Joe had many, many more seasons, many more homers and RBI's. He's in the Hall of Fame today where he belongs, with the man who idolized him. And he played on the field in front of me, here in the lost expanse of cold, cold Iowa. He did not make the one mistake that would haunt him for the remainder of his life. He did not make that one, lousy decision.
Shoeless Joe Jackson died poor in 1951. Today Pete Rose, another baseball star banned for life for betting on baseball games, pleads for a second chance. Rose has made millions of dollars in baseball, he signs autographs by the thousand at seventy-five bucks apiece. He enjoys a major league pension. And he denies, despite overwhelming evidence, that he ever committed the crimes which caused his banishment. In September, 1920, during the grand jury investigation into the alleged fixing of the 1919 World Series, Jackson emerged from the courtroom into a corridor where he was approached by a young boy who had a legendary question: "It ain't true, is it, Joe?" American myth has corrupted this inquiry into, "Say it ain't so, Joe." What is less known to popular culture is Jackson's reply: "I'm afraid it is."
I gaze across my Field of Dreams. A cold wind picks up from the north, carousing over the open fields gathering a force until it forces me to pull up my collar and head back toward my rental car. I glance back one more time toward the corn, I actually stop and wave goodbye. It is March. It is spring. It will start growing again soon.