People will come, Ray. They'll come to Iowa for reasons they can't even fathom. They'll turn up your driveway, not knowing for sure why they're doing it. They'll arrive at your door, innocent as children, longing for the past. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It's been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again. Oh, people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come.
-- Terrence Mann, from the film Field of Dreams
The movie Field of Dreams has a deep emotional tie to me. I rarely, if ever, cry, but I can't make it through this movie without a tear or two coming to my eye. Thinking about it as I write this, and type out the quote that opens this, is bringing a tear to my eye. It hits home with me in a way that no other movie that I have ever seen has hit me.
I have been a baseball fan for as long as I can remember. My father was (and still is) an extremely avid baseball fan as well. But my passion for the game came from my grandfather.
I can't even describe in words how much he meant to me. He lived just down the road from where I grew up, a gravel road that I would walk along on a warm summer morning to go see him. He loved to garden, and grandma loved to bake, so they always had lots of fresh vegetables and baked goods to eat. He made an effort to save the comics page from the newspaper he got every night to give to me. He watched The People's Court every day at four o'clock.
And he watched baseball. And I would watch it with him.
I remember the last few months of his life, the fall of 1985. He was dying quickly of cancer and he moved in with us because he had become too sick to take care of himself. My parents purchased a bed and moved him into our living room. During September and early October, he was often so sick that he couldn't sit up in bed. But when the World Series came around that year, he gained more strength than anyone even expected that he still had in him and during every game of the World Series, he sat up in bed with me next to him, and we watched the 1985 World Series together. When the last game was over and I trudged upstairs to my bedroom, I peeked back around the corner to look at him one last time and he had already collapsed in bed of sheer exhaustion. I knew right then that he wouldn't be there to watch the World Series next year with me, and I was right. He died less than a month later.
In the last sixteen years, I have dreamed of him so many nights. I dream of us walking through a garden together, picking tomatoes. I dream of him trying to teach me to play the banjo. But more than anything, the dreams revolve around baseball.
I dream about us sitting in the stands together at Wrigley Field, taking in a baseball game on a warm Sunday afternoon. I dream about us arguing about who was the greater hitter, Ty Cobb or Pete Rose. I dream about him showing me how to wrap my hand around a baseball to get a little extra snap on it when I throw it.
And I dream of us on a wide expanse of grass, playing catch, and talking about all the years we've missed.
When I watch that movie, and Terrence Mann stands up and says what I quote at the start of this, it is more real to me than any other movie line I have ever heard anyone utter. The connection that I still have to my grandfather, the connection that has reduced me to tears four times as I write this, is a connection that countless grandfathers, fathers, and sons have shared in this country through baseball and spending time together. It is an amazingly beautiful thing how nine people standing on a field together, playing a simple game with a stick and a ball, can help to build such a strong bond between people.
And when the movie winds down and Ray goes to play catch with his father, something he has dreamed about for years and years and years, it is a scene that rings so true for me that it almost instantly brings salty tears out of my eyes and down my cheeks.
People might make light of some elements of this movie; the perfection of the plot or some lines that come off corny. But when Shoeless Joe Jackson asks Ray, "Is this heaven?", and Ray responds, "No, this is Iowa," I think of the great moments I had with my grandfather growing up, and I realize in a lot of ways that is what heaven is.
So when you ask me what heaven is, I say that heaven is a huge expanse of grass where people can play baseball with the energy of their youth, and that I can once again see my grandfather and toss a baseball back and forth with him.