"If you build it, he will come.”
Ray Kinsella doesn’t accept these words at first. It’s not until he sees a vision of a baseball field and the great “Shoeless” Joe Jackson in his corn field that he decides to act.
Despite the financial loss he will incur and the backlash from the town and his brother-in-law, the Iowa farmer plows his land until he has enough space to create a pristine diamond.
It’s his “Field of Dreams,” the No. 1 movie in our Full-Count Films Countdown. I realize that the lineup has gotten side-tracked during the past two months. It’s time to get our final swings in before the fall sports season begins, and this weekend seems like the perfect time.
Kinsella harbors a deep regret that he didn’t reconcile his relationship with his father before he died. In the movie, Ray explains that he and his dad became estranged when Kinsella was young. His father, John, had a great love of baseball and had dreams of one day becoming a professional player.
John’s favorite player was Jackson, and Kinsella imagined that building a field for his hero would ease some of the burden after the way he treated his father. He stopped playing catch with his dad when he was 14 years old, resenting the fact that his father stopped chasing his dreams. He became influenced by a writer named Terrance Mann and quipped that he couldn’t respect a person whose hero was a criminal.
The voice continues to encourage Kinsella, often saying, “Ease his pain.” Finally, on the brink of losing his farm, Jackson appears in the darkness one night. He and Kinsella start to form a bond. Kinsella starts defending Jackson, and since Kinsella can’t make things right with his father, he can make an effort to see his father’s idol the same way he did.
Ray eventually meets Mann, who had a character named John Kinsella in one of his books. They attend a ball game at Fenway Park where they both hear a voice that says, “Go the distance.” He sees a message on the scoreboard that displays the stats for a New York Giants player named Archibald “Moonlight” Graham.
The duo travels to Minnesota to find Graham. Kinsella feels compelled to finish his odyssey and find out why he was chosen for this journey. After experiencing a time warp, Kinsella meets Graham in 1972 and the now doctor tells him that his one wish was to get a major league at-bat.
Driving back to Iowa with Mann, they pick up a young hitchhiker named Archie Graham and bring him back to his farm and the baseball field.
When they arrive, several players have appeared, enough to play an actual game. Graham gets his time at the plate and brings home a run with a sacrifice fly.
On this same field of dreams, Graham finally gets to step in the batter’s box. The ghost of Joe Jackson and his teammates find a way to play again. Mann, after convincing Kinsella not to sell his farm, finds a new inspiration to write again. Kinsella gets to experience what he has been dreaming about for years.
Father’s Day is not circled on my calendar. It’s not because it isn’t a day that shouldn’t be revered or commemorated every year. It should be. My dad was taken from me way too early. He became ill when I was 7 years old in 1982 and died several months later.
I can relate to what Ray Kinsella was feeling. Of course, the two situations are different. I never grew apart from my father or stopped tossing the ball around the yard. I never got that chance.
Ray had lived with the regret and the remorse of how things ended with his father. After Jackson pointed the way and revealed the ultimate prize in his quest, you could see in Kinsella’s face that all the trials and tribulations he had faced in the film had been worth it.
One second, he’s ticked off that he can’t see what’s in it for him after all the work he has put into it. The anger immediately disperses when he spots his dad slide off that catcher’s mask and reveal himself. The amount he’s lost during the past weeks can never compare to what he’s about to gain.
Anybody that’s lost a loved one can share that sentiment. Unfortunately, I have only vague recollections of my father. I was far too young, but I would plow every corn field I could find, build a ball field and sell every possession that I own just for the chance to play catch with my father.
David Sparks was a huge sports fan and had love and a talent for baseball. It was his favorite thing on earth, next to his family. I know I’ve mentioned this in print before but saying he was a fan doesn’t do him justice.
I heard many tales from family and friends. Looking back, it’s a wonder that I’m even here. During their high-school courtship, my dad went to Ashland and my mom, Patti, went to Russell. When the two teams played each other during the 1960s, my dad would refuse to sit on the Russell side. He respected the Red Devils but honored his Tomcats by staying away from the rival bleachers.
He treaded on even thinner ice when a month before my parents were set to walk down the aisle, he chose to watch the 1970 baseball All-Star Game rather than discuss the details about his upcoming wedding. My mom stuck around for one reason — my dad was a great guy.
It was important for my dad to share sporting events with me even before I could walk. Before my first birthday, he kept me up all evening just so we could watch Kentucky and UCLA battle in the NCAA title game in 1975. I didn’t make it. I witnessed my first basketball state tournament the next year. My dad carried me in one hand and my diaper bag in the other. He tried the same strategy before Jack “Goose” Givens netted 41 points for the Wildcats against Duke in the championship game two years later. No dice.
The nights I do recall involved my grandparents’ back porch as we all huddled around my grandfather’s transistor radio listening to our beloved Reds. My dad’s face would light up when he heard the legend, Marty Brennaman, wrap up a broadcast with his famous line, “And this one belongs to the Reds.” Even as a little kid, if I could have bottled those moments, I would have. I got to tell Marty about those times earlier this year. I had to stop a few times to keep from choking up. My dad would have loved hearing about my conversation with Marty.
Basketball is my first love. My bad knees and anxiety issues derailed me quickly, but I’d like to imagine my dad would have spent my countless hours on the court right beside me. He would have excited my chosen profession and discussing the game I was covering or student-athlete I was writing about.
It’s taken me a long time to accept that I will never get the chance to do these things with my dad. I have to let go of the resentment that he’s not here with me and find comfort knowing how much he enriched the lives of the people that knew him best. The greatest compliment that I will ever receive is when people tell me that I’m just like him. I look like him too. That’s his picture beside mine on the sports front of the print edition.
Mothers are so important to us and deserve all the love and gratitude we can muster. The dads (and stepdads) deserve it too. When you celebrate your father this weekend, cherish every moment you have with him and know you’re living this guy’s dream.
Reach MATTHEW SPARKS at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2654. Follow @SparksWillFly35 on Twitter.