“Is this Heaven?”
I’m not sure how I would have answered that question, this week, because I’m not exactly sure what that word means—but the events surrounding that question sure felt as close to Heaven as I’ve felt in a while.
You need to understand: Baseball has been there for me at so many critical moments of my life, often surprising me with its power to revive my spirits.
Take this past Thursday, which began like most days. I got up at 6 as my wife and daughter prepared for school. By 7 I was outside walking my dog Dexter, and by 8 I was fixing his and my other two dogs’ breakfasts (Boiled eggs and sausage). I was at my desk working by 9. And at 2 I was off to the local high school for football practice.
There’s a comforting daily rhythm to my days. Even the music is routine, thanks to the Alexa playlist I’ve put together. I cook to Looking Glass singing “Brandy,” and I start work about the time Don McLean is playing the first chords to “American Pie.” I leave for football practice to the sound of Modern English singing “Melt with You.” It gets my blood pumping.
This daily routine is comforting, allowing me to move from one day to the next with a feeling of calm. It also numbs me–all of us–in ways that are not good. It shuts us away from the wonders that surround us, and the larger rhythms that define life.
On Thursday, August 12, 2021, however, a bit of wonder broke into my day. An event that will forever set this Thursday apart from all the other Thursdays in my life.
Field of Dreams
As I sat down Thursday night to eat the pizza we’d picked up from Sam’s, an institution in Fredericksburg that’s been here longer than the 20 years I’ve lived here, I tuned in to Fox to watch a baseball game.
That, too, is routine in my house. Most days from late April through October we have the Washington Nationals game playing on our family television. If we’re not at home when they’re playing, the game is on the radio in the car.
Thursday’s game was different in several ways, however. We tuned out the Nats to watch the White Sox play the Yankees in Dyersville, Iowa.
Even the uninitiated know that Dyersville isn’t a Major League City.
Dyersville, however, has come to play as large a role in America’s baseball mythology, however, as has Cooperstown–the heralded town where baseball was born (it wasn’t born there, but it’s still a great place to visit). Dyersville is where 30 years ago Kevin Costner and his Hollywood crew took a novel by W.P. Kinsella and turned it into the now-classic movie Field of Dreams.
There were the predictable made-for-television theatrics Thursday night. Kevin Costner walked out of the center-field corn toward second base and stood. Then, in small groups the members of the White Sox and Yankees made their way out to him and shook his hand.
Then Costner took to the microphone and asked, “Is this Heaven?” to which the crowd of 8,000 folks lustily cheered.
“I don’t think I heard you,” Costner said, repeating his question: “Is this Heaven?”
The response was thunderous: “Yeah!!!”
For an emotional baseball softie who choked up watching the movie–several times–in theaters 30 years ago, it brought back a lot of fond memories. For the uninitiated, I’m sure it was probably as corny as the corn field the game was played in.
There was nothing corny about the game, however. In the top of the 9th, trailing 7-4, the Yankees hit two two-run homers – one by Aaron Judge, who had homered early in the game to give the Yankees a 3-1 lead; and the other by Giancarlo Stanton, who to that point had been 0 for 4 on the night.
It looked like that the Yankees would ruin it for the home-team White Sox, the team that also had a starring place in the movie. But in the bottom of the 9th, Seby Zavala walked, and Tim Anderson hit a massive blow to the corn in right field to give the Sox a walk-off, 9-8 victory.
[You can find the box score, video clips, and in-depth interviews about the Field of Dreams game at MLB.com]
It was as good an ending to a baseball game as I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen something in the vicinity of 5,000 Major League games in my life.
There When You Need It
The recently retired, legendary sports writer for the Washington Post, Tom Boswell, once said of baseball that there’s something that’s available to people during the baseball season that isn’t there the rest of the year. “It’s not that you have to watch the game,” he said, “but it’s there if you need it.”
Baseball has been there for me at many critical times in my life. Indeed, my life is marked by it. In April 1974 I walked–ran, really–home from school to catch the great Henry Aaron hit his record-tying 714th home run in Cincinnati to tie Babe Ruth for the Home Run King crown. I can’t remember most trips home from school. That one, however, will always stay with me.
There was the afternoon in 1976 when I sat in my grandfather’s house watching Mark “The Bird” Fidrych pitch during his rookie season. My grandfather, pipe in hand, telling me stories about the great pitchers he had seen and read about growing up in the ‘20s and ‘30s. My grandfather died in 1989, while I was in graduate school in Chicago. I finished my thesis early and drove to North Carolina for the funeral. I spent the night in Cincinnati and attended a game between the Reds and the Giants. I could think of no other place to be. It was a 13-inning marathon that the Reds won. For that night, he was with me one last time.
The game was there for me in August 1990, when my wife and a close friend from graduate school made the trip to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and watched Nolan Ryan win his 300th game. A feat that until then had only been accomplished 20 times in Major League history. I remember every moment of that game like it was yesterday. Mostly I remember the evening my wife, our friend Dan, and I had together.
It was there for me in 1994. The game itself was not in a great place that summer. Tensions between the owners and players was high, and eventually there would be a strike that led to the cancellation of the World Series. For four hours that summer night, however, none of that mattered. My wife and I had had our first child that May. Together we watched the All-Star game, taping it for him, and celebrating with glee as the National League (our favorite) finally took one. The late, great Tony Gwynn scoring from first base off a Moises Alou double to win the game in the 10th inning.
My forthcoming book is dedicated to my oldest son, Andrew, who helped me see the game anew. While the country turned on the players and the game during the strike, the memory of that All-Star Game, and the
Baseball As Religion?
I do not attend church or affiliate with a religious tradition–regular readers of my columns are well-aware of that fact. Some believe that baseball (or sport) has become my religion. That assumption would be as wrong as the assumption that I see no value in faith.
The animating question for me about faith has always been, what purpose does it serve?
I was raised in a tradition that framed faith solely as something to ensure a good life after this life. That was why we had faith. That was all that faith really mattered for.
I’ve been part of traditions where faith was the animating factor for political agendas, left and right.
All of these have proven deeply disappointing and shallow to me.
Baseball is not a religion for me. But baseball has something to teach religion. Baseball is a constant in my days. I don’t always need it, but it’s there when I do. And there are games, moments, that serve as markers for me. Markers that turn the ordinary into the extraordinary.
Days that allow me to see, and remind me of, the wonder that is life itself.
No judgment. No requirement to convert. No guilt.
Just a moment that opens my eyes to the wonder around me.
When religion can offer that, I’ll be in the cheap seats. Beer and dog in hand, keeping score and basking in the moment.
I’ll save the seat next to me for you.
Care to Watch?
Here’s the YouTube video posted after the event, showing the dramatic opening minutes of that broadcast:
ARE YOU INSPIRED by this column from journalist Martin Davis? Right now, Martin and our editors are completing on a book filled with uplifting stories about high school coaches and players nationwide—men and women, black and white, famous and unsung heroes alike.
His book will appear soon in our series of 30 Days With under the title: 30 Days With America’s High School Coaches.
You can follow Martin’s work through his personal website, MartinDavisAuthor.com, which describes his work as an author and editor, as well as his background as a veteran journalist for national publications.
Look around that website and sign up to receive free updates from Martin about new columns and podcasts. You’ll be glad you did!