We all Have our Own Fields of Dreams

Adults should never forget the importance of the whole baseball experience for kids, not just the baseball.

I made it to the highest level of baseball and you might think that the major league ballparks I played in would be at the top of my fields of dreams list, but that is not so. Of course, to play on any major league park fits the “fields of dreams” description for those who had the major league dream, but my greatest memories occurred elsewhere. Many of the parks I played in when young and old no longer exist, “For the times, they are a changing,” (Bob Dylan), but they never go away because they exist as pictures in our minds. It is funny how the mind works – “Time and memory fade away” (Bruce Springsteen) – and what it remembers about the places we played. Often, the baseball games were just a side note to the memories. The hits, runs, and errors often disappear from memory, but the places and the fun swirl in our minds. 

Fields of Dreams from My Youth

“In my life, I’ve loved them all” – The Beatles

Most players never forget the ball fields they played on when growing up. Those fields of dreams bring back great memories of times that were much more innocent, before life and growing up got in the way. Those long ago fields of dreams had a lot to do with forming one’s identity.

Many of the lines from the great Beatles song, “In My Life,” speak to me about the many places baseball has taken me over the years. It is fun to reminisce about the most memorable of those fields of dreams and I hope this helps readers recall fond memories of their baseball playing days.

 “Though I often stop and think about them” – The Beatles

Kids often scoff at adults who say, “Yea, when I grew up, we used to play baseball from sunrise to sunset, only taking short breaks for refreshments.” Well, that is the way I remember it. After rising in the morning and after a little breakfast, I grabbed the ball glove and went to the local ball fields. Years later, I learned that the great Leroy “Satchel” Page played on those same fields, years earlier with his barnstorming teams. Knowing that, my memories of those fields truly exist as fields of dreams, just as a scene in the movie “Field of Dreams.”

My organized baseball life’s journey began at Rivals Park in Joliet Illinois. To us, the field was as cool as the major league parks we saw occasionally on TV, with billboard wood signs for the outfield fence that gave it character. The field dimensions were much bigger than regulation little league, so I used to clean up on home runs by hitting balls in the gaps and running like crazy. However, baseball was only a small part of the fun and memories of little league. Rivals Park was a blast for the French fries, Tavern, and “hide and seek.” The French fries were the specialty at the concession stand, so having a good game usually led to those and were as memorable as the home runs.

The real fun for the players began when games were over and the parents would head to the tavern next to the ballpark. Later generations may not understand that because taverns and youth baseball do not go together as they once did. This practice allowed players, whose parents stayed to celebrate, to play late into the night, any and all kids games of that era. Playing baseball with friends was cool, but playing hide and seek with someone creates a lifelong bond that is “priceless.” I have been by the park many times since those days, but no ball field exists anymore, just in my mind. Parents of young  ball players should remember that the playing part is only a small percentage of what makes sport fun for kids – it is the entire experience, before, during, and after games, even without the nearby saloon.

 “Some have gone and some remain” – The Beatles

When I was fifteen years old, my Joliet colt league team advanced to the regional tournament to somewhere called Murray, Kentucky. We stayed in the college dormitory and from our room we could see the college baseball field. I can picture it today, with the greenest grass you ever saw and built-in bleachers that gave it character beyond measure. Best of all, it was smack in the middle of campus, meaning people (girls) could not help but notice when ballgames were going on. To me, it was better than Fenway Park or Wrigley Field.

Were we ever excited to play, until told that the bus would pick us up for the game? “Wait a minute; the field is right outside the dorm.” “Sorry guys, you are actually playing at the local high school field.” To say we were disappointed would be an understatement. However, I would not be denied. When I had no offers to play college baseball, I walked on at Murray State University and played four years as a Thoroughbred on my field of dreams. So cool, to be in the center of campus, playing baseball on a beautiful day with students – did I mention girls – walking to and from classes. Another park that now only exists in my mind, as so-called progress moved the field to another location, but the life lesson of never giving up on your dreams came from that experience.

“Though I know I will never lose affection” – The Beatles

When I mentioned above that baseball has taken me many places, there was none more unlikely than this one. Playing winter baseball in Mexico one offseason, our team played a goodwill game against a semi-pro team at their “stadium.” We arrive for the game at an open field – no baseball field, no backstop, no dugouts, no fence for fan protection, and no catching gear for the opposing catcher – just a mask. Talk about playing for the love of the game. We just threw down a couple makeshift bases, brought out the umpires and played a professional baseball game, just like that. Obviously, not the typical picture of pro baseball, but more like baseball I remembered playing as a kid. I was waiting for the immortal Satchel Paige to pitch against us, maybe he did. The amazing thing is that there were no fan injuries, despite having people lined up behind home and along the baselines. Whenever, I think of the great major league stadiums I played in, I try not to forget those who just play for the love of the game on their own fields of dreams and that is what baseball is all about.

Major League Fields of Dreams

“All these places have their moments” – The Beatles

Of course, I would be remiss if I did not include at least one major league stadium in my fields of dreams list. My favorite major league stadium was the Kansas City Royals Stadium. I was there as a fan when I was 18 years old in one of the very first years it opened. It was beautiful and I dreamed of playing there one day. To get that opportunity years later was beyond a dream come true.

However, my favorite memory of that beautiful place occurred after a game one night. I had a good game this particular night, getting three hits. Into our clubhouse, I am not sure how they got in because that was never an easy chore, walks my college coach, Johnny Reagan, and two former college teammates. Noticing how excited they were for me, humbled me to no end. When people you admire most share in your accomplishments, it makes life special and even more worthwhile. I never felt so proud to be a major league baseball player. Baseball is the friends, times shared, and lasting memories of our fields of dreams.

 

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