Thirty years ago, America was captivated by a film called “Field of Dreams.” Set in Iowa, a farmer (played by Kevin Costner) plows up his cornfield because he hears a voice telling him to build a ballpark on his land. “If you build it, he will come,” became the catch-phrase of the year. Neighbors and others mock him, but his adventures include seeing the ghosts of a number of former baseball players, including “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, a burned-out 1960s writer played by James Earl Jones and a small-town doctor played by Burt Lancaster, who gives up the sport he loves for his profession, without ever getting an MLB at-bat.
I’m not sure the film won any awards, and probably made less money than the summer blockbusters, but people from that time probably remember the film better than those made-for-Oscar types, or the big-budget movies of the day.
My father loved the film. He bought me baseball books, including one written by W. P. Kinsella, the author of the book “Shoeless Joe,” which the movie was based on. It was the only fiction book among a sea of fact-based cases that took me from the 1949 New York Yankees, Brooklyn Dodgers and Boston Red Sox to the baseball seasons of the 1970s.
At the end of the film, Ray Kinsella, the protagonist, gets another chance to play catch with his late father as cars stream in to see enjoy the new ballpark. Tossing the baseball around with my dad and my brother Dan was a fond memory of mine. My dad taught me to bat left-handed, as that was his stance, though I’m a natural righty. Outside of one at-bat at a kids all-star game in grade school, that’s as far as I ever got, though co-ed softball intramurals in college were fun, as guys had to bat their opposite hand. I had no opposite hand, of course. I was ambidextrous. Or as notorious baseball humorist Andy Van Slyke once quipped “I’m amphibious!”
Passing this fun down to my son was easy. He’d toss any electronic device aside in a heartbeat in order to go outside and play catch with dad. We even get to throw the ball around on campus. “Dr. Tures, we loved watching you play catch with your son,” one LaGrange College baseball player told me. “It reminds me of playing catch with my dad.” One of the softball players nodded in agreement. Playing catch with dad knows no gender boundaries.
It’s a tradition we continued up in Tennessee, as my son got to join in the fun. But it almost wasn’t a happy ending a year ago. Dad stumbled while trying to snag a ball, and slammed hard onto the pavement near our house. I was sure we were headed to the hospital, as he must have broken every bone in his body. But his guardian angel was looking out for him that day, and he wound up with little more than some painful-looking bruises and scratches, which he waved off. That’s how that generation was for a Wisconsin farmboy and veteran, who also gave up the fun of the game to be a doctor and help people, like “Moonlight” Graham from the movie. Any other doctor would probably sternly lecture me about tossing around the ball with him again.
There’s a part of me that wishes for one more time, that we could go back to the front yard of their Tennessee home, or the backyard of our house in El Paso, Texas, and play catch. Do I dare it? “If I throw it, will he come?” He’d go out there, chances of injury notwithstanding, I know.
So I bought him a special anniversary version, a two-disc DVD of the film, and maybe we’ll watch it again. And God willing, he’ll join me and Zach for one last memorable game of catch.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science atin LaGrange, Georgia. He can be reached at . His Twitter account is JohnTures2.