Thursday, June 12, 2014

Movie Ghosts Can Mirror Your Life - Happy Father's Day

      From the time I was a small boy baseball has been a part of my life. We took in a Reading Phillies game recently along with our daughter Jan's family. It was the first time her girls were at a ball park and it was all about the mascots, hotdogs, cotton candy, peanuts and pop corn. That got me thinking about my own playing days.
     This year marks the 25th anniversary of the classic baseball movie 'Field of Dreams.' A film about the relationship of a father and son with twists including Shoeless Joe Jackson and ghosts of Black Sox players emerging onto a baseball field built in an Iowa cornfield. 'If U Build It, He Will Come.'
'If you build it, He will come.'
     It is one of my all-time favorite movies and the speech by actor James Earl Jones playing Terrence Mann is one that hits home with me. His deep booming voice brings out the pure essence of baseball.  Paraphrasing the dialog, 'People will come, Ray. They'll come to Iowa for reasons they can't even fathom… They'll pass over the money without even thinking about it - for it's money they have and peace they lack. It'll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters, he states as the old time players press in around him. People most definitely will come, Ray.' It is a long speech but so well done and meaningful. I've watched that film many times and never tire of listening.
     As the film winds down a short sentence is spoken that has most people in tears. Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) watches major leaguer John Kinsella (Dwier Brown) as a young ball player pull off the catchers mask. And at the end he looks over at his ball player dad and asks him a simple question. 'Hey … Dad? You wanna have a catch'?  This quiet moment gets to anyone who has ever played catch. When a baseball thrown by your father falls into your glove you understand. If you have a heart and a soul you'll cry like a baby.
     And I had tears streaming down my face watching the pair play catch as the movie faded to black. Like most men I have a personal back story on baseball. My life revolved around the game and was an important part of my growing years.
     Father's Day usually gets me thinking about my dad and the things we did during his short life. Like most boys, I started playing ball very young and remember my dad pitching and me smacking the ball with a plastic bat. That was my beginning, a start to my dream. We would play catch on the front lawn of our north end home. And we didn't just throw the ball back and forth. He'd make me glove it to the left and right. He'd throw grounders and high flies. Teaching without me knowing what he was doing. I was just enjoying the game.
      And after one particular catch he wanted a kiss. So as an eleven year old boy I planted one on his cheek. I can still smell the Aqua Velva cologne and feel the stubble of his beard. Funny what you remember in life. And shortly before my twelfth birthday he was gone. My champion had passed from a heat attack. He was larger than life and he commanded attention, a man respected in the community. The wind was sucked from my youthful sails.
      The following summer I took to the field again and played a couple more seasons but the passion was gone. I was turning into Ray Kinsella, angry that my hero could die on me. I thought he'd live forever. And as I grew into a teenager, I did things my way and skipped a baseball practice to caddy at the country club and make some money.
     The coach rightfully sat me on the bench for a playoff game at the end of the season. With a man on first he called me to pinch hit.  I loved to hit, it was the one thing that I liked about the game. But this day was different. Three straight fast ball right down the middle of the plate and I didn't take the bat off my shoulder. I didn't want to hit. I didn't want to play and it had nothing to do with the coach who I liked and admired. It went deeper than that. I dropped the bat and it was the last time I played baseball as a kid and didn't play in high school.
      I never regretted that day or not playing again even though that was all I wanted to do. I had bigger responsibilities helping my mom at our house. I kept busy doing many things never straying too far so I didn't cause her any heartache. It was hard enough being alone in Pottstown with her extended family in Ohio. It took a long time to get over my dad's death.
My dad's baseball mitt.
     Meeting my future wife Deb, I started letting down my guard and enjoy things more. I joined a fast pitch softball team after an invitation from my best friend Dave. That was an important day for me getting back in the batters box as an adult. My hands were shaking a little on that first pitch but I did manage to make contact and was back on the base paths.
     Deb's younger brother Tim also got me to return to the game. He's was six years old when I bought him his first glove and bat. We played catch every day outside their Stowe home as Deb sat on the steps watching. I would pitch to him and he would smack those whiffle balls across the alley. If a butterfly flew overhead he'd drop the bat and I'd smile watching him chase it around the yard. He was the bat boy of our softball team and took care of lining up the gear. Tim would always yell for me to hit a homer.
      It felt good teaching him the game and he progressed from the little league and played through high school becoming a very successful pitcher. I managed to keep his mind on baseball as a teenager even though he had his eye on the pretty girls. We'd travel around to baseball card shows and to Phillies games. The torch was passed. He was more like a son to me then a brother in law.
      When my wife Deb was expecting I saw an infant sized baseball outfit and bought it. My buddy Dave laughed and said I'd definitely be the father of girls. He was right and we have two daughters, both could swing a mean whiffle bat. And I'd have a catch with them and would yell out kidding that they throw like girls! They'd look back at me and say we are girls. We played as they grew until getting involved in gymnastics and other activities. But, we'd still throw the ball around.
      I still like to play catch and recently bought my grandson his first baseball glove and hat. And, with four grand daughters running around, I keep a big plastic bat and ball in my car trunk for the days we feel like hitting. We'll play for the fun of the game.
     My dad's old baseball glove is on a trophy case right next to mine.  Someday Deb and I will get in the car and drive to that corn field in Iowa. I'll grab my old worn out mitt and ball and ask some other baby boomer if he wants to have a catch on that movie set ball field. Then I'm heading to the outfield and a walk into the tall crop of corn to whisper a thanks to my dad.

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