Saturday, October 20, 2007


The mind can wander to all sorts of places, familiar and foreign, the tangible and the theoretical. Sometimes I wonder just how I got there and I struggle to draw a map in my brain of the unlikely route, lingering wisps of thought all that remain. And then there are those places clear as the sky on a perfect, cold day, where the vapor trails of jets gone by hang and the sunlight draws precise lines against all it touches. It is here I find myself standing in a field of wheat. The wind turns patterns in the heads of grain and through it I see myself from some lower vantage; my hair blows across my face and the image lingers. The clouds speed past and the whole scene repeats like weather radar. This is an image I have carried for many years and it haunts me to the core. At times this image is Africa, at other times it is California, and still others some great plain I have driven past. I sit on my couch and watch the television and suddenly the image takes over, yet today it is new.

I am thinking about baseball. And it is no longer wheat but corn and suddenly I am lost in a scene from a movie and I realize that I love baseball. I have not watched Field of Dreams in years and stumbled across it today only to be sucked completely in. Kevin Costner is at the bottom of my list however this movie has always tugged at some strings. It is a good movie with a continuously expanding sense of intrigue but near the end, Terrance Mann, the J.D. Salinger - inspired author played by James Earl Jones, gives this unbelievable speech about the transcendent nature of the game and the movie suddenly becomes great. By the time Ray’s father appears I am on the verge of tears, filled with nostalgia for the movie and the game it loves.

For the sake of honesty I am unfair to sports. I openly share my disdain for all forms of team competition, especially basketball, to anyone who will listen. I do not like the way people’s lives shut down around games or how we lend our pride and self-worth to some uniformed strangers we call by their first names like we have been friends from years. Yet in this moment I find myself talking to Sarah about how much I love baseball. The games, the parks, the hot dogs, the way no one player can carry a team as a weak player cannot be compensated for in the field or at the plate.

Sarah listens to me talk and sees right through my disguise. “I do not think it is baseball you are having such strong feelings about but the memories that surround it.” Interesting, I think to myself. Images start creeping into my mind, particularly having a catch with my dad in the front yard. He was my coach for many years and a capable one at that and while at home I would stand at one end of the yard, dad at the other. We used the natural slope of our hill as a pitcher’s mound and my dad would catch, giving signs. One for the heater, two for the slider, three for the curve, none of which I could really throw. I never was much of a pitcher, a third-baseman instead, but always wanted to be. Fireflies would fill the air and we would toss the ball until dark.

She is right. Rarely I tote my favorite ball team, the Red Sox, donning a hat on some worthy occasion. I once sat in a sports bar a yelled my guts out as the Sox beat the Yankees in such an improbable fashion a few years ago. Yet the truth is that the Red Sox were my favorite team long ago when I played little league ball. Today I never watch the highlights, I have no idea who is on the team, and I am as loyal a fan as a trophy blond is a loyal wife to her oil baron husband.

Competition puts my stomach in knots. I get stressed watching people compete. I hate the way I feel when I am placed in a competitive situation. Monstrous feelings seem to overwhelm me when I begin to apply my worth to the outcome. Dread preceded me on the baseball, lacrosse, swim, and even ultimate Frisbee teams I was a part of growing up. I did not like carrying the pressure to win as I put way too much of my own concerns and pride into it. I grew emotionally weak in those years and I had to walk away from all of it.

Good lengths of time passed before I felt the strength return to me. I learned to detach my worth from the things I did and instead found it in a worthy Creator. I cannot say I do not struggle with this from time to time but the overall shift has been extraordinary. When I think about Eric Liddell, the English sprinter in Chariots of Fire, I get chills. “God made me fast. When I run, I feel God’s pleasure.” As I watched the movie, bedded down after having my wisdom teeth removed, I instantly knew it to be true. This quote changed my life.

Ray Cancella and his father play catch and I am on the verge of becoming a weepy mess. I am wondering why we cling to our innocence, why feelings may surface so strongly at the right stimuli. Is there some part of me that aches for the loss of those childhood years playing ball? Or maybe there is something natural about playing ball with your father; in his patience there is something timeless, something pure. It is good to stand in the fields of freedom and confidence, the wind blowing across your face and filling your nostrils with life, whatever the field may be. And for that, I love baseball.