“You know we just don’t recognize the most significant moments of our lives while they’re happening. Back then I thought, well, there’ll be other days. I didn’t realize that that was the only day.” -Moonlight Graham
Every year, sometime in the first week of April, as spring training gives way to the first few tentative games, Field of Dreams makes its way into the DVD player. Ray Kinsella, washed up hippie turned corn farmer, hears the voice at dusk, whisper carrying across the stalks. It’s nonsensical, the sort of cryptic gibberish we puzzle out of half heard static on a radio in the next room: “If you build it, he will come.” But Ray knows what it means, in that way that your heart knows with absolute certainty what is happening in the midst of the most surreal dreams.
Ray plows under his crops, daughter next to him on the tractor, carves a baseball field out of the corn, the outfield fence a swaying green wall of corn stalks. It sits there, through the winter snows, until finally with the arrival of spring, Shoeless Joe Jackson himself emerges from the corn to stand again on a baseball diamond. Other ghosts filter in, looking for more afternoons in the sun. The voice calls again, and Ray follows it into more madness, more magic founded in the ineluctable logic of dreams.
The film isn’t really about baseball except in so far as baseball is about faith. Not the faith peddled in pulpits, but the simple smoldering knowledge that things will turn out how they should. A major league fastball scorches towards the plate so fast that the only way to hit it is to start swinging before the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand. And if you’ve guessed wrong, you’ve already missed. Fastball, changeup, slider, up and in, low and away. Whether the bat leaves your shoulder or not, you’ve taken a leap of faith. Baseball fields are churches, every town in the midwest has at least one of each.
Baseball is rhythm without time, the lack of clock rendering the events immortal instead of static. There’s no running out the clock, no timeouts, no pressure except the weight of what’s come before compressed down into each single moment. A baseball game lasts exactly as long it needs to, like a life time. Until the last out, there’s always more time, you can’t lose by default, you don’t lose until you lose. Down by one, down by a thousand, there’s always more time if there’s a single strike left. They say that baseball is too slow and meandering, a nineteenth century game fading in the speed and frenzy of twenty-first century mentality. I say that baseball is the way our hearts wish time worked.
Every generation burns down the churches of its fathers, burying regrets in a shallow grave that doesn’t swell and burst open until the blind fires of youth cool. And then it comes back to us, all the nostalgic details of childhood that we block out with the careful constructions of adulthood: the smell of dirt and grass, the endless summer afternoon, the crackle of the AM radio. It’s like we’re dipped in magic waters, as Terence Mann would say.
Field of Dreams is a fairy tale for middle age, a tale to celebrate not the brave young boys trying to become men, but the faded denim men trying to remember what it was to be boys. There’s a terrible moment in a man’s life when he realizes that in his earliest memories, his father is younger than he himself is today. Our fathers are gods to us when we are very young, the measuring stick of what it means to be a man. So it’s a knife twist of memory to see that man we burned on the pyre of adolescence, to realize we’re of age enough to make the comparison fair. And how can we ever live up to that example rendered in the holy technicolor of memory? The final few minutes of Field of Dreams are among the most perfect moments ever captured on film, a jumbled lump of sadness and joy catching in your throat as from a eulogy. The cruelty of time is that we can never look our fathers or sons in the eyes as equals.
“It’s my father…My God! I’d only seen him years later when he was worn down by life. Look at him. He’s got his whole life in front of him and I’m not even a glint in his eye. What do I say to him?” -Ray
Steven Lloyd Wilson is a hopeless romantic and the last scion of Norse warriors and the forbidden elder gods. His novel, ramblings, and assorted fictions coalesce at www.burningviolin.com. You can email him here.