For the Simple Love of the Game

On Sunday evening after finishing a dinner of hearty soup and apple cake, my husband and I settled in to flip through television channels and happened upon Field of Dreams on MLB Network. We had missed the first half hour, but it didn’t matter. 

After a tumultuous weekend of divisive rhetoric concerning protest, what constitutes respect, and American sports, this gentle movie offered us a little peace and it got me thinking. 

I am not an athlete. Far from it. I can’t throw or spike or bat a ball. No one wants me on their team. I have no coordination and little competitive spirit. Yet, I spent years on worn benches in humid ball parks, rainy soccer fields, and freezing ice rinks. I have seen the power of sports. I have felt the visceral connection players have with their coaches and teammates. I’ve experienced disconnect when irate parents questioned an official’s call or dominant teams were encouraged to run up the score. Despite the conflicts, sports allowed my boys to be a part of something bigger than themselves. They learned the rules. They wore their jerseys with pride. They looked up in the stands when they made a goal or hit a line drive, just to make sure we were watching. 

Field of Dreams isn’t about politics. It is about something deep in our national psyche, our fractured and complicated relationships, and our innate love of the game. Not the fanfare or the spectacle, just the simple pared down freaking love of the game. The snap of the ball. The hush before a putt. The thump of the ball hitting the back of the net. The squeak of shoes on a wood floor. The look of triumph after crossing the finish line. These are the moments that fill us with awe, no matter who or what we root for.

My husband has told me he watches sports for the story. Not the personal anecdotes of players, but the actual drama played out during each match or game. He claims it is better than any scripted movie or television show, because one never knows how it will play itself out. This is the beauty and appeal of sports, he says.

Late last fall, an entire nation (and parts of the world) held its breath as a team who hadn’t won a World Series in over a hundred years came back after a power outage and won the title. I knelt at the edge of our bed, knowing my oldest son was also watching, and I could feel his joy halfway across the country. This is the connection of sports. These are the significant moments we hold in our memories. 

My dad was a huge Chicago Bears fan, even in their darkest years. On any Sunday we would find him in the basement family room, dressed in his blue Bears sweatshirt, and often down on one knee in front of the television, hoping the tide would turn and the Bears would score. This precious memory has been on my mind during the past crazy weekend: my ultra conservative father, taking a knee during a professional football game. 

Terence Mann, the character James Earl Jones plays, has a moving monologue at the end of Field of Dreams, and as I watched it again, my heart filled with tentative hope for this fractured country of ours. Even as factions want to divide us, most clamor for peace, for good, for justice. When my husband and I head to one of the final St. Louis Cardinal games of the season this Friday, I will remind myself of all that is important and basic as the players take the field. America has heart, even if we disagree. The flag and the anthem are symbols, but it is our goodness that will prevail. That hope is my own personal field of dreams.

“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and that could be again.” – Terence Mann, Field of Dreams

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