Season 7, Episode 5
June 12, 2022
The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s 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 it could be again. Oh… people will come Ray. People will most definitely come. – Terrence Mann, Field of Dreams
We are seemingly living through the worst of times. Hatred, violence, illness, loss and distrust radiate from thousands of sources, poisoning everything around them. It is hard to bear these days. But when I hear these words, I find solace.
Terrence Mann is played by James Earl Jones, his voice echoing throughout the film as a grounding force for Kevin Costner’s character, Ray Kinsella. Ray is an Iowan farmer who builds a baseball diamond in his cornfield after a voice suggests, “If you build it, he will come.” The film Field of Dreams is about baseball and our national connection to it; it is also about families and our relationships, especially between fathers and sons. It’s a truly lovely film.
The sport showcased in the movie first became popular in the United States in the 1850s, having evolved from other bat-and-ball games played in England and Ireland before its transatlantic journey to Canada. Baseball teams and leagues formed over the following decades until the The National Agreement of 1903 formalized relations between the two major leagues, the National League and the American League. The World Series, the annual championship series of Major League Baseball, debuted that same year.
There is, of course, so much more to the story of baseball’s development over the past 200 years: the racism of barring Black players in 1867 by the sport’s first governing body; the influence of gambling in the Black Sox Scandal of 1919; the development of athletes as celebrities, exemplified by Babe Ruth; racial integration in 1947 with Jackie Robinson’s debut on the Brooklyn Dodgers; the use of performance-enhancing drugs to chase records and fame. But I will leave those stories to the experts and historians – I am more interested in the relationships at the center of the sport.
This is in large part because I cannot claim to be a fan of baseball. My fanaticism found its idols in CDs and books, rather than in trading cards and fields. But I recognize the power and importance of the sport. Perhaps it’s due to the game’s simplicity: all it takes is 18 people, a bat, and a ball. (I guess that gloves are pretty important if you want to keep your hands safe.) The game is designed to linger, to allow spectators to be present with those on the field but also those alongside them in the stands. It’s a more reflective sport, in that way, allowing us to form memories that we hold tight to ourselves, like a foul ball we leapt for from our seats.
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