People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I
stare out the window and wait for spring.
There was a pause, a moment of thought, and then I went for it. With the moonlight as my guide on that pitch-black Iowa night, I sprinted with the exuberance of a ten-year-old on Opening Day across the small stream of water. I galloped on to the cool damp grass on that putrid hot night, forgetting the anxiety that came with trespassing on private property well past midnight. The magic in the moonlight was palpable; I would not have been surprised had Joe Jackson himself emerged from the darkness of the cornfield.
My brother Jeremy and I were giddy; the quietness of the night, the breeze on our faces, and the smell of the sweet corn in the outfield transported us to our youth. There is something about the Field of Dreams movie site in Dyersville, Iowa that you can feel in your gut. It turns adults into little boys wearing oversized baseball caps who have dreams of making it to the “Bigs” someday when they grow up. With clouds rushing past the nearly full moon that night, Jeremy and I patrolled the outfield grass. We walked into the corn, disappearing into the darkness, half expecting to magically land in some sort of baseball heaven. We didn’t need to be magically transported; we were already there.
Walking onto that field had been a dream of mine since I first watched Field of Dreams so many years ago on the eve of yet another Opening Day. Year after year, our family would gather in the living room with popcorn and put in the movie to get us in the mood for the start of the season—the official start of summer in America. Being out there on that field in the darkness of night, with only the sound of rustling corn stalks and the occasional passing car, it was apparent to me that the magic was certainly real.
After we had our fill of the field that night, we drove back to the hotel a few miles away and went right to sleep so that we could return in the morning. After breakfast, we bought a baseball glove and drove the beautiful serpentine roads of rural Iowa until we found the long gravel driveway of the farmhouse. To see the field in daylight was just as spectacular as the night before. I could visualize the entire movie—Joe Jackson cracking fly balls to the cornfield, Archie winking, Terence Mann on the bleachers.
Jeremy and I played catch where Ray tossed with his dad. We swatted home runs (from second base) to hear the ball tear away at corn leaves on chest-high stalks. I played third base while a young boy took batting practice from his dad. I smacked a deep drive (this time from home plate) off a perfect pitch from another boy and I ran all 360 feet around the base paths, sliding into home through a pile of red clay gravel. We walked the field more than once and talked to other visitors. One man, probably in his seventies, also strolled slowly in the outfield with his hands clasped behind his back. I asked him if he’d been here before. He had. Every single year since the field opened up to visitors he had made the drive from Indiana to soak in the magic.
But why? Why did he drive every year from Indiana to some empty baseball field in the middle of rural Iowa? Why did Jeremy and I visit the field? Why had it been a dream of mine to do that for so many years?
Growing up in rural Ohio, basketball was my favorite sport to play and football was my favorite to watch. However, as I got older, baseball became my favorite. It’s a special sport—timeless. It transports you to your childhood, when you played it, watched it on TV, even got to go to games. Baseball has a connection beyond teams and players. It serves as a bond between fathers and children, brothers, and friends.
Now that I have three children of my own, baseball serves as a constant in our lives. Whether we are watching the Cincinnati Reds on a warm summer night, or playing ball in the back yard, baseball brings joy and laughter into our lives. My daughter Sierra, now nine, comes to me with graph paper and asks if I can help her keep score of a Reds game. My son Aidan knew the lyrics of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” when he was two years old. Now, he is seven, and playing knothole baseball on a dusty field in Cincinnati with visions of playing for the Reds one day. I am honored to be one of his coaches; our time together on the baseball diamond will certainly be one of my fondest memories. And little Natalie, now five, has her favorite players and asks me if she can still root for them when they are traded away from her hometown Reds.
These are the moments I will undoubtedly be whisked back to some years from now, when the three of them have left our house. The sound of their laughter, the crack of the bat, watching my wife Chrissy cheer as Sierra races around makeshift bases after hitting a rocket past Daddy. How I will long to hear Aidan’s grand finale of “the old ball game!” I’ll dream of sitting in the bright red seats of Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park with my amazing children, eating hot dogs, and cheering on our team.
And that is why a lonely old man strolls around an empty diamond in rural Iowa
every summer with visions of his father or brothers or friends playing baseball on an
emerald swath of grass so many years ago.
~Aaron M. Smith