(Editor’s note: Noah Seligman is a Journal contributor.)
We drove to Iowa for reasons you can’t even fathom. On Father’s Day weekend in 1991 my dad, brother, and I made the short two-hour trip over flat farmland from Madison, Wisconsin to Dyersville, Iowa. The green corn stalks just creeping skyward; late June too early for meaningful progress towards the August harvest. A bucolic portrait of the rural Midwest.
Of course, you don’t need to trade Wisconsin for rural Iowa if it’s farmland you seek. You visit a town of 4,000 friendly Iowans for the Field of Dreams. The baseball field from the Kevin Costner movie of the same name. The bleachers, the cornfield edging the outfield grass, and the white painted farmhouse deep into foul territory on the right field line.
In those days there was a literal farm team. Young guys in suffocating polyester uniforms of the Chicago Black Sox who played the role of token opposition. Hospitable hosts making sure every guest got a single and a comfortable trip around the bases home. An enjoyable enough summer vocation depending on the humidity.
With no outs, innings, or official scoring, the game just kept going. Bubbling with energy on a brutally hot day, I even joined the right fielder for a bit just to increase the defensive intensity.
Along with some sweat, grass stains, and infield dirt smudges, we do have a picture to capture the memory. My dad squatting between his boys. My brother and I wearing our East Madison Little League baseball hats.
Baseball was my first love, my first language, and with apologies to the bright New Mexican sun, the center of my universe for at least the first decade of my life.
Without Fox Sports Regional networks during childhood, the Atlanta Braves were my best nightly option thanks to TBS. With 14 straight division titles and a Cooperstown rotation, the Braves were a welcome contrast to my Milwaukee Brewers which didn’t claim a division crown until I was 26.
Without smartphone apps growing up, I had to beat my dad to the breakfast table to get the sports page first. Memorizing box scores, standings, and statistics over cereal and juice. Somehow that command of baseball facts and figures never quite translated to my math report cards.
“Major League” was the first R-rated movie I ever saw. On the bus ride from County Stadium during a Temple Men’s Club trip to see the Brewers. Bob Uecker (or Harry Doyle) is still my favorite sports announcer.
I think my financial advisor should factor in the baseball card collection in my parent’s attic for retirement planning. Long before IRAs, 403Bs, or 529s, an annual visit to the baseball card shop in Minocqua, Wisconsin was my first taste of investing. Johnny Bench, Roberto Clemente, and Brooks Robinson all safer than crypto.
When I was a kid, my mother wisely recognized the best way to have me practice my atrocious penmanship was printing sentences about baseball. She could overcome my obstinacy toward reading by borrowing baseball books from the library. One year my mother took us to a Brewer game on Mother’s Day. I can safely assert that is the last baseball game she ever watched.
Dad was my Little League coach for many seasons. He was a regular Connie Mack if you’re only looking at the right-hand column. The past two years I’ve coached my son’s Little League team. Me a regular Casey Stengel, if you’re thinking the 1962 Mets.
My son is a hard-throwing southpaw, with a reliable glove, and easy power to all fields. The pandemic gave us a lot of time at home to work on the mechanics. Anytime is his preferred time to practice his throwing and hitting motions including breakfast. Last week he homered off his toast and induced a meal-ending double play from his yogurt.
Living in Canada, we follow the young Toronto Blue Jays daily, monitoring my ESPN app, TSN on television, and various online statistics. Baseball is a great sport for math lessons given the analytic data now available. Ask us anything about Jose Berrios’ pitch selection or the ascension of Alejandro Kirk.
There is a broader economic lesson available on income inequality in studying the payroll of Los Angeles or New York compared to smaller market clubs.
On a more significant note, baseball has been a useful entry point to discuss civil rights and heavier topics at an impressionable age. The history lessons from Robinson, Paige, Gibson, and Aaron obviously extend far beyond the contours of a baseball diamond.
I don’t know if baseball is America’s national pastime anymore. Perhaps being defiantly wrong on the internet (or Spotify) has supplanted it. But it remains a potent American allegory for race, economics, labor, immigration, justice, and, with the introduction of the DH to the National League this season, the erosion of American exceptionalism.
James Earl Jones as fictional author Terence Mann was right in Field of Dreams. Baseball has marked the time. For three generations of my family, it sure has. I’m already thinking about a grandfather-father-son trip to Iowa on a future Father’s Day. COVID has disrupted all travel plans. For now that Iowa baseball field is just a dream of time gone by.
Home » Sports » Noah Seligman: On Father’s Day, the Field of Dreams and a mark in time
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