Field of Dreams is 21 years old now. That doesn't keep Slater from liking it. He's an old soul/new soul baseball kid. He likes the old Yankees: Ruth, Berra, Gehrig, DiMaggio. And the new ones: Jeter, Rodriguez, Posada, Swisher.
He likes the old Yankee Stadium and the new one. Not every 14 (almost 15) year old kid has a sense and appreciation of the past and the present; Slate does. Maybe it's because his namesake great-great uncles were broadcasters in the golden age of sports radio.
His name itself, "Slater," may be his link to the past. Here's a pic of Tom Slater with heavyweight boxing champ Jack Dempsey and Yankee great Babe Ruth. This hangs on Slate's bedroom door.
And here's a bit on Bill Slater. (Slater is my mother's maiden name and my middle name.)
Monday night we loaded up the car with baseball gear: a wooden bat, a new bat, bucket of balls, and gloves. And I noticed Slate grabbed my old first baseman's glove off the dusty shelf in the garage too; a '76 era Chris Chambliss autographed model that I bought for $20 when I was twelve. He decided to take some of the past with him.
We were up at 6 Tues. fueled with some of Sandra's blueberry pancakes and a cooler of home made, hand packed road food. No real woman would ever send her men out on the road without some love wrapped in Ziploc bags.
The GPS said we should stay on the mega-highways and head up to Chicago. That didn't feel right to me. We pulled out the big atlas and plotted a new course. To Lafayette, then to 65 N for a bit, then hit 24 west; a two lane highway that cut Illinois in two and ambles through little towns with 3 or 4 digit populations and grain elevators. It turns out our route had a whole lot more character and actually got us there sooner than the GPS.
Hours into the trip we were both pretty tired. The early start and the pancakes were kicking our butts. That's when we rolled past Paternoster Ford. Road fatigue has a way of turning men of any age into sophomoric idiots. Needless to say we somehow found something inappropriate in the word "Paternoster." We mocked it and laughed ourselves back into being wide awake.
The whole drive through IL on 24 was to drive in Indiana. If was exactly the same. Flat, corn, tractors, pickups, kind townspeople. But then there was...Iowa.
Shoeless Joe: "Is this heaven?"
Ray Kinsella: "No. It's Iowa."
That dialogue makes more sense now. Southeast Iowa is not Illinois or Indiana. It's slow rolling hills that you seem to see forever, all the way into the sunset. And on those undulating hills is more corn than you've ever seen before.
Here, a corn field is only the row by the road. In Iowa the corn rows run with the curves of the hills to the point you wonder if the farmer's tractor would fall over. Corn, this way and that, following the hills making symmetrical patterns like nothing in Indiana. Corn connected the roadside to the sunset. Corn was cool.
After 7 1/2 hours in the CRV our tired backsides closed in on The Field. As we snaked our way through the back roads within a mile of our destination we wondered, "How did anyone in Hollywood ever find this place?!"
As we drove down the long unassuming driveway it looked just like the movie. There is a modest gravel parking lot and in it a permanent souvenir stand. Besides that, everything was just as if Ray Liotta, Kevin Costner, and James Earl Jones walked off the shoot last week.
We slowly forced our car-seat-molded bodies out of the CRV. We stretched and looked, mentally checking off everything we expected to see. Field? Check. House? Check. Corn field? Check. And it was all as beautiful as you would expect.
This was a moment. Taking it in. "Wow, we're here. Wow--this looks just like the movie we watched last night. Wow. This is cool." (fist bump)
There weren't too many people on the field and the pitcher's mound and batter's box just opened up. We grabbed the bucket of balls, bats, gloves and headed toward the mound in hurried anticipation.
"Man they're serious," a man loudly whispered to his son as he looked at our bucket.
We threw for a few minutes so I could loosen up, readying to pitch to Slate. He then did some windmills with the bat in each hand. This is when the experience changed.
As soon as you start playing ball, your perspective changes from taking it all in, to focusing on a 5 1/2 oz little white ball. I was focusing on getting it over the plate. Slate was trying to get this huge 34" wooden bat around in time. We both realized the air conditioning was off and the sun was slamming.
Slate finally picked up his usual 32"-5 bat and drove a deep shot to left center 30 feet from the corn. This too solicited a positive comment from from one of the onlookers.
(By the way, the grass was perfect. Green, lush, flawlessly mowed and not one weed in sight.)
We didn't want to hog the plate (and we were pretty flippin hot!) so after one bucket we moved out of the way. We sat in the shade next to each other, talked and took it all in again. "Let's get a drink out of the cooler." "Great idea!"
We had a catch down the 3rd base line and later in the outfield. He caught some with his glove and some with my 34 year old glove. I hit him grounders and line drives at short. And I hit him pop flies to center. Somehow between playing ball and taking pictures we spent about three hours on the field. A couple times we were the only people on the field. Time flew.
All the gear we took went back into the car with some dirt from the sacred field of fathers and sons.
The cost to play on the field? Zero. Just sign the guest book and if you want, put some money in the unassuming donations slot.
Was there a moment? Did you feel something magical? Was it unbelievable? In the moment, probably not. Don't misunderstand; t was cool. We loved it. And even though Slate said (a-la Ray Kinsella), "Dad? Did you want to have a catch?" It wasn't emotional. But I could sense that the experience was packed with emotions.
Perhaps as we played ball, took pictures and sweated like dogs we were collecting emotions that we will dole out in days to come. Emotions that Slate will dole out if he has a son someday. Stories he may tell as he holds up an ancient glove and retells the story and says, "This was my dad's--I used it in Iowa--it still probably has some of that dirt on it."
Emotions I will dole out as I recount this experience back to Slate hopefully decades into the future or to a grand child. Or as I tell Sandra about it yet again, remembering back to when our kids were still kids.
(Or heck--the emotions I'm doling out to myself right now as I try to write this...)
We will remember the Field and our time there. We will remember driving 15 hours just to horse around on a ball field in the middle of nowhere. We will remember that Shoeless Joe Jackson, Bill and Tom Slater were tied to baseball long before we existed.
We will remember all the ball games from T-ball, little league and Babe Ruth league. We will remember that somehow beyond our comprehension, there is an Amazing God--a Perfect Father who has tied all these things together and is the source of it all.
And I am thankful that going to Iowa with Slate wasn't one of those "someday" ideas that never happens. Perhaps my friend Mike has inspired me this past year, to not count on "someday" because we never know how many days we get.
Why not make something happen in the life of someone you love?