I grew up in the All-American City of Cleveland, Ohio. A child of the 80s, I was nurtured in a hard hat, lunchbox toting metropolis where both disappointment and hope shared a long term lease. The underdog was the perpetual spirit animal of our city replaced, only at times, by the laughing stock.
I spent countless hours in the backyard hitting rocks into tall trees – pretending to be Reggie Jackson or Andre Thorton or even Mike Schmidt. I hurled baseballs at the shed, through a hanging tire, or long tossed (mixed with sprints) hoping to have the arm of Ryan, Stewart, Clemens, or even Oil Can Boyd. I practiced my autograph on oranges so that I could give them easily and abundantly to my adoring fans. I even learned how to chew gum, blow bubbles, and chew sunflowers. All at the same time.
There was something about the quest. The field. The feel of cleats that brought comfort. The dreams of a World Series in Cleveland? Those dreams brought comfort after rough days at school, or extended good days with the family, or simply provided this young kid with a way to reset and find peace. The dust, dirt, spit, and sweat were the bath needed to exfoliate a soul and foster the spirit.
So what happened?
I chased that dream. Unfortunately, as a kid I didn’t realize (or accept) the difference between talent and desire. If desire was a talent, I was an All-Star. However, talent wise? Not so much. I pursued open try-outs with the Reds, Pirates, and Indians. The Reds and Indians cut me right away while the Pirates teased me with a hint of interest allowing me to stay into the second round (most likely just to provide batting practice for the guys they were REALLY looking at). And then a rain storm eliminated all potential. “We will call you. Don’t worry about calling us.”
The final pro try-out I attended was with the Canton Crocodiles where I was summarily cut (in the first round of cuts) by one of my childhood heroes. And at the age of 22, I retired from a dream.
And then last night something amazing happened. Thanks to the kindness of a friend, I found myself in the stands for a World Series game. It was overwhelming. The sights, the sounds, the excitement. The bustle on the field, the smell of the grass, the pop of the lights.
I had made it to the World Series.
No I wasn’t playing. No I wasn’t on the field. But I realized I didn’t have to be. The game is a gift – both to the average and the gifted. It’s kind of hard to explain unless you have felt the pull from a game. Unless you have wandered and gotten lost in between the crisp white foul lines. Unless you have been mesmerized by the lights, or hypnotized by the soft brush of the grass. Unless you have felt your pulse punctuated by the patter of mitts in a game of catch. Unless you have found your heart beating fast after you have hit a ball just right, or heard the sound of a bat connect just right, and it hums in your ear like a wooden tuning fork and you watch and feel just a little piece of your soul fly heavenward with the baseball.
That’s the feeling I got.
And though my team lost and I wasn’t on the field. That trip to the park was the best therapy for which a heart could ask. Among the violent collusion of bats and ball and mitts there is peace. There is joy. There is my childhood.
James Earl Jones, playing Terrance Mann in Field of Dreams, said it best: “They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they’ll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces.”
All those memories did come rushing back. As I left last night, all I could do was smile. I had finally made it to the World Series.