The dream is bigger than the game

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By David Whitlock

It had taken us three years to accomplish our goal, but we did it, last weekend.

Three years ago my oldest son, Dave, and I talked about our wish list for the baseball parks we wanted to visit. That included some of the oldest and most prestigious stadiums in professional baseball: Fenway Park in Boston, Yankee Stadium (now the new Yankee Stadium, not the one we dreamed of) in New York City, and Wrigley Field in Chicago. Of course, the new Busch Stadium, home of our favorite team, the St. Louis Cardinals, was a must. Dodger Stadium was high on our list too, as was Great American Ball Park, home of the Cincinnati Reds.

But time — I do have three other kids, plus Dave and I didn’t want to be away for more than a day — and money, we didn’t have much, forced us to narrow our list to the ballparks within a day’s drive that wouldn’t require an overnight stay. That left three ballparks: Bush Stadium (St. Louis), Wrigley Field (Chicago), and Great American Ball Park (Cincinnati).

We started in Chicago three years ago (Wrigley turned out to be my favorite ballpark, although it doesn’t host my favorite team) where we watched the Cubbies defeat our Cards. We moved last year to St. Louis where our Redbirds beat the Orioles, and just last weekend we ended up in Cincinnati where we witnessed the Reds’ pounding of the Cubs.

As we were driving back after the Cincinnati game, we thought of making another run of it, a new three-year plan: why not the new Yankee Stadium,  Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, and  Nationals Park in D.C.? How about an East Coast Baseball Dream?

“Yeah,” I said, “that would be awesome,” even as I was thinking of the time and money — mainly the money.

After leaving Dave at Centre College in Danville, I drove on alone to Lebanon, and deep in my thoughts, wondered what was so important about those games. The atmosphere of the ballpark is great, but it’s more than that. You couldn’t pay me to go to a ball game and sit by myself. Then I reflected on the movie, Field of Dreams, and the words of “Terrence Mann,” played by James Earl Jones, who said, in that luxurious voice of his: “People will come, Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom…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. People will come, Ray. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good, and it could be again.”

I got it. We went to Wrigley, and Busch, and Great American Ball Park, not to study stadium architecture, but to relive baseball moments of former days: summer evenings at the Astrodome in Houston, Texas, a blistering afternoon at the Ball Park in Arlington, Texas, many a sweltering practice at the Prien Lake Little League Park in Lake Charles, La., and our own imaginary games (our team always managed to win) in our front yard everywhere we’ve lived. And with every ball park we enter, those memories are resurrected; they’re embedded in our psyche, drawn forth with the aroma of fresh- roasted peanuts, the echo of the crowd in the stadium’s corridors, and the shout of the umpire, “Batter up!”

Ghost ballparks come alive too, like the old Sportsman’s Park, predecessor of Busch Stadium, where in 1963, I sat enthralled, watching Stan the Man Musial in his last year of play, thinking to myself as I scanned the stadium while chomping down on a hot dog as big as myself, “I’m in a real baseball stadium.”

I don’t know where we will be next year — maybe we’ll revisit one of the ballparks, but wherever we are, I want to be all there, living a dream — completely alive in that moment.

“Thanks for taking me, Dad, we did it.”

‘You’re welcome, Dave, but we’re not done yet. Keep dreaming.”

Life Matters is written by David B. Whitlock, Ph.D. His email is drdavid@davidbwhitock.com. You can also visit David’s Web site, www.davidbwhitlock.com