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Reflections at the “Field of Dreams”

| Tuesday, September 28, 2021

I am one of those crazy West Coast people that decided to drive to campus this fall.

It was one of those decisions that in the moment, it sounded like it would be an adventure. My family discussed of all of the fun things that we would stop and see. There were mentions of national parks, the exposure to Midwest iconography of corn fields and the promise of good conversation as we bid our final goodbyes before both my brother and I left for college. 

I realized very quickly that it’s very difficult to plan 30+ hours of travel, and we found ourselves continually running behind. We arrived in South Dakota at night, reaching Mount Rushmore with 30 minutes until closing. I conveniently could not locate my glasses, to which I looked at the busts carved into the mountain and remarked, “They just look like rocks.” Safe to say, I came underprepared.

One of our last stops as a family was the “Field of Dreams” movie site in Dyersville, Iowa. Growing up with a brother who played baseball his entire life, it was a must-see for our family. Even more so, it was almost a week after the Chicago White Sox played the New York Yankees in an MLB game at the adjacent field — the first time a Major League game was ever held at the movie site.

The summary of the film doesn’t simply do it justice, and it might actually sound strange. The movie’s premise rests upon Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner), a man who begins to listen to a voice in his cornfield and risks everything to follow its directions, including constructing a baseball field off of the repeated mantra, “If you build it, he will come.” 

I hadn’t seen the film since I was little, and in the haste of travelling, I had forgotten to rewatch it before I had arrived to the field itself. But the magic was still vibrant. People of every stage of life and background filled the field. A man with his cane made his way to the outfield with great swiftness, as though there was nothing prohibiting him from reaching the stalks of corn that comprise the perimeter of the field. Little kids ran the bases, fathers and sons played catch with one another, recreating some memorable scenes from the movie.

My family and I sat on the grass and watched the sun dip beneath our view and marveled at the beauty in such a simple place. While we had planned to get there in the early morning, we barely arrived before it was supposed to close, and almost skipped it altogether. I’m glad we didn’t.

When closing time was approaching, we were told the film was being shown as a tribute to one of the proprietors of the field who had recently passed. Denise Stillman had been pushing for many years to host an MLB game, but she unfortunately passed in 2018 due to a rare form of liver cancer and was never able to see the 2021 game happen.

A screen was set up, and we were invited to stay with a few families, including Stillman’s family, to watch the film on the field. I now joke that I have to watch every sports film at its original location, as I already have watched “Rudy” at the Notre Dame Stadium. But there’s something special about witnessing the culmination of a creative project at its point of inception. 

One of the featured ball players in the film is Archibald Wright “Moonlight” Graham, depicted in the film by both Burt Lancaster and Frank Whaley. He was a professional baseball player and a doctor but only played a single major league game for the New York Giants in 1905. In the film, he sacrifices his chances to relive his past dreams in order to provide medical help for Kinsella’s daughter. It reminds me of the impermanence of our own dreams, and the reality that some special moments seem to go in mere seconds. 

Graham remarks in the film, “We just don’t recognize life’s most significant moments while they’re happening. Back then I thought, ‘Well, there’ll be other days.’ I didn’t realize that was the only day.” 

In reality, we aren’t guaranteed anything. Time seems to slip by, especially as a college student. I’m constantly reminded of the ephemerality of my time here. But despite the existential dread that sometimes accompanies such reflections, I think there’s a certain kind of beauty in not quite knowing the future. No matter how many plans are made, things will always come across differently, and that’s okay. If you told me four years ago that I would be living in South Bend, Indiana, I wouldn’t have believed it. But I also wouldn’t believe that I, someone with limited athletic capability, would be dedicating my inside column for the semester to a discussion of baseball, a sport that I grew up despising because of my regular attendance to hundreds of games in the hopes of being a supportive sibling. 

As much as I like to plan my days, weeks and years with as much fervor as possible, there’s something ethereal about taking things the way they are. While my drive to campus was filled with unexpected stops and last-minute decisions, it all culminated in a beautiful night of watching “Field of Dreams” and spending my last moments with my family before returning back to campus. There are moments that can’t be planned, or even captured in mere words. In addition, there’s an art in trying to let moments speak for themselves, and realizing that both pictures and poetry fall short of living in the moment. It’s easier said than done, and it’s something I’m still working on.  

I used to never get why people got so excited about sports. Coming from a Notre Dame student, that may seem like a surprise. However, after seeing countless people light up as they entered that field in middle-of-nowhere Iowa, I realized that maybe I was too quick in my judgement. Perhaps we all are chasing that feeling when all the bases are loaded, and the underdog comes up to bat and hits a grand slam. The moment may expire, but that feeling is perpetual. Even after the batter rounds the bases, they seem to keep on running. 

You can contact Elizabeth at [email protected] 

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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