Friday, December 29, 2023

Play Ball!

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

In 1989, Ray Kinsella was struggling to keep his farm.  The bankers breathing down his neck should have been his priority, not using precious acreage to build a baseball field.  But Kinsella was taking direction from something beyond this realm, something he heard - something only he heard.  The ethereal message prompted him to travel east to Boston to encounter an emotionally broken writer, who had long since stopped giving a damn about the world, and coax him into attending a Red Sox game.  It included a time-traveling search for a non-descript minor-leaguer-turned-physician and to pick up a random hitchhiker on his way back to Iowa.  Why?  This was, by all rational accounts, madness born from the strain of losing one’s livelihood.

Kinsella was undeterred.  He collected the characters along this mystical crumb trail and built the baseball field, and what the voice had promised – that if he built it “they will come” – came true.  The 1919 Black Sox came.  Kinsella’s father came.  Then people came to watch to them all.  Kinsella’s “Field of Dreams” had saved his farm.  

And now, emboldened by Kinsella and an iconic baseball flick, a statement: I believe old softball fields talk.  Games continue to be played on them, whether they exist in this dimension or not.  I am convinced of this.  I drive through our beautiful county and I see them – some still in use, others repurposed in the name of economic growth and still others reclaimed by nature.  No matter - they are all still alive. 

Heading down Newtowne Neck Road and turning right on Bayside, I see them: The Hobos are out there, locked in a magnificent tussle against an arch rival.  It’s hot, the sun is low on the horizon and the stands are packed.  It is…perfect.

Cruising north on 235, there’s more.  I hear the roar of the crowd as I pass the Hollywood Stars’ field and recall epic struggles of yesteryear on the now vanished Hill’s Club diamond.  The most poignant, perhaps because I pass it daily or that it was once the epicenter of county softball, are drives past the old Pennie’s ballfield.  The sandlot, overwhelmed by nature, is no longer visible and the bar is a rotting shell, but I still see both in all their glory.  Games are being played under the lights while broadcast on local radio and cars are stuffed into the parking lot right up to the edge of Route 5.

These memories bend time.  I look at these fields, where they are or were, and I’m 10-years-old again.  At Kinsella’s Iowa field, players had nicknames like Shoeless Joe (Joe Jackson) and Moonlight (Archie Graham).  The softball giants I watched had names like Hondo, Whale Bone, Guts, Smurf, Harper, Dirt, Snake, Dinks, Boogie Man and Cakes – all characters with character.  I was just as starstruck as Kinsella was when he was watching his “ghosts.” 

It being spring again, the great local softball cycle is poised to start anew.  Some of the old fields remain; new ones now exist.  Player nicknames are different and uniforms and equipment have evolved.  But the game remains fundamentally unchanged.  Somewhere in the crowds this season there will be a 10-year-old kid completely mesmerized by it all – the competition, the effort, the spilled blood, the sound of ball meeting bat, the thrill of a double play, the naughty words that flow freely in dugouts and the fabulous smell of sweat and beer after games end. 

This will all seep into the kid’s bones; it will become part of the youngster’s DNA.  Carrying these memories like untouchable software code, the lad will play the game later in life with the same joy and fervor.  And one day that little kid will reach middle age and ponder it all with a smile, without hardly noticing the words being typed for a soon-to-be-published story in the local paper.  It’s magic – and not much different than players emerging from a corn field to play a game on a diamond in Iowa.

It’s time to play softball.  Enjoy the games.  But above all, file away the memories.  

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