Vol. 3, No. 2: Today’s Baseball Fans photo

Diamonds and DreamsJoanne Weiss-Vance

Perhaps it’s the final scene’s fading golden glow in the broad Iowa night sky of the movie “Field of Dreams” that creates the first pull on our emotions. And the slow walk together of a now grown man with the baseball player spirit of his deceased father that creates the second pull. But it’s their conversation at the end of the movie about heaven that pushes most viewers to the threshold of controlling the swelling of tears in their eyes. “It’s so beautiful here,” the father gazes in awe around him. “It’s like a dream come true. Can I ask you something?” he looks at his son, “Is, is this heaven?” “It’s Iowa,” his son slowly replies. “Iowa? I coulda sworn it was heaven,” the father replies, turning to get his baseball glove. This isn’t just about baseball. Movie viewers are witness to the lesson of reconciling with those we love before it’s too late and soothing our emotional wound by getting a second chance with those we have loved and lost.


Baseball is a game of connections. Fans sit next to one another, talking about the game played in front of them or else talking about whatever is on their minds. It’s a game of viewer leisure, where close attention to games is only really paid late in the waning days of summer as each division’s teams head into the final stretch of the season. It’s a game where grandparents attend games with grandchildren and grown children with their parents. It’s one where not everyone knows the rules of the game, but everyone knows what their favorite stadium concessions food is to enjoy during the game. The pace is slow, but the rhythm of the game and the geometrics of the field are artful. The outfield is a beautiful hatch work pattern of immaculately mowed green grass, contrasting with the earthen brown of the diamond shaped infield, with four white square bases placed at each diamond point. In the center of the infield is the pitcher’s mound, a slightly raised earthen round where every play on the field in each of the nine innings begins. If you sit close enough to home base, you can hear every pitch hit the catcher’s glove with a dampened thud, and the umpire make the call of “strike” or “ball”. You can hear the batter’s bat connecting with a pitch with a cracking sound, sending the ball arching high into the air as the batter sprints to first base. The diamond, the squares, the green, and brown, and white. Art and rhythm. Every player on the field has their eyes focused on the player at bat before each pitch, while the batter keeps his eyes focused on the pitcher on the mound. It’s an expansive field with focused connections.


As both a fan and a player, baseball was a big part of my youth. In 1972, a typical summer night in Connecticut where I grew up was best spent with the screen doors and windows open to let the evening air drift in and cool off the warmth of the day. Mosquitos and night beetles were heard buzzing at the screens, drawn to the light from inside.  These summer nights also included my family’s television set turned on, tuned to a baseball game, preferably a Red Sox game, with my father watching from his favorite seat on the sofa. I frequently joined him, with both of us commenting on and critiquing the game, the teams, the hits, the strikeouts, great plays, and errors. The games sometimes ran late into the evening with extra innings, my father occasionally falling asleep or, if our team was too far behind, calling it a night and heading to bed. Baseball is that kind of game. Stay to the end or leave any time before. The morning news will always report who won the game.


I began playing the sport at eight years old in my town’s all-girl recreation league. I was tall and strong for my age, quickly becoming a competitive player. Hits, walks, throws, catches, strikes, balls, outs, double play, fly ball, pop fly, single hit, double hit, triple hit, homerun – I mastered them all. My wide arm span earned me a first base position where I could catch my teammates’ wild throws. I was fourth in the batting lineup, the “cleanup” spot for the batter on the team who could hit the ball well enough to drive home any runners on base. Two seasons later, I became a catcher with my strong and accurate throws to second base, needed to pick off the runners attempting a steal. I watched with satisfaction when I succeeded, as the opponent jogged back to her bench.


When I first started playing, my parents drove me to games. As a teenager, they allowed me to ride my bicycle to games and practices. I hooked my baseball glove strap on to my bicycle handlebars and tucked my baseball hat visor in my back pocket before peddling down the street. My parents still asked to come to my games, but I sought independence and told them the untruth that parents didn’t attend games anymore.


As my throwing arm got stronger, I became a pitcher. There on the mound, I commanded each inning. Each game began with our team huddle and then my solo walk to the mound. Once there, I would rub my sneaker back and forth over the white rubber strip that was the spot where my lead foot was placed before each pitch. The softball held loosely in my right hand, turning it, turning it, feeling the lacing that loops around the leather cover, throwing it sharply into the webbing of my glove. Then watching the first batter walk up to the plate. Looking at my catcher, crouching down behind the batter and in front of the umpire, seeing if there was a pitch signal. Standing tall with my left hand in my glove, holding it in front of me, waist high. The softball in my right hand, held tightly, as I locked eyes with the batter. My pitching arm swings up and then down quickly in front of me, arching forward and releasing the ball, underhand and at top speed. “Strrrrikkke!” The umpire blasts the call. All of this was art to me. The throw, the catch, the swing of the bat. An athletic dance of sorts, with the chatter of my teammates in the field behind me.


The affection I hold for this group of people – players, coaches, umpires - and the memories they provided me are endless. We won two league championships before I aged out at 16 years old. Baseball was part of who I was, and I have loved the sport for life.


I continue my love for the game as a fan of the Durham Bulls, a Minor League team in Durham, North Carolina and the Triple-A affiliate of Major League Baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays. Fans accustomed to major league stadiums might be caught by surprise at a Bulls’ game. The stadium is smaller, the crowds are sparser, the ticket and concession prices are much less. Yet it’s the stadium atmosphere of music and between inning contests that shape the experience for fans.


At evening games, the stadium lights turn on as twilight starts to settle over the stadium giving the field a movie set feel. Some fans begin to file out before the last inning. Young children are tired, some people having other plans for the evening, others want to beat the traffic. But most stay to the end, not wanting to leave the spell of the golden glow over the field. The people sitting near you whose conversations you have overheard all evening, smiled and cheered with throughout the game, and watched as they returned to their seats each inning, their hands filled with food and drinks from the concession stands, all now seem like friends. You have shared this evening, relaxing together on a warm evening under stadium lights. No one heads home disappointed regardless of the final score. “Is this heaven?” one might ask. It’s Durham, but I could have sworn it was heaven.


My father died unexpectedly in 1990 at the age of 62.  It was a dark time of deep loss, enormous grief, and overwhelming confusion. In the weeks following his funeral, I helped my mother gather important papers and documents that she needed. While going through my father’s desk, I found a scrapbook buried under some other papers. Slowly opening the cover, I saw that each page had been filled with a recording of newspaper clippings reporting the game final scores from my years playing softball. My name was mentioned several times on these yellowed clippings. I had never seen this book. My father had carefully cut out each game writeup and taped them in the scrapbook. And that moment found me wishing for my own field of dreams.