It’s Not The Destination

In April of 1989, Hollywood released a fantasy film, which ended up being nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture. It was a fantasy film about a man who heard a voice to build something and he would be visited by someone unknown. He interpreted the prompt to mean that he should build a baseball field and a dead baseball player, banished from the game long before his death, and who was his Father’s favorite player, would return. If you haven’t heard of, or seen the movie, it was titled, “Field of Dreams,” starring Kevin Costner.

As much as I love baseball, I didn’t see this movie in the theater, as six months earlier, my wife had given birth to our son, Jonathan, and we had things to do at home, in taking care of a newborn. When it came to the small screen, we, Sally and I, sat (with Jon on my lap) and thoroughly enjoyed the film (not sure about Jon though, at that age). I still watch it anytime I catch it doing a channel surf, or see it advertised on a particular network.

Being a baseball movie, and hoping Jon would have an interest in baseball, (I bought him two gloves the day he was born, one left-handed, one right-handed, just in case), and as he began talking, and got through the easy, one word at a time repetitions, we started hearing him put words together, again, by aping what he heard others say first. One of the phrases I kept saying aloud and hearing him mimic was the signature line from “Field of Dreams, “If you build it, he will come.” As he learned this, we started with me delivering the first part, and Jon responding with the last part of the famous phrase. This would be the beginning of a baseball journey, that has brought us to many memorable places, for many more memorable events, and I hope the journey continues for years to come.

Fast forward four and a half years, when we signed up Jon to play T-Ball, which he did, and seemed to enjoy. Ironically, he chose the right-handed glove for baseball, the only thing he does righthanded. He eats, writes, shoots a basketball, he played soccer, and operates tools, all from the left side. He even batted lefthanded from age five through his college baseball days, but he threw a baseball right-handed.

From the time Jon was an infant, he wore a uniform, either an Indians uniform, or a uniform of one of the teams I coached. At age four, Jon became my batboy for high school teams in Jamestown, and then Cassadaga Valley. It was there he learned, much to the dissatisfaction of his mother, how to spit sunflower seeds. He hadn’t mastered the art of cracking them, he just grabbed a handful, put them in his mouth, that sent the small projectiles flying one at a time, until later on when he did catch onto the process of cracking them, taking the seeds, and discarding the shell.

After Jon graduated from the T-Ball level, he began playing Babe Ruth Bambino Baseball, through age 12. During his very younger days, he took part in a Jamestown Jammers Kids’ Camp, which I put together in my job as the Jammers’ Camp Director. Jon was technically too young to register, but he came with me, and he received instruction from Jammers players, one being a young man named Dave Roberts, the current manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers. He also, attended Indians Baseball Camp at, then, Jacobs’ Field a few years later, receiving instruction from Indians coaches and players, and I got to go onto the field with him. From ages 10-12, Jon and I participated in a week long experience at the Cooperstown Dreams Park as part of local travel teams that played in an amazing baseball village in 1999, 2000, and 2001. (In 1999, we stayed in Cooperstown a couple days after our baseball week was over, sleeping on a school gymnasium floor, so we could attend the National Baseball HOF Fame induction of Nolan Ryan, George Brett, Robin Yount, Orlando Cepeda, Nestor Chylak, Joe Williams, and Frank Selee. Attending also, was the largest number of Hall of Famers at that point in time, who had ever attended an induction. To name a few, we saw, Ted Williams, Bob Feller, Yogi Berra, Bob Gibson, Gaylord Perry, Willy Mays, Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, and Tom Seaver.

After age 12, Jon graduated to the “big” field, playing Babe Ruth and Travel Baseball, then went to High School Baseball, one year at the JV level, and three at the Varsity Level. During this time, he also played 16-18 Babe Ruth and Travel Ball too. After High School, he spent four years as a member of the Medaille College Baseball team, (where by the way, Jon’s coach in his freshman season, had portrayed a pitcher in the Robert Redford movie, “The Natural.” He was the right-hander who gave up the clock shattering home run in Wrigley Field to Roy Hobbs.) So needless to say, Sally, Jon, and I have chalked up many miles and have seen countless numbers of baseball (and basketball, and soccer) games over the years. But it wasn’t only Jon’s games of which we were spectators.

From the time Chasy and Chrissy were young and Jon wasn’t even born yet, we have attended MLB games in Cleveland. Jon started attending at about age 18 months. As he got older, there was always time before a game in C-Town to play catch, especially after the team moved to their new stadium in 1994. We attended many Opening Day games, in all kinds of weather (most of it cold). We attended minor league games when we went on vacation and there was a team in the area. When Jon was eight, we visited the actual Field of Dreams in Dyersville, IA, and got to actually run out onto the field, from the cornfield, play catch, and Jon got to take BP in the actual spots where Costner, Ray Liotta, and Dwyer Brown did their thing in the movie. Sally even sat in the bleachers and did a one-person wave sitting in the spot where Costner, James Earl Jones, and Amy Madigan did the same in the film, as Jon and I played on the field.

When Jon was almost six years old, the Tribe qualified for the playoffs after a 41 year absence (ironically, I was 41 when they finally qualified, so first Jon’s playoffs were also my first). We went to that first playoff game which ended up starting an hour late (rain delay), then went to extra innings ending at about 1:35 am. After finally getting out of the parking garage and getting on the road, we arrived back home about 5:30 am. (BTW, I did teach that day too.)

So, our baseball journey has included many baseball games (on many levels), baseball movies, baseball opportunities, ones in which Jon participated, ones in which we attended with, and without, Sally, Chas, and Chris, and some which Jon and I still get to attend. We’ve also seen numerous games where we’ve seen future Hall of Famers on their path to Cooperstown, witnessing milestones along the way. We were at Nolan Ryan’s last win as a pitcher, and we saw Ken Griffey Jr.’s final home run to name a couple, and as mentioned, we saw the aforementioned Hall of Famers in attendance at that Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in 1999. The journey didn’t end there, though. There have been many more, too many to put in today’s space, so stay tuned for Part II next week.