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Is This Heaven?

In the 1989 movie, “Field of Dreams,’ which was nominated that year in the Academy Awards Best Picture of the Year Category, just before the Father/Son catch that happened toward the end of the film, John Kinsella (Dwyer Brown) asked Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner), if where he was standing was heaven. Ray replied by telling him it was Iowa. His father then said, “I could have sworn this was heaven.” When asked by Ray if there really was a heaven, John replied, “Oh yeah, it’s the place dreams come true.”

In 2017, this column offered a narrative on 33 Chautauqua County young men, back in the years 1999, 2000, and 2001, were part of the Jamestown Jock Shop Cooperstown Kids, who trekked to the small town, home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, to compete with teams from across the United States, at the Cooperstown Dreams Park just about a mile from the hallowed Halls of Baseball. Some of the 33 played one year, some two, and some went all three years, and came back with memories they still talk about, just as their coaches and parents do.

An ironic side story here, is that two of those years we practiced at a small field in the town of Charlotte, located across the road from a corn field, where many balls were hit during batting practice. A local TV station did a story on the Cooperstown Kids and began it having the players coming out of the cornfield, then running onto the baseball field as was staged in the movie, Field of Dreams.

The 2017 piece written in this forum was a “Where Are They Now” style narrative on what those young men were doing in their young adult life these 18, 19, and/or 20 years after the Dreams Park experience.

About a year after that narrative was published, I was contacted by the Dreams Park, as someone from there saw a copy of the piece from The Post-Journal and they were contemplating changing their Souvenir Program to include former participants at the Dreams Park and what they were doing now. Up until their contact with me, the format of their program mostly featured former players who had gone on to careers in sports. In this contact with me, they asked if I could send them information on nine players that they selected from our pool of 33, that they would like to feature in their programs over a span of three or four years.

Honored and humbled by their request, I sent them the information on the names they selected, and last season two of our Cooperstown Kids were featured, followed by three more this year.

Having had a chance to see the actual program last year, I was thrilled to see the recognition they gave our local players. This year, I asked Coach Ray Belliotti, who was part of the 2000 team, to send me any information he received as his son, Angelo, was one of the featured players talked about this year. He sent me a website posted by the Dreams Park which showed all the players who were featured in the new format presented by the CDP, including the five (so far) Cooperstown Kids featured the past two years.

That web address listed 155 former Cooperstown Dreams Park participants who have been featured, some in the old format, some in the new. I immediately went on and looked at the list. Looking through the roster, I recognized 25 players who have gone on to big name careers in athletics. Ten of those players played sometime during those three years our Jock Shop Kids were there, and 15 others were there during different years, but it’s still impressive that our Chautauqua County teams played on the same fields and shared the same experiences that some pretty well-known sports personalities also shared.

The players who were on the same turf sometime (though not necessarily during the same weeks) in the Cooperstown Kids’ years were/are A. J. Pollack, Casey Coleman, Jason Kipnis, and Michael Brantley (1999), Jacob Degrom and Hank Conger (2000), and Chris Sale, Cody Allen, Sonny Gray, and Tommy Kahnle (2001). The 15 others, whose names I recognized, who’ve excelled in sports and were included in the CDP programs of the “Where Are They Now” format were/are: Addison Russell, Anthony Rizzo, Bryce Harper, David Price, Delino DeShields Jr., Gerrit Cole, Danny Valencia, Kaleb Cowart, Kyle Schwarber, Matt Garza, Mike Trout, Odell Beckham Jr., Nick Castellanos, Trae Turner, and Trevor Plouffe.

There have been other players who’ve also played at the Dreams Park, who’ve gone on to Major League careers, but these were the ones listed as selections to the Dreams Park’s Program on this website page.

During most of the times spent working with young people in sports, and in classrooms, one thing we (me, my assistant coaches, my teaching partners, and colleagues) always tried to stress was that 20 years ahead of where our players, students, etc., were right then in their lives, that not many people were really going to remember what kind of athletes/players they were, or maybe even what kind of students they were, as much as they were going to know what kind of people they’d become.

As impressive as the list of noted athletes here is, I am so proud to have had the opportunity to have worked with, and watched, those 33 young men associated with the Jamestown Jock Shop Cooperstown Kids, and how they represented themselves, their families, and our communities while at the Dreams Park.

I’m also extremely proud to see how they’ve represented the same in their biographies in the CDP program, and I’m especially proud of how they’ve grown to become successful in a wide range of professions, careers, jobs, as well as many of them becoming good husbands and fathers, and good and productive citizens to boot.

I’m sure the people in their lives can put them on an even higher pedestal in the game of life, than those given accolades for the sports they play. Unlike the list of famous athletes noted on the Dreams Park website, our 33 boys had a short term, dream come true, experience at the Cooperstown Dreams Park those one, two, or three years they played there, but they are now realizing that their long term dream experiences of being whatever they have chosen to be, along with being good spouses, fathers, and citizens are definitely coming true. I’m also positive most who know them personally, are, as well, very proud of the people they have become.

So, in answer to Ray Kinsella’s question, “Is there a heaven?” and hearing his father’s response, “Oh yeah, it’s the place dreams come true,” these young men who hailed from Chautauqua County, can now look at what they’ve accomplished, and how their short and long term dreams have come true, not just as athletes, but as people. They can definitely respond the same way Ray Kinsella did in Field of Dreams by saying, “Maybe this is heaven.”

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