A Real-Life Field of Dreams: An Interview with Myself
Dairymen and Women—
I sat down to do the writeup this week having just watched Field of Dreams for the first time in ten years, and what came out was not in line with the traditional writeups. Each of you were a huge part of the day’s intense and varied emotions, and I take this opportunity to tip my cap to you all. That being said, the writeup this week was more like a Sunday human interest piece than it is about what happened between the lines. I beg your indulgence, but Saturday was a special day for me. If you are reading this, none of it would have happened without you—yes, you, dear reader—and special thanks goes out to John Finn and Wendy Buerge; Tim “Harlo” Bray; Gary, Susan, Julia, Sarah, and Ariel Burns; the Gullo Boys; Amelia Taylor; Collin Miller; Richard Tucker; each of our donors; and all the players and fans who took their time last Saturday to make the day one that I will remember for a long time. Thank you all.
The day had been a long time coming. Sure, there was a lot of design and planning that went into Bovina’s Creamery Field. There was plenty of correspondence and coordination, waiting, sweat, and even a little blood over the prior year that culminated in the first-ever game at the new Dairymen home field. But for Dairymen Captain Nicholas “Roughcut” Frandsen, the wait had seemed much longer than that.
In the pantheon of baseball culture, 1989’s ‘Field of Dreams’ starring Kevin Costner looms large. When Frandsen was a baseball-crazed kid, he identified mostly with Ray—Costner’s portrayal of a farmer in the midst of a midlife crisis circling heavily around his unresolved father issues. But there’s another character in the movie who he had overlooked, and upon another viewing, found more in common with than the last time he saw the film ten years ago.
The character of Terrence Mann, played by James Earl Jones, spoke to him this time around. Mann is bitter that he gave his youth, his idealism, his passion to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, but after pouring his soul out for the world, “They killed Martin and elected Tricky Dick twice.” The man could only see the failures and how far there was still to go—not just for his chosen cause, but for himself. He had no more energy to push the ball up the hill. He tried to change the world and, in his mind, he failed.
Frandsen felt like that upon leaving the military after twelve years of service. Reclusive. Suspicious. Spent. An outsider.
Mann gives a speech at the end of the movie, about the friendly abiding of baseball and its ability to transcend—but perhaps baseball actually does the opposite. Instead of transcend into the heavens, instead of lifting our ambitions and eyes, it brings them back to the dirt under our feet. The stuff we’re actually, currently standing on. Cutting through the daily storm clouds of his last three years, Dairymen baseball allows Frandsen to focus on the granular level, if only for a time. A spotlight in a foggy understanding of what the world is all about. A game of rules within, but not entirely part of, a lawless world. An exhilarating and revitalizing moment on a sunny Saturday in which all the higher portions of Maslow’s pyramid transform. The usual worries about money fade and he is able to concentrate on the feeling of laces under only the tip of the middle finger as he throws a curveball. Mistrust is whisked away like the clouds on a windy day and replaced by the feel of pine tar. Sweat and sun are ignored. Political and academic fulfillment takes a backseat to a scorebook. The pen becomes a pencil, and although he still barks and curses and fumes, those emotions are pleasurably—or at least steadily—stirred and blended into the landscape of the game.
In short, there is nothing else of import in the whole world. People pay big money just to seek that kind of churning calmness, must less find it.
But find it old Roughcut did, last Saturday on an old hay field, transformed into a home. 15 years ago, he ran from home as fast as he could. Iraq, working construction, New York City, College, Afghanistan, Mexico, Russia, and law school lay in his wake. But in the summer of 2018, he became the leader of a group of young men in black and white in the small town he grew up in, and he never looked back to all the lives he left on the table in the big city and on the high seas. Some might say that the big, bad world chewed him up like so much tobacco and spat him back to the farm. They wouldn’t be wrong. For sure, it’s a big, mean world out there. But they wouldn’t be telling the whole story, either.
For Saturday last, a family gathered on Creamery Field. What is a family? Sure, it’s the people you’re born into, but in a broader yet more basic sense, it’s an association of men and women working together toward a shared goal. It’s a congregation who share the same values, and spend their time and energy on the same project. You see, over the course of the story, Roughcut melted into a bit of each Field of Dreams character, and here, he had his Moonlight Graham moment. Astute baseball lovers will recall that when the young Moonlight gets his single big-league at-bat, he hits a sacrifice fly—the most selfless at-bat in the game. Graham was already on record saying that the real tragedy would have been if he had only been a doctor for five minutes. Finally, wrapped in a feeling of home, surrounded by family both blood and chosen, sharing trials and triumphs—perhaps shorthanded simply to ‘trust’—Frandsen thought that the real tragedy would have been if he had only grown up here, and never returned.
Mann’s assertion that the one constant has been baseball certainly got one thing right—the importance of consistency. In a world that often isn’t consistent—and as a child, often wasn’t for Frandsen—the steady hum of supportive chatter on that Saturday didn’t just reassure him on the mound, but it rejuvenated him. Embraced him. Let him know he had a place he belonged. A family. A community. A father.
And at the end of the day, as the dust settled on a hard-fought contest between the Mountain Athletic Club and the Bovina Dairymen, Frandsen remembered there was a game going on. And he smiled.
The Dairymen prevailed, 12-6.
A. Taylor: 1-4, R
N. Frandsen: 2-4; 5 IP, W, 4 ER
T. Tucker: 0-2, 2 BB; 4 IP, S, 0 ER
G. L. Burns: 1-4, RBI
B. Denison: 3-4, 2 2B, 3 RBI
Br. Cairns: 0-2, BB, SF
Be. Cairns: 0-2, BB, ROE
J. Finn: 1-2, BB, R
J. Sackett: 0-3, K
D. Tucker: 1-2, 2B, SF
D. Kehrer: 0-2, BB, K
J. Betterley: 0-3, 2K
T. Dugan: 2-3, 3B, 2R