There are so many activities that define summertime as a kid. Maybe it’s running through a sprinkler. Trips to the library. Playing tag through the neighbors’ yards. For writer Ron Weber, it was playing baseball, something he looks back on with deeply fond memories.
It comes as the snow melts in mid-March and the ground is dried by wind and sunshine on those early warm days, as the sun continues riding a little higher on its daily arc. I am referring to a season that for me as a kid was most important of all: baseball.
I was lucky enough to have grown up when baseball was unquestionably America’s pastime. After a long winter it was time for the only game that really mattered.
We often endured a two week period in which the clay soils dried out by playing catch or Wiffle ball on any patch of dry ground we could find. Eventually came the day to play ball.
When I was 8, my 13-year-old brother, Rick, and a few other neighbor kids had decided to reclaim a roughly one acre patch of fallow field on our property in Kenosha County, bordered by a country road and rows of spruce trees lining the remaining three sides.
We cut the long grasses and weeds from the field using push lawnmowers which, for the first pass, had to be tilted up to mow. As the youngest, I was relegated to raking detail, removing as much of the cut grass as I could before the next pass cut the grass shorter and shorter. Looking at the cut field surrounded by those spruce is when I believe the dreams began.
It didn’t matter the number of players, we played for hours and hours all through the summer; the start of the school year all that could stop us. A backstop and two benches were built with scrap lumber. The bases were old boat cushions. There was talk of putting up lights, but the cruel reality of the number of lights that would be needed nixed that idea.
We were a bunch of kids who wanted a ball field, so we made one. Each time I took the field there, I hit like Mickey Mantle, covered the outfield like Willie Mays and pitched like Don Drysdale. I went to school to learn, to church to pray and to this field to dream.
At 11, I started playing in a league at another field run by the township about 3 miles from my house. That field became my new field of dreams, the lights, scoreboard, and outfield fence making the big leagues seem an even-more-real probability.
Teams were named after major league teams and I played for The Brewers. Now it was their emerging star Robin Yount that I emulated. As I turned 15, he was a superstar but he still played the game like one is supposed to: like a kid.
Playing on that field was as close as I ever got to the big leagues. I guess that’s the story for just about every kid who picks up a glove and bat and happens to dream. I can’t complain though. I had a good 10 year run as a would-be major leaguer. My career now-a-days is relegated to a once a year softball tournament in which I still try to play like I always have: like Robin Yount; like a kid.
The field we built has been gone for decades now, reclaimed by grasses, weeds and eventually offspring of the spruce that once lined our field. No sign remains of our handiwork or the countless hours a generation of kids spent there.
On a recent trip back home I drove past the second field of dreams from my teens. I was shocked to see it grown up in long grasses and weeds. The light poles, scoreboard and fences reminded me of tombstones in an unkempt cemetery. Encroaching development of an ever expanding city had claimed another victim.
It mattered little to me what part of our bigger and better society this place was slated to become. No, in my mind, both would remain what they had always been….. places for kids.
Fields of dreams.
MUSIC: “Call To Calm” and “Simple Melody” by Todd Barneson