"If you build it, he will come...".
With that tag line, a modern American classic was born. Released in 1989, "Field of Dreams" is a wonderful film on so many levels.
Based on W.P. Kinsella's best-selling novel "Shoeless Joe," the movie tells the story of Ray Kinsella, a dreamer transplanted in Iowa farm country, struggling against his money woes, who hears a persistent but unseen Voice.
Ray follows the commands of the Voice and builds a baseball diamond in the middle of his cornfield. He does not understand why or by whom he has been instructed, but he complies nevertheless.
His reward is the appearance of Shoeless Joe Jackson in Iowa, along with most of his teammates from the 1919 White Sox, plus in the end, an entourage of yesterday's heroes, excluding of course, that S.O.B. Ty Cobb.
Providing a ghostly portal for players banned for life to return to the simple joy of playing ball would seem to be enough of a purpose for Ray but as all who have seen this gem know, it's but a small part of a larger picture.
The true meaning of "Field of Dreams" is not only an homage to the summer game, but a tale of the bond between father and sons.
This Monday, after a long winter's nap, baseball returned in triumph. Opening Day was Monday the 10th of April, and not just the first look at the 2006 Cardinals, but the formal unveiling of the long awaited new stadium.
Busch III has been built, and truly they will come, in record setting, sell out numbers. Opening Day means the return of the sights, the sounds, and even the smells of the ball park. It means the convocation of the mystical secular religion that is the greatest game of all, with its power to transcend time, joining the past to the present, then on to the future, from generation to generation.
Opening Day is a true Holy Day for the believers, this year to gather for the first time in our New Cathedral, a fitting first -class home for a true first class franchise.
In the movie, the character Terrace Mann -- James Earl Jones in his best role -- said it best: "The one constant through the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the passage of time. This field...this game...it's part of our past. It reminds us of what once was good and could be again...."
With its retro design, Busch III speaks to a glorious past, while inviting the faithful to the light of a brilliant future.
But as the movie was not only about baseball, this Opening Day was about more than the Season Opener.
For 25 years, my Dad has had Cardinal's season tickets. This year, a perfect storm of problems - ticket price increases, night time driving troubles and my mother's diminished mobility - all conspired to put them on the side lines. So they came with us, in our seats, as our guests. The pain of missing out was eased by front row sunshine along the 3rd base foul line.
For a quarter of a century, they were like royalty at the ball park, with their own special parking spots reserved, private entrance accessed and the first name of most of the ushers, vendors and workers well known, not because of wealth or privilege, but the pedigree of attending over 40 games a year, in good times and bad, winners and losers, always with a winning smile and experienced commentary.
As the Budweiser Clydesdales came thundering by close enough to almost touch, followed by Cardinal Hall of Famers, and finally, the 2006 Redbirds, I saw my Dad smile like a little boy. His seats, while good, were not this close. His face showed the joy of a true fan, enjoying the nearness of glory.
The opening line of this column is the most famous in the movie, but not the most emotional. Ray's re-connection to his dead father through the simple question.
"Dad, ya wanna have a catch?" followed by Dad's ghostly acceptance, with the last camera shot showing father and son playing catch along the first base line as the cars come up the drive way - well, if that does not bring a tear to your eye, then there is stone in your heart.
Whether your father is deceased like Ray Kinsella's or fortunately still alive like mine, it brings back the memories of "what once was good," and simple and very uncomplicated, from the fields of Jones Park and Khourey League diamonds in East St. Louis, to the Park Leagues in Granite City, it is the sound of connection between father and sons, from generation to generation to generation.
This is what baseball means. This is what baseball does.
My Dad gave me the gift of the love of the game, and I have passed it on to my sons. The circle is complete and unbroken. They will come to Baseball Heaven, not in Iowa, but in St. Louis. They will come to share the joy and to re-connect with the ghosts of memories past, with the love for players present and with the promise of times future. Oh, people will come Ray.. They will most definitely come...