grew up beneath the shadow of the baseball stadium lights. Well,
that first sentence might be considered by some to be a bit of a
stretch. I grew up a few miles from Arlington Stadium; home of the
Texas Rangers through the 70’s and 80’s. I could be
challenged on two points; 1) the lights didn’t literally cast
their shadow quite that far, and 2) purists would argue that there
was little that resembled baseball being played in that old make-shift
stadium. But that old stadium was a shrine to me. Most of the great
names of baseball came through there at one time or another, and
if that were not enough, there was the game itself. I guess the
screenplay to “Field of Dreams” based on W.P. Kinsella’s
great novel “Shoeless Joe” said it better than I. “There’s
always been baseball.” That movie and book point out so poignantly
the timeless nature of the great game and its transcendent powers.
-----After much debate, the decision
had been made to construct a new ballpark for the Rangers. Construction
was almost complete on the marvelous new “Ballpark at Arlington.”
I was sad that the house of so many wonderful memories was to be
demolished, but relieved to learn that the ghosts that happily haunted
it would not have far to move. I have long believed that places
on this planet are able to somehow hold onto a certain mystique.
After one magical day, I knew that this would indeed be the case
with this particular block of real estate. In one final fortuitous
event, I was to experience my “Field of Dreams.”
-----It was an autumn Sunday morning.
Having been to the stadium only days before to be a part of the
final home stand celebration, I wasn’t especially focused
on the idea that this day would be the final day for my beloved
shrine. I went to church as usual, though some situation called
for my wife to stay there longer, so we took separate cars. When
I arrived home there was a message on my answering machine. I friend
of mine had left a message that he had 2 extra tickets to the Ranger
game. He knew nothing of my relationship with the ballpark, only
that I was a fan of the great game. I called him back immediately,
but found myself unable to claim the tickets. My habit of never
knowing what is going on around the family calendar reared its ugly
head. I told him that I wasn’t sure if I could go and I’d
hate for someone else not to use the tickets. Knowing that time
was running out, I reluctantly told him to find someone else. Less
than an hour later he called back. He had not found anyone else,
but needed to leave for the game. I still had no answer for him,
so he informed me the tickets would be waiting in his mailbox should
I get the opportunity to use them.
-----The timing of these events proved
magical. I did not get the opportunity to go to the game with my
friends. I did not get the opportunity to use the tickets. No indeed.
I got the opportunity to use one ticket and to drive myself to the
game. Two tickets, one soul. One final game, a lifetime of memories.
-----I arrived at the ballpark a few
minutes before the game was to begin. Following the numbers on my
ticket stub I found my friends sitting alongside the left field
foul line just behind the visiting team dugout. The magic had already
begun. Throughout our adolescent summers, my best friend and I always
sat in the left field bleachers, $1.50 per ticket. We dreamed each
time of occupying the very seats I now sat in, for if the allure
of baseball and baseball players was strong, it could not compare
with the allure of snagging a foul ball. Years later, on the final
day of this noble shrine, I found myself, for the first time, sitting
in my dream seats.
-----The magic continued. As the lineup
cards were taken to the umpires, I came to realize I was in for
more than I ever dreamed. It was not the managers who carried out
the lineups. This game marked not only the end of the stadium, but
the end of the era of two of my all-time favorite players. The cards
were carried out to home plate by the nemesis, Kansas City’s
George Brett, and the Texas legend, Nolan Ryan. This was to be their
last game in a major league uniform.
-----Throughout the game I tried to
absorb every site and every sound. The giant scoreboard in center
field played videotapes of the greatest moments in stadium history
throughout the day. I remembered all of them, having been there
for many. All through the game I couldn’t help but think of
the mystical magic that was portrayed in “Field of Dreams.”
The hazy, damp, and breezy weather helped this image to feel real.
In the movie, the past and present intertwine into a very real “now.”
Indeed, I knew I was in my own “Field of Dreams.”
-----One of the movie’s more
poignant moments comes when the old Dr. Archibald Graham recalls
his days as “Moonlight Graham,” an aspiring minor league
prospect who came within an eyelash of the major leagues. He shared
his dream of hitting a game-winning triple in the big game. When,
in the movie, he receives his opportunity to play with the major
leaguers, he hits a routine sacrifice fly to the outfield. As he
trots back to the dugout he smiles with the most rewarding of smiles.
In baseball, as in life, dreams are enormous in the longing of the
imagination, but are just as nobly fulfilled in the ordinary. Moonlight
Graham registered an out, but in driving in the run, his dream was
fulfilled. This would become a metaphor for the two most memorable
events in that day’s game.
-----The stadium was abuzz with the
question, “who will hit the last home run ever to be hit in
this ballpark?” You could feel the electricity in the air
each time George Brett came to the plate. It seemed as though everyone
in the place “dreamed” it would be him. Out of respect,
each of his plate appearances was met with all the players in each
dugout standing on the top step of the dugout. When he came to the
plate for what was sure to be his final at bat, he had yet to get
a hit. The entire stadium rose to cheer him on. A final-at-bat home
run by George Brett? What a dream of an ending to this noble shrine.
When the weak grounder hopped over the second base bag and into
center field, the dream had been fulfilled. George Brett would end
his career with a hit.
-----One of the most memorable aspects
of my journeys to the park throughout my youth had been the feverish
quest to get stray balls as they entered the stands. Sitting in
the bleachers most of the time, this meant it had to be a home run.
My friend and I always made batting practice, arriving before the
gates were open to assure we didn’t miss a single opportunity.
I had gotten many batting practice homerun balls, and had been given
many by players. One memory I recall with fondness was when one
of my heroes, Rod Carew, honored my request by casually strolling
over to me and handing me a ball. I was later to read that he rarely
conversed with or related to the fans before a game. But of all
my triumphant attempts to get a souvenir, only one was an actual
game ball, and that one was attained outside the park as a ball
flew over the press box. My friend and I raced our way out the front
gates after seeing it fly over the box. I beat him to the ball as
it bounded off a curb outside the stadium. So one dream was as yet
unfulfilled. I had never gotten an actual game ball in the stands.
Now I sat in my dream seats – foul ball alley.
-----About midway through the game
it happened. The batter got around a little early on the pitch and
sent the ball hurling toward the left field bullpen, very near us.
The ball hit somewhere between the batter and us and popped into
the air. Adrenaline took over and I was 13-years old all over again.
I darted and dove up the aisle and toward the ball. Reaching up
I felt it hit squarely in the palm of my hand. As I closed my hands
around the ball, fingertips met flesh. When time returned to normal
I saw the celebration. Someone else had gotten the souvenir. As
I went to my seat, my friends were bellowing with laughter, saying
it looked as if I had been shot out of a cannon. I had to admit;
it felt to me as it looked to them. And in that moment I realized
this dream too had been fulfilled. The ball was of little consequence
to the dream. It is always the quest that matters most. In that
instant, every trip I’d ever made to the shrine had come fully
-----The game ended without fanfare.
The last home run ever to be hit at Arlington Stadium was hit by
a utility player. I don’t even remember his name. The home
team lost. But still the crowd remained until after the final out.
As soon as the players left the field, the giant scoreboard brought
it all home for me; the image of James Earl Jones walking across
the “Field of Dreams” giving his famous “There’s
always been baseball” speech. I stood motionless and numb,
not even caring if I hid the tears that welled in my eyes.
-----After the movie clip was played,
there was a brief ceremony closing the stadium. Home plate was taken
from the field and loaded on a cart that would take it to its new
home across the parking lot. My friends had seen a baseball game
and the symbolic passing of the torch. I had seen my past, present,
and future rolled into one glorious “now.”
-----After the ceremony I thanked my
friend profusely for the ticket, telling him it meant more to me
than he would ever know. To this day I think he accepted that comment
as the cliché it sounded like. They left the stadium, but
I could not. I sat for a few minutes absorbing the magnitude of
the situation. Then, as most of the crowd had either gone to their
cars or to the new stadium to greet home plate, I stayed behind
for a few private moments with my old friend, Arlington Stadium.
At this point I became fully aware of how fortunate the situation
had been. I had never planned on being there that day. And even
if I had, the circumstances would not have had me there alone, with
no timetable but my own.
-----I had been in almost every area
of that park in my youth, whether at a game or when my friend and
I would ride our bikes into the stadium on a hot summer afternoon
when there was no one around. It is hard to imagine in this day
and age of high security, but we had ridden our bikes through the
bleachers. We had run the bases and talked to each other on the
bullpen-to- dugout phones. At one point we were thrown out of the
press box by a security guard. We had made friends with the visiting
team clubhouse attendant and taken many impromptu tours through
the locker room. The year after Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s
home run record, he would only let us peer at Aaron’s locker
from several feet away, having been given strict orders to watch
out for looters. But we had been given the opportunity to swing
George Scott’s legendary bat. Given the opportunity. We couldn’t
swing it, for it was every bit as heavy as legend held. We had devised
many grand schemes and techniques of getting the stray balls that
made there way over the outfield wall but under the stands during
batting practice and warm-ups. There wasn’t a stadium security
guard alive that could keep us off a free souvenir baseball. The
list of memories, if told one and all, would take me days to recount.
-----I circled the stadium in its entirety,
savoring every site, savoring every memory that came to mind. My
journey ended where it had always began, the left field bleachers.
A few final moments to soak it all in. One more moment to say goodbye
to one of the best friends I had ever known. It was indeed timeless.
In that moment, the sights, sounds, feelings, and the smells were
-----I exited the stadium through the
same left field gates through which I had always entered in my youth.
Just outside these gates stood a large hotel that had been constructed
on the former site of a marine theme park called “Seven Seas.”
It was here that my love for sea mammals had been nurtured to maturity.
I felt a strong desire to carry the moment to this location. I was
thrilled to see that the pool area of the hotel had utilized the
central structures of the park. I had left my field of dreams for
a sea of dreams. As in the ballpark next door, a flood of memories
came back as the park materialized in my mind’s eye. I could
see myself once again feeding the sea lions, watching the dolphin
shows, and hanging out with my old friend Newtka, the killer whale.
-----The first time I went to the new
ballpark, the empty Arlington Stadium stood in its shadow like the
ghost of days gone by. It has long since been torn down. But the
street that circled the opening gate is still there, bordered by
the curb off of which my only game ball souvenir bounced before
winding up in my hands. At times, like an image out of Kinsella’s
book, the old stadium appears to rise up once again on that site.
The sights, the sounds, the smells, all come alive again. I play
catch with my friend once more on the front lawn awaiting our parents’
arrival to pick us up after the game. In the meantime, dolphins
jump in the pools next door and Newtka spews his mist into the magical
air of my memory. There’s always been baseball. There will
always be Arlington Stadium.
© 2004 The Trill House