"People will come, Ray. They'll come to Iowa for reasons they can't even fathom. They'll turn into the driveway, not knowing for sure why they're doing it. They'll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. 'Of course we won't mind if you have a look around,' you'll say. 'It's only twenty dollars per person.' They'll pass over the money without even thinking about it; for it is money they have, and peace they lack. They'll walk up to the bleachers and sit in shirt-sleeves on a perfect afternoon. They'll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they'll watch the game and it'll be as if they had dipped themselves in magic waters; the memories will be so thick they'll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come, Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers; it has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and raised again. Baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and could be again. Oh, people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.” From FIELD OF DREAMS

Some of my earliest memories from childhood are of lying in my bed early on twilight summer evenings with the windows open, listening to Harry Carey calling Cardinal’s games over my grandfather’s radio in his bedroom fifty yards north of mine. (We both went early to bed, I because my mom believed children needed their sleep, he because he believed a day had been half wasted if the cows had not been milked by daylight. His radio was turned up loud because he was half deaf as an old man.) I’m not sure I really remember the first time I attended a baseball game I was so young. We went to St. Louis and saw the Cardinals; we went to Kansas City and saw the Athletics. In the car, on the tractor, at home, baseball on the radio has been as much a sound of spring and summer and fall for me as spring frogs and cicadas.

Baseball is a link to America’s pre-industrial, agricultural past. The game begins in the spring, along with tilling the soil and planting, it presses on through the hot summer months, and it concludes in the fall, as fields are harvested. Real baseball is played on grass, outdoors. The game can be delayed or postponed because of rain, just like field work. There is no clock, no time limit; a game is played until it is over. Farming works the same way. Almost everyone in pre-industrial America worked the same way, on their farms, without clocks because they were too expensive for ordinary folks until mass-production: the natural rhythm of the day and of the seasons.

Loving baseball is good training for life. The season is long—every team has ups and downs, high-flyers in May can be out of it in August and sad-sacks in June can be on top in October. Just like life. Consistency counts for more than occasional flashes of brilliance. Winning is hard—even the best teams can do it only about 5/8ths of the time. Batting is hard—great batters get a base hit about 3 times every 10 tries. Just like life is hard. But, not every out is wasted—ground-outs to first and long fly balls can advance the runner. Just like in life, not every accomplishment will show up on the highlight reel as such. Skill and chance combine, just like life—perfect position at short but a strange bounce. But, over the season of 162 games being ready in good position will get you the put-out more often than not.

I am fifty years old now. I never was a good hitter, but a wooden bat in my hands in the back yard just feels right. I was at best a mediocre fielder in my teens, but the thump of a ball into my glove is an almost primal connection to my childhood, to games of catch with my boys a decade and more ago, to baseball heroes of my past like Bob Gibson and George Brett, to my father whose glove I sometimes used as a child, to Babe and Dizzy, to the GI’s teaching Japanese kids how to hold a bat, to Union soldiers playing baseball encamped far from home. Baseball has marked the time of my life, and of this country’s life.

Barry Bonds recently hit number 713, and I cannot care. I cannot care because I feel sad and angry that those who play the game and manage the game and own the game have let me down. I need to know that those who play the game are just like me, only better, gifted by God with the talent and the grit to play America’s game in the Bigs. I need to believe that they respect the The Game. I am unable to cheer for those who win because they have the better pharmacist. Yes, I know that not everyone is juiced. But, I am dismayed that players and owners have not taken the hard steps to guarantee a clean game. They have let me down. They have let us down. But, giving up on the pros does not mean I’ve given up on the game. At the edge of our little town, on the creek bottom at the foot of the hill, is a ball field. The boys and girls of summer will be there, from T-Ball to teen, reminding us of all that once was good and could be again.