The ball rolled to my feet by the baseball diamond cut into an Iowan cornfield and it was a perfect metaphor for what was happening to me.
I was standing along the third base line at the "Field of Dreams" movie site in Dyersville, Iowa, on a hot August morning when the cliché rolled up. I mean, really, how often would that happen in real life? You stand at a baseball field immortalized in a movie where grown men go to repair their relationships with their fathers over baseball and a ball rolls up to you.
You don’t get many chances like that, especially symbolic ones for baseball fans.
It was a sign and I had to accept the challenge, the honor of this occurring.
My wife had just passed away a month earlier and my friend, as guys do, thought a road trip would help me at least attempt to set the keel straight again in my stormy seas.
We drove from West Plains, Mo., and got lost under the Interstate 44 and Interstate 55 exchange in St. Louis, Mo. We met people at a rest stop in central Illinois and even drove around Knox College to see where Abraham Lincoln debated Stephen Douglas in 1858. We joked about my friend’s GPS system getting us lost and we nearly ran out of gas in some forlorn Children of the Corn type town near the Iowa-Illinois line.
It was a good road trip.
We made it to Dubuque, Iowa, before the depression of losing my wife started creeping back into my life.
I remember standing outside the Dubuque hotel wondering why I was there and where my life was headed. Yes, my keel was knocked astray and I didn’t see calm seas ahead.
The following morning, we drove to the Field of Dreams, which is located in the most rural part of Iowa imaginable. We topped a hill after making several turns and, then, there it was. The magic, the mystery of it all beckoned. Maybe it was merely the suggestion that the place had become baseball mecca rather than it being an actual holy ground.
Either way, I was taken by it. I, like all guys, loved the movie “Field of Dreams.” And I, like all guys, won’t discuss how I teared up at the end when the Kevin Costner character plays catch with his father on the same field that stood before me.
I walked closer to the edge of the field when it happened.
A father, who later told us he was in his 80s, reunited with his 55-year-old son there and they were playing catch. He missed a ball and it rolled to me.
I picked it up and looked at him.
Flashback to about 6 months earlier. I had just painted a small storage building behind my home. It was supposed to be red, but the paint faded and it turned pink. I did not want a pink shed, so I hastily painted it again. The repetitive actions of slapping paint rendered a tear in my rotator cuff.
Six months later I was at the Field of Dreams with a bum right arm.
I picked up the ball and threw it back to the father.
I say ‘threw.’ Actually, the ball wobbled about 15 feet and plopped to the ground as the shoulder cried in pain. I’ve seen babies get better loft on pitches.
It was symbolic. My one chance of a lifetime to do something meaningful, something zenlike, and I blow it. The ball fell short, the keel was not uprighted, the seas continued to storm.
I did buy a souvenir baseball at the trinket store at the Field of Dreams and now, six years later, I sometimes take the ball and throw it up in the air.
It goes a ways up. I think I’m going to be okay.