“Is this Heaven?”
from Field of Dreams
There is a Heaven. I know it absolutely. I have been there.
Now, to be clear, I haven’t been to that Heaven, just one that, to me at least, might be awfully close.
There is a God. I also know this absolutely. God played a big role in making my trip to Heaven a reality.
A few years ago I traveled to the legendary Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa to have a catch with my dad. I have often shared the story of how that trip came to be. I wrote about it and have put it on both of my blogs. The story has been published as part the book Impossible is an Illusion. Titled “Is This?” it might be my most widely read piece (to date). Many people, including a number of prominent authors and, I’m pretty certain about this, the President of the Baseball Hall-of-Fame have read that story.
But, I have never told the story about what happened on those magical days in Iowa in 2016 with my dad and my mom. I shared all about our decision to go there, but I’ve never told the tale of the wonderful memories we created on a little baseball field in the middle of nowhere.
This, then, is that story…
My parents love to drive to places. Driving all the way from New Jersey to Iowa, to them at least, is no big deal. They are retired and in pretty good health. My dad has to breathe through a trach tube, but he tries not to let that interfere with living.
My parents had all the time in the world to get to Iowa. They left home about a week before me to head out to the Field of Dreams.
I, on the other hand, am still way too over-extended. This trip was in late April, which for me, as a building principal, is one of my busiest seasons. There are always school events to attend, meetings to participate in, interviewing, hiring… the list goes on. I also always have countless reports to read and write in April and May – updates, evaluations, and the like. I always put too much effort into these reports. I know that some administrators might “mail them in,” but I can’t. I labor over each. It all takes far too much time.
As much as I would have loved to spend forever in Iowa, I was also leaving behind my son in 11th grade and my wonderful wife.
I had only a few days. I took a plane.
As my parents drove, they watched the weather reports. It was a cold April. Damp and rainy. As they traveled ever westward, the weather didn’t improve.
My parents are social creatures. They talk to everyone. They were also very excited about our adventure. Almost to a person, when they shared the story of where they were heading, they were met with comments like, “You’re going to a field to play baseball in Iowa, in April? You’re gonna freeze. Just look at the weather. It isn’t getting any better. That wasn’t a good idea.”
But they traveled ever on…
I was flying out on a Monday and would be arriving in the evening. We would have all day Tuesday and then Wednesday morning together in Iowa before my return flight home.
A good friend, Michael Saffer, picked me up that Monday afternoon and drove me to LaGuardia Airport where I’d meet my plane. I had only a backpack as luggage because my clothes and the baseball equipment was traveling in my parents’ van with them.
There are no direct flights to Dubuque, Iowa from New York City (or at least none that I could find), so I flew into Chicago. I was 47 years old, but this was the first time I ever flew alone.
Chicago was grand. What an airport! I had a layover of a few hours so I found a place with some deep dish pizza (Chicago style!), ordered an unsweetened iced tea, and had a nice dinner. I also used the time in the airport to read a bit and to listen to music on my iPod.
The airplane to Dubuque was less than grand. It was small, almost miniature – a toy. As I recall, there were fewer than 25 rows on the plane, and only three seats across. I was in the last row on the right side of the plane – a window seat. I wanted to sleep on the ride, as I always try to do, but the flight to Iowa was less than an hour. Soon the small plane touched down in the tiniest airport I’d ever seen.
I was in Iowa!
A shuttle brought me to the hotel where I met my parents. They had been waiting for me in the lobby. We talked a little, but didn’t say a whole lot. I think we were all full of nervous energy.
What would tomorrow bring?
My mom was definitely concerned over the weather. It was supposed to rain. It was going to be cold. She did mention this a few times.
I gathered my belongings from my parents’ room, ate a few of their snacks too, and then, after agreeing to an early meeting time, I believe 8:00 a.m., headed off to call Laurie, read, and get some work done in my hotel room.
As someone who attends and speaks at conferences, this wasn’t my first hotel room alone. Still, the vast emptiness speaks to a sense of lonely that is difficult to describe.
I missed my wife who was now over a thousand miles, and two airplane flights, away.
The next morning I went for a cold jog outside. I didn’t being anything near the right type of clothing. This might not have been a good idea. I also lifted weights and spent some quiet time alone in the hotel’s hot tub all before meeting my parents for breakfast.
We discussed the day and the cold. Rain was possible. In fact, it was probable. We established back-up plans in case the Field of Dreams turned out to be a nightmare. The Ulysses S. Grant homestead in Galena, Illinois wasn’t too far away – albeit in the opposite direction from Dyersville where the Field of Dreams still lay sleeping. I thumbed through a travel guide. Nothing piqued my interest. I didn’t come to Iowa to walk through a farm museum. I came to play ball – to have a catch with my dad.
“Well, let’s go to the field and see what happens,” I said. “Who knows?”
As I considered this whole plan, months ago, I had covered every contingency. The hotel was nice. The flights went by without a hitch. My parents were there safely.
I just never considered the weather. To be honest, I never even thought about it.
Baseball is played in April. I figured it had to be nice – everywhere. This was Iowa, right in the middle of the country. We didn’t travel to the North Pole.
By 9:00, or so, we were in the car. My dad was driving us ever further west. We’d be at the Field of Dreams in about an hour.
We were on our way.
My parents’ van is a conversion van. They love conversion vans. The top pops up and it has furniture inside. There’s a refrigerator and a sink and a microwave. Because they travel alone, what the van doesn’t have are seats in the back, well, at least in the traditional sense. There are benches as far back in the van as one could go. Those benches convert into their bed. The benches sit sideways. That’s where I sat – way in the back, traveling sideways.
I didn’t mind.
We were on our way.
And then, we arrived.
I got out of the car and took pictures of the signs as we approached. We then drove down the long driveway, and there it was, the field, the house, the small bleachers… it was just like the movie, except, well, except there was no corn.
It was April, the growing season hadn’t begun. (I also hadn’t thought of that.)
We were wearing baseball clothes, I had some Yankee gear on, my dad was wearing his Red Sox jacket.
We gathered our bats and balls and gloves and wandered over to the field. My mom stopped at the gift shop – a sort of barn-like structure. There was a display board with information about the field and the movie, but I just went to the baseball diamond.
It’s just there -a quiet baseball diamond sitting out amid fields. There is no admission fee. It’s just like any other field everywhere across this vast country. Dirt, grass, a backstop and a pitcher’s mound. Except, this one is a little different. After all, this is the Field of Dreams.
I laid some baseball items out and took pictures. My mom took some photos of my dad and I. And then, just like we had planned, it all happened, “Well, Dad, wanna have a catch?”
And there we were, in Iowa, a thousand miles from our homes, tossing a baseball back-and-forth. My dad and I hadn’t tossed a ball together since the previous Fathers’ Day – before he had to wear a trach.
And there we were, in Iowa, tossing a baseball…
We were there. In Iowa – a thousand miles from home. And yet, we were at home.
A father and his son, having a catch.
I had a Yankees sweatshirt that I brought to keep warm, but I realized that I didn’t need it.
I looked to the sky. It was blue. There was neither rain nor any hint of rain. And it was warm.
You say there is no God? Oh, you’re so wrong. God was with us that day, on the Field of Dreams, in Iowa… in Heaven.
The day itself passed quickly, but, in a sense, it lasted forever and still lasts with us today. We did nothing out of the ordinary, but we did everything. We played ball. Just the three of us. Mom, Dad, and me.
My Dad took the mound and started throwing knuckleballs to me. I served as his faithful catcher until he grew too tired to throw any longer. Then I threw to him. My mom even took some time on the mound. She was still wearing her jacket, though she didn’t need to any longer. I threw batting practice to my dad who swung a missed a few times before he re-found his batting eye and started to sock the ball all over the diamond. Somewhere inside, my dad had channeled his inner Ted Williams.
God and Teddy Ballgame were both smiling down from their Heaven as we played on ours.
My mom even batted a few out – a few line drives right through the infield.
And then dad pitched to me.
I still play competitive softball, and I run marathons, so I’m in pretty good shape. I still hit the ball hard. I batted lefty and then from my natural right side. The only thing I didn’t want to do was hit a line drive at my 77 year-old father.
And I didn’t.
Mom had moved to the outfield where she gathered the balls I hit and brought them in. I had to be careful not to hit her either.
The hours passed. Sometimes, when we are young again, time passes at a different rate.
As we played, a few random tourists stopped by. We chatted with them. Most were from Iowa. We enjoyed the reactions from the various people when they asked, incredulously, “You came from New Jersey just to have a catch here?”
In between these short visits, we’d head back out to throw or hit the ball. My seventies-something parents, and me, the forty-seven year old, were all of thirteen again. Together. At the same time.
Life can be funny that way.
The owner of the house that sits adjacent to the field came out to talk with us. She had read my story. I know she did, I sent it to her. She seemed overjoyed by what we were doing. She took us on a tour of the inside of the house and told us tales of movie making, Hollywood stars, and movie sets. We took lots of pictures.
Later, I also took many pictures of Dad throwing from the pitcher’s mound.
Lunchtime came and we needed to eat so we drove into downtown Dyersville and found a nice restaurant. And after lunch, as if the field had a magnetic pull, we found ourselves on the field again tossing and hitting baseballs.
As the afternoon passed, we knew that it would soon be time to go. I said to my dad, “Throw me a good one, we’ll end this with a blast into the corn field. I want to hit one out.” And I did. And I circled the bases in a special home run trot that I don’t think I’ll ever forget.
On the long drive back to the hotel, we made a stop to look at some antiques and also got the pictures printed at a local CVS. The pictures were amazing. They captured the event just as I hoped they would. My dad was young again.
We then had a nice dinner before turning in for the day.
Back in my room, I called Laurie.
“How was it?” she asked.
I replied, “Simply wonderful. I will never be able to explain it. It was the best.”
The next day, obviously, we went back again. We knew we’d only have the morning because I had a flight to catch. It was a bit colder, but not cold like they had expected. On this day we also hit a few groundballs to each other – a little infield practice.
But the time passed too quickly.
Of course, we ended it, Dad and I, with a catch. It was a catch that neither of us wanted to ever have to end. Eventually, as the clock clicked, I said, “Nine more, like Ted Williams.” And that was that… and it was over.
I laid some special balls I had made on the grass by the infield. Seven baseballs each with a different word, one with a question mark.
“Hey Dad, Wanna Have A Catch?”
As we got in the van, another family arrived. They saw the balls, picked one up and started throwing.
I watched the field drift away out the back window of the van.
We lunched at a small restaurant in the airport, then my parents drove away. I sat outside the airport for a while full of tears.
It had been a most wonderful experience.
Soon I was airborne. Then it was back to Chicago and then New York City.
Michael met me at the airport and drove me home, but part me, always, and forever more, will be on that field.
There is a Heaven. I’m there right now with my mom and dad.
Having a catch.