Photo Credit: H. Michael Miley, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Back in the Summer of '06, I got a chance to play in a baseball tournament in Knoxville, Tennessee. It was the culmination of our season. We were a good team, built from some of the most talented kids in the surrounding neighborhoods. This was our opportunity to prove ourselves on the big stage.
It was sweltering all week. Tennessee summers are no joke. I can remember my coach directing each one of us to take an ice-cold shower in between games so we wouldn't overheat.
It was an experience I’ll never forget. The sheer size of the baseball complex, dozens and dozens of teams from all over, so many people…we felt like professionals.
One play stands out for me unlike any other. I was a pitcher when I was a kid, but this play was a bunt. Late in the game, runner on third and one out, I came to the plate and looked to my coach standing on third base.
He swiped his arms and legs a few times, he pointed to his elbow and his wrist, he grabbed at his earlobes and tugged at his belt. I think he might even have spat on the ground - although that might not have been part of the signal.
At one point, he made the sign. Not just any sign. The sign. The one that meant the play was on. The Suicide Squeeze.
I stared. My heart skipped a beat - and then I nodded. It was a tie ball game. Feeling the weight of the moment upon me, I stepped into the batter’s box.
I performed my ritual: a right-handed batter, I tapped my Easton bat once on the upper-right corner of the plate and once on the upper-left corner. I made sure my feet were shoulder square apart. I pulled my bat back in my very carefully crafted batting stance.
The pitcher stood from the stretch, eager to strike me out and put himself in prime position to get out of this jam. The air was hot and humid. The sweat poured from my forehead, and I could feel the salty liquid burning the corners of my eyes.
The pitcher came set. For a moment, the whole world became silent… And then he threw the pitch.
It was a fastball, up and in. The runner on third charged for home. I squared to bunt.
It was textbook. The ball bounced up the first base line and our runner was going to score by a mile. I knew this because I, in a moment of utter elation, had forgotten one crucial detail.
I wasn’t running to first base.
I was a spectator like everybody else.
As the runner was about to cross home plate, I started to hear a voice in the background. The voice had been there off and on the whole time, but now it was clear, distinct. It was my coach, screaming for me to run.
My instincts kicked in. I turned and lurched for safety, but it was too late. The pitcher got to the ball, and he made a perfect throw. I was out by a mile.
With a sheepish grin, I returned to my dugout. Was it a boneheaded play? Sure. But I had brought the runner home. We had the lead. And we kept it.
After the game, my coaches and teammates congratulated me for the clutch bunt, but also had to give me a little ribbing for my “brain fart” on the basepaths. For me, it will always be one of the most memorable moments of my youth career. That’s what made the Field of Dreams Game last night so special - the memories and the moments.
It was a beautiful night in Dyersville, Iowa for a perfect baseball game.
During the opening festivities, Ken Griffey Jr, parallel to his father Ken Griffey Sr, walked out the corn and into the outfield. Kids of all ages followed. Together, they played catch, in a perfect tribute to the timeless baseball tradition.
The players, dressed in classic uniforms appropriate for early 20th century ballplayers, emerged from the cornfield shortly after. They all stood side-by-side as the national anthem was played. It was like Little League. It was exactly the way baseball was meant to be played, meant to be watched, and meant to be experienced.
There was a safety squeeze. There was a run-and-hit. And every Little League coach smiled.
At the end of the day, one team won, and the other lost. But the spirit of baseball went undefeated last night. It struck out the side. It hit for the cycle. It was a perfect game.
Even an army of rabid swine couldn’t have ruined the Field of Dreams game (apparently, hogs outnumber humans in Iowa 8 to 1! How is this even possible?). I’ll say it again: it was a perfect game. This is how baseball should always feel. It can be hard to give a lot of these professional leagues credit these days, but it can’t be denied - the MLB, the Cincinnati Reds, the Chicago Cubs - they all knocked it out of the park.
For most of us who play sports as kids, we never get to live out our dreams of hitting a homerun over the Green Monster or sliding into home just past the catcher's outstretched arm at Camden Yards. Most of us will never throw a no-hitter at Great American Ballpark or hit our 500th home run at Wrigley. For most of us, all we have is those moments, those memories. And for most of us, that's the real Field of Dreams.