Wade Boggs and the Field of Dreams – My Youth Lives Again

Today I surrendered to sweet nostalgia. My childhood was resurrected as I read a story that brought together three influential icons of my youth. For virtually every other human on the planet, this story was relatively meaningless, but for me it created the perfect storm of reflection.

(Quit blathering and get on with it, right?)

The story was about how the baseball complex used in the movie Field of Dreams was recently purchased by a group that included baseball HOFer Wade Boggs, with the goal of developing it into a multimillion dollar baseball and softball complex. It would also keep the complex from fading into obscurity.

So why is this story such a big deal for me? Three things: Wade Boggs, Field of Dreams and W.P. Kinsella.

A Little Personal History

I grew up in Northwest Ohio (Toledo), moved to Chicago and now currently reside in Cincinnati. As a kid I grew up listening to Ernie Harwell do Tiger games every night. So why am I a diehard Boston Red Sox, Boston Bruins and New England Patriots fan?

Wade Boggs. For some reason, when I was eight years old, I took a liking to Wade Boggs, the baseball player. As an adult, I’m a little incredulous that my parents would let me idolize a proven womanizer and ridiculously heavy drinker – it’s been noted that Boggs would actually drink a case of beer after games. Then there’s the old joke that says he hit .800 with women in scoring position. But I digress…

Wade Boggs single-handedly turned me into a Red Sox fan, which then translated into me following the Bruins and Patriots. I learned heartbreak and pessimism quickly as immediately the Patriots got crushed in Superbowl XX, the Red Sox suffered through the Buckner World Series loss and the Bruins fell to the Edmonton Oilers in ’88 and again in ’90. Thank God for the new millennium.

1986 Topps Wade Boggs baseball card
1986 Topps Wade Boggs baseball card

I forced myself to bat left-handed just because Boggs batted lefty. I wanted to play third base. I even ended up playing for the Red Sox in Little League. I had Boggs posters all over my bedroom and to this day I still have a Wade Boggs binder displaying over 250 Boggs baseball cards (including 20 of the one pictured to the left). Yeah, I might’ve been a little obsessed.

So when I see a story about Boggs these days, I am always reminded of his influence on my childhood and my personal fandom. But this story! It has Boggs and Field of Dreams.

Not Costner’s Best Baseball Movie – But Still Good

Field of Dreams is a good baseball movie – though it’s no Bull Durham. However, it does a great job of unlocking the magic and mystery that has surrounded baseball through the years. It depicts players of old whose thirst for the game is quenched when an Iowan farmer builds a baseball diamond in the middle of his corn fields. Shoeless Joe Jackson, banned from baseball in 1920, and a host of old ballplayers find “heaven” playing ball again on this field of dreams, while farmer Ray Kinsella and family get to watch them play. As a kid, this movie brought to life the history of baseball and the reverence that should be paid to the game. It confirmed my love for baseball.

Field of Dreams Father and Son Story
Ray Kinsella (l) makes peace with his father John (r) in the closing scene of Field of Dreams

Today it’s the only movie I regularly cry while watching. Being older, I now recognize that the story is about a son reconnecting with his father. Baseball is just the vehicle that brings them together. As it turned out, the catchphrase “if you build it, he will come” was not about Shoeless Joe, but about John Kinsella, Ray’s father. Ray said some regretful things to his father and then his father died before Ray had a chance to make things right. By building the field of dreams, he was able to restore the relationship. It’s the last scene that always gets me.

The game is finished for the day and the players are all heading off into the corn (this makes sense if you see the movie) and one player is left standing on the field. Ray realizes it’s his father John and you can see the emotion on Ray’s face as he understands he can finally make peace with his dad. Ray walks over and introduces himself to John and they have a conversation about the field and whether or not it’s heaven and then Ray finally says, “Hey…Dad? You wanna have a catch?” And John says, “Yes, I’d like that.” And then they begin to throw the ball back and forth. And just like that, a simple game of catch brings a father and son together.

I’m tearing up even writing about this because my father and I spent a million hours playing catch together when I was a kid. Looking back, that time he spent with me meant everything. Playing ball was just a vehicle for him to show his love for me and I treasure those memories dearly now.
Okay, I have to move on or I’m going to short out the keyboard.

So Where Does W.P. Kinsella Fit Into All This?

The Iowa Baseball Confederacy by W.P. Kinsella
My favorite book by W.P. Kinsella

Field of Dreams was based loosely on the book “Shoeless Joe” by W.P. Kinsella. Kinsella was an avid baseball fan and had more than a passing interest in Canadian Indian mysticism. He was a master at weaving the mystical and magical into baseball tales in a way that was quite believable – to the young reader. As a kid I read every book, short story and essay Kinsella wrote. He made me believe that baseball was magic…and enduring. My copy of his book “The Iowa Baseball Confederacy” is more worn than Billy Graham’s Bible. It was Kinsella who made me want to write.

The Perfect Storm

If you’ve made it this far (and I say thank you), you can now see how an insignificant, back page news story created the perfect storm of nostalgia for me. I played baseball (still do actually) and studied writing in school because the three influential factors found in this story. It was a remarkable trip down memory lane and I’m glad for the opportunity to have shared it with you. Sometimes it’s good to look back and remember how you got here.

Archibold “Moonlight” Graham (in Field of Dreams) said, “We just don’t recognize life’s most significant moments while they’re happening.”

I’m glad I can now.

—Ryan Varney

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