Written in 2012. To my brother Matt.
Field of Forgotten Dreams
As I walk up to the old rusting stainless steel fence that separates me from the softball field, I turn and sit on the weathered worn green wooden benches and I look at the dusty infield. It has been years since I've been to this place. On this Monday afternoon I can smell the freshly cut grass the groundskeeper masterfully trimmed in the cool October sun. I zip up my fleece jacket and begin to immediately reminisce of the days I had spent here in my youth.
Uninhibited by security, the aged college softball field had been mine and my brother's recreational haven during the long months of summer and many afternoons after school. We would walk the nearly quarter mile through the dusty brown desert sun to come here and play out our fantasies of being professional baseball players. Sometimes friends would come in tow and take positions in the field while I did my best Orel Hershiser impression. My brother would send secret signals to me indicating what pitch he wanted me to throw like his idol Mike Piazza. For us it was a fantasy world where we were beating the likes of Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey Jr., standing tall as they struck out on my fastball. We never lost, always beating the living legends we looked up to.
I pick up my bag and throw away an empty beer bottle sitting upright under the bleacher as I ignore an old tattered Playboy magazine tucked underneath the bleacher's rusted leg. I remember finding my first Playboy out here when I was 10 years old. It seems wrong to deny some other boy that right of passage. Litter of candy wrappers and peanut shells accent the desperate feeling that comes to this field. At night we would come back to the field to watch local men take the field for 7 innings of softball battle. The men would storm the field and almost transform back in time to the days when they had dominated at the game they loved. Jogging onto the field to the sounds of cheers and clapping, they set out to prove that they still had greatness in them.
The field itself has its own challenges. The outfield was littered with small potholes of dirt that were hard to spot if not for the yellow rings of dead grass surrounding them, littering the rich green grass like a minefield. It wasn't uncommon for one of the softball soldiers to chase a ball and twist their ankle while trying to catch a pop fly. The faded white foul lines on the red clay helped to indicate the foul and fair territory while serving as a warning that you were starting to get close to the old chain link fence that could scratch or stab you with one of its many jagged rough points where the fence had bent into some sort of menacing obstacle.
Like my brother and I, these men came to win. Their dull jobs and average lives were forgotten about as they imitated their heroes. I remember coming to night games with my father and brother, and we would see the nameless blue collar men begin to take the form of Roger Clemens or step up to the plate like Willie Mays. The look of determination permeated from their eyes as they sized up their opponent. The veteran softball wives would casually look up to see their husbands at bat in between gossiping with their friends while knitting sweaters and scarves to pass the time until they could all finally go home and escape their husband’s fantasyland. The younger wives and girlfriends had a different demeanor. They took in all of the game. Every pitch, every throw, every strikeout, wishing and hoping that their team would win. Over time they would tire of the charade until they began to knit while their significant other was spitting tobacco and sunflower seeds; the men never growing tired of this Sisyphean cycle. Night after night throughout the year they showed up to repeat the pantomime. Hot dust storms and chilly winter nights couldn't deter these valiant baseball warriors from showing up in their dirt stained t-shirts and baseball pants. On rainy nights the men would sit under the protection of the dugout roofs with beer bottles hidden in paper bags as they joked and recalled old favorite games they had played until the white stadium lights timed out and faded.
Now here I am. In a dirt stained t-shirt with my cap pulled low in the bright sunlight of a cloudless desert afternoon. I walk onto the field and go to the pitcher's mound. I imagine my brother signaling with two fingers as some of baseball's best step up to the plate to challenge my fastball. I throw the ball hard as it bounces against the wooden backstop with a hard thump that booms throughout the field. In a few hours the sun will dim and my teammates will show up. The lights of the stadium will light up as the mini vans and trucks begin to slowly fill the pebble filled parking lot.
We'll take the field and for a few hours in the desert moonlight we are no longer construction workers, doctors, or delivery men. Instead we become the men we always wanted to be. The heroes of a game that has resonated throughout the history of our country and lives. We take the field to prove that we belong here, that we too are great. As the red clay brings new stains on our already tarnished uniform, we will later remember where those stains came from, wearing it like a badge of honor. For a few short hours, we elude the rigors of everyday life and become legends in our own right. Until the end of the game when the boulder of greatness rolls to the bottom of the hill and once again we are sent back to the reality of our lives.