Dreamfield Unthank

There is a whisper growing inside of me.

It bounces around like March’s madness of basketball and weather and Spring Training pitcher ERAs. It is perfectly and passionately ludicrous and triples my pulse every single time I’m quiet enough to listen to it. I can’t help but think of Field of Dreams and remember the email I once received from W. P. Kinsella – “It is the fiction writer’s job to create weird characters, but I wouldn’t want to know any of them in real life.”

I tried to ignore the whisper in January and February only to have it return with a vengeance once Spring Training games started.

Last year, I loved playing catch every day — the people I met, the stories I heard, the simple joys and sounds and smells of connecting through not-so-fastballs and the snapping of leather. While I have appreciated the freedom from the self-imposed pressures of having to find a daily catch partner, I have greatly missed the activity itself.

“Can you remember who you were before the world told you who you were supposed to be?” author Ian Morgan Cron wrote in an email newsletter that, somehow, ended up in my inbox and I read it and was sent on a remembering journey of my earliest days in Columbia and Lee’s Summit and Grand Junction and Springfield.

I remember sticker-covered tricycles on porches and camping in the mountains and losing all of my hair. I also remember watching the World Series and pick-up baseball games anywhere and everywhere and baseball cards. Until I was 16, I remember saying I was going to play baseball when I grew up.

And then I stopped playing. Mostly because my body didn’t grow on my timeline.

For as long as I can remember, all I’ve wished for was one more chance to play ball — to step on the mound, toe the rubber, and pour my heart out; to flip Field of Dreams on its head and wink at the hitter just before I got him out.”

Four years ago, I first wrote those words now published in Dreamfield. A light-hearted novel of baseball and faith and time travel, Dreamfield was a story of second-chances. Now, I might get a second chance to see those words come true.

On Sunday, August 4, the Grip ‘N’ Rip Baseball League will host tryouts at U. S. Ballpark in Ozark, Missouri. The wood bat league “strives to provide the ultimate baseball experience for players still young at heart.” Seven games in August and September followed by playoffs and an All Star Game. The local news featured the league last year.

The whisper simply says, “Tryout.”

Excuses come easily. It’s been decades since I’ve really played baseball. I’m too old. I’m half blind. I’d need a bat (or two? or three?) and turf shoes and baseball pants and on and on. And then there’s the painfully honest question: What if I’m not good enough to make the cut?

I told my friend Rance about the whisper in hopes he would talk some sense into me. Rance Burger is the editor of the Christian County Headliner. We played catch on a couple of occasions last year, at the beginning of February and during the World Series. Rance is also the Communications Director for the Grip ‘N’ Rip League, calling the play by play of all of the league’s games.

“I’ll cover the cost of your tryout. I believe in you, Ethan. I don’t care if you show up in cutoff jean shorts with the Walter Johnson glove on your hand, I’ll stake your tryout fee.”

I did not anticipate that response. The good news is I don’t own any cutoff jean shorts. No one needs to see the scars on these far-too-skinny-and-blindingly-white legs.

I get it. I really do. Baseball is just a game. There are so many more important, pressing things on this planet. There are pains and injustices and atrocities that make me question my faith and question humanity and worry about the world my daughters will inherit. What good can come into the world through yet another baseball story?

I have no earthly or heavenly idea.

But, over the years, I have learned to trust these whispers of unknown origin. Whispers about moving back to Springfield. Whispers about playing cowboy with Dad. Whispers about playing catch.

Springfield is home to an incredible wealth of baseball talent. From the AA Springfield Cardinals to successful collegiate programs to multiple training facilities around town. If I’m not going to completely embarrass myself at tryouts, I am going to need help. I’m hoping to follow up on friendships made last year and make new friends as I learn a thing or two, to try and “get in the best shape of my life” so I can step on the field on August 4 with a semblance of self-confidence and baseball swagger.

Tomorrow the Royals will take the field against the White Sox and I’ll be following the game as best I can via radio and internet as first pitch occurs in the middle of the after school life. I hold on to ridiculous hopes for these that’s-what-speed-do Royals, just like baseball fans worldwide do this time of year. (Surely this is the year Alex Gordon will win the MVP and the Royals will invite me to throw out a first pitch!)

As Opening Day kicks off and professional ballplayers of all levels entertain us throughout the summer, my training will begin in earnest. I know that this greatest of games still has plenty to teach me about life on this beautiful ball of dirt.

Is there enough baseball magic in Springfield to turn my dreams of playing ball into a reality?

**Photo courtesy Aaron Unthank.