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If you build it, “we” will come

With the 2021 football campaign underway thanks to the NFL conducting pre-season games and the kick-off to the high school and college seasons right around the corner, there’s no better time than the present to talk about another highly popular sport.

Baseball was in the news in a heartwarming/nostalgic way last week. Some of that focus was on Tyler Gilbert, who last year at this time was working as an electrician for his father’s business after the minor league baseball season – where he has toiled since 2015 – was canceled due to COVID-19.

Gilbert was pitching this year for the Reno Aces, the Triple-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks. The parent club called him up on Aug. 3 and he received his first-ever Major League start this past Saturday night (Aug. 14).

With his dad looking on from the stands, Gilbert accomplished something that no other pitcher has done over the past 68 years….toss a no-hitter in their first-ever Major League start. He blanked the San Diego Padres, 7-0, allowing no hits and walking three.

The last time that happened was the 1953 season when Alva Lee “Bobo” Holloman threw a no-hitter for the old St. Louis Browns in a 6-0 win over the Philadelphia Athletics.

Speaking of outstanding performances on the mound, did anyone see the efforts last week of a scoreless half-inning of work Tyler Shindo of Hawaii put in during the West Regional final of the Little League World Series?

So, what’s the big deal about allowing no runs in a half-inning? Shindo is a “switch pitcher” – meaning he can accurately throw a baseball with either hand. He came into the game in the fifth inning with no outs and runners on first and second. He recorded three straight outs – two as a left-handed pitcher and one as a right-handed hurler.

That’s pretty amazing…especially to someone like me who struggles walking and chewing gum at the same time.

But the biggest baseball news from last week came on a field located near the tiny town of Dyersville, Iowa (population: 4,130).

Movie buffs may fondly recall a film shot there in 1989 (Field of Dreams) where fictional farmer Ray Kinsella, portrayed by Kevin Costner, transforms one of his cornfields into a baseball diamond. He does so due to hearing a voice in his head saying, “If you build it, he will come.”

Kinsella (Costner) believes this is in reference to restoring the good name of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, one of the eight Major League players for the Chicago White Sox accused for accepting money from a gambling syndicate in exchange for purposely losing the 1919 World Series to the Cincinnati Reds. Despite being acquitted of the charge, Jackson and his eight teammates were permanently banned from professional baseball.

I hate to spoil this for the few souls who failed to see the movie, but despite a series of twists and turns involving other characters, the reality of this film is reuniting Kinsella with his late father, a pro baseball player who the son once mocked for having a criminal (Jackson) as his sports idol. The father-son never reconciled their differences prior to the fictional John Kinsella dying.

This past Thursday (Aug. 12), Major League Baseball returned to Dyersville, Iowa in a true-to-life American League game pitting the White Sox against the New York Yankees.

That special night, which aired on FOX Sports, begins with Costner, with a baseball in hand, emerging alone from a corn patch onto a baseball field where the grass is so green that, in his words, “it hurts your eyes.” He is greeted by the roar of the crowd in the packed bleachers, while the iconic musical theme from the movie is also heard. Those cheers become louder when Costner is soon followed by the players of the game’s two teams. Some of the players walk over to greet and shake Costner’s hand. They then stand with their teammates in the infield dirt.

Positioned behind a microphone located just behind the pitcher’s mound, Costner shared the story of the now 30-year-old movie, still hailed as one of the best sports films of all time.

The field on which last week’s game was played is, of course, not the same one where the movie was filmed. This one was a creation of Major League Baseball, much larger (with proper dimensions for a pro game) and with far more seating capacity than the original Field of Dreams located within sight of the new diamond over its rightfield wall of – yep, you guessed it – corn.

But the feeling was the same….the nostalgia still made me draw a deep breath and harp back on the days of my youth, especially thinking of playing catch in the front yard of my childhood home with my dad. I also longed to say that often repeated one line from the movie “Hey, dad, you wanna have catch?”

As the pre-game ceremony came to a close, Costner asked the crowd, “Is this heaven,” repeating another famous line from the 1991 film.

“No, it’s Iowa,” the fans shouted in unison.

Yes, indeed, Mr. Costner, if you build it, we all will come, either in person or watching it on TV.

Thanks for the memories!

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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