“Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”-Roald Dahl
Just after Ray Kinsella mows down all his crops to build a baseball field in the middle of his Iowa farm he smiles and says to his wife, “I have just created something totally illogical, am I completely nuts?”
But then later that same night as he looks out his bedroom window at the empty baseball field he whispers to himself, “something’s gonna happen out there I can feel it.”
I felt that same exact way the day I moved out of my old apartment in Miami over two years ago. I had already downsized two times that year, I went from a one-bedroom apartment to a studio apartment before finally moving into an even smaller studio apartment. While I did it in an effort to save money, it also forced me to simplify my life along the way. Each time I moved from one place to the next I had to get rid of more and more of my things because they simply wouldn’t fit as my closet space kept dwindling.
I quickly adopted the rule on moving days that if I hadn’t worn it or used it within the past year then it would be either thrown away or donated to Goodwill. No exceptions.
By the time I turned over my last set of keys to my landlord I had already gotten rid of most of my things. All that was left to do was put the last remaining odds and ends into a cardboard box and heave the box into the dumpster that was in the Washington Avenue alley way. As I was walking away from the dumpster I remember feeling a mix of emotions.
How could I give up every single thing I own? But at the same time, I knew that that was exactly what I needed to do if I wanted something truly special to happen.
Ray Kinsella of course is the character Kevin Costner plays in the movie Field of Dreams. It’s a fictional story, but it’s always felt real to me. Basically Ray, a 36-year-old novice farmer, hears a mysterious voice in his Iowa cornfield one evening just before dinner. The voice whispers, “if you build it, he will come.” And so cash-strapped Ray eventually interprets the message and builds a seemingly useless baseball field right in the middle of his farm, which if my GPS is right, should be less than two minutes away.
The baseball field that Ray carved into an Iowa cornfield way back in 1989 is still there to this day and it’s become a popular tourist attraction. Nearly two million visitors have turned up at the farm over the years and I’ve decided to take a tiny detour on my way to Chicago today. Having been a big baseball fan my whole life, I pulled off at the Dyersville exit a few minutes ago so I could stop and see the famous field. I always promised myself that I’d get here one day and that I’d eventually fulfill a dream I’ve had ever since I was nine years old, which is take just one swing at home plate.
I’ve always loved the movie. I’ve seen it countless times since I was a kid, but what I’ve grown to love the most about it is what the director Phil Alden Robinson said about why he decided to direct the film. He said, “I wanted to teach people how to dream a bigger dream.”
What he said has always stuck with me. I feel like I owe it to the message behind the movie (more so than the fact that I like baseball) to make the pilgrimage here, because when I was coming up with my dream I used that line to push past my own limitations. It wasn’t enough for me to travel around the world. I needed to dream bigger and do it without airplanes. And it wasn’t enough for me to travel around the world without airplanes, I needed to dream bigger and transform my life as I did so. I needed to become writer, filmmaker and photographer as well.
I asked a friend the other day what her biggest dream was and she said that it was to teach English in Paris, which sounds like an awesome dream. But when I dug a little deeper and I asked a few more probing questions about it, she confessed that she actually hated the idea of teaching English and that all she really wanted to do was live in Paris, which still sounds great! But that really struck a chord with me because I’ve had so many similar conversations with a lot of different people lately. Not that they want to teach English in Paris, but that they’ve ended up shortchanging their own dreams without even realizing it.
I’m always fascinated with what other people’s passions are and what makes their dream their dream, so it’s a topic I often find myself discussing. But not many people I talk with seem like they even know what their dream is, which worries me. I’m finding that more often than not that the people I speak with are trying to fit what they think is their dream into something modest and practical without even knowing it, which worries me even more.
And look, I’m not faulting her or anyone for it. Heck, I did it too. I did the same exact thing about ten years ago when I moved to Hawaii to become a History teacher. I thought that my dream was to be a history teacher in Hawaii, but once I got to Hawaii and began teaching I quickly realized that I hated nearly everything about teaching history and that my real dream at the time was only to live in Hawaii and to hang out at the beach.
I pull down a long dirt driveway with this thought spinning through my head because even though I’m in the midst of pursuing my own deepest dream, something still feels like it’s missing. It’s almost as though I’m still shortchanging my dream, but I’m just not quite sure how or why.
As I get further down the driveway the first thing I see the instantly recognizable Kinsella family farmhouse. My left arm dangles out the window of my Mother’s car against the warm Midwest air and when I see the baseball diamond Ray carved into the cornfield, it becomes impossible not to smile.
The grass has just been freshly cut and the entire place smells like summer.
In real life, the Lansing family owned this land and lived here from 1906 to 2011. When the producers of the movie were scouting farms in Iowa and they came across the Lansing’s farm they simply went up and knocked on the front door and pitched the idea to the family, which they agreed to and replied by saying, “sure, we like baseball.”
Even though the Lansing family sold the property a few years back it still remains open to the public. It’s free to visit and you’re even allowed to come and play catch if you want to.
Stepping onto any movie set feels surreal and this is no different. It’s like I’ve been transported back to a much simpler time.
A father is pitching underhanded to his young son in the infield and a few people are strolling across the outfield in pairs. There’s a bright red barn behind the farmhouse and the sun is hovering just above the left field cornstalks. Everything feels so magical underneath the bright blue sky that I’m half expecting to hear the same voice Ray heard whisper to me, “if you build it, he will come.”
After Ray mows down almost all of his crops and builds the baseball field, nothing happens. As winter comes and goes he anxiously looks out over his farm day after day waiting for something. By the time spring rolls around Ray no longer has enough money to make his mortgage payments and the bank begins the process of foreclosing on his farm. But Ray, steadfast in his belief, decides that this completely useless baseball field in the middle of his Iowa farm does in fact have a purpose and he refuses to stop believing in it.
I think that’s the thing I’ve always loved about Ray. He did things without a clear understanding of why he was doing them. At the beginning of my journey I often found myself having to trust in my gut and believing in my vision just like Ray. When he cut down his crops the whole town ridiculed him for it, and while no one ridiculed me for my decision, at the same time no one (but me) could see exactly what I wanted to create for myself either. When I told my cousin that I was going to write about my inner journey around the world and film myself as I traveled, she said, “don’t you think that’s a bit conceited?”
And I’m not saying she’s wrong, because I do feel a bit self-absorbed holding my camera up to my face in public to get certain shots. But my point is that I couldn’t exactly put everything I was hoping to become into words, because like Ray, it was something I just felt.
Nearly a full year goes by before the ghost, yes ghost, of Shoeless Joe Jackson shows up on Ray’s infield lawn. Ray walks out to meet him and pitches him a few balls that Shoeless Joe belts high and deep into Ray’s cornfield. At the end of each day Shoeless Joe walks across the outfield and back into the cornstalks until he slowly fades away. Eventually more ballplayers from the early 1900’s begin to magically show up at Ray’s baseball field and they spend their afternoons playing on the field that I’m now standing on.
I kick off my flip-flops and toss them behind first base and then I walk around the infield. The soft grass underneath my feet feels like medicine after having been crammed inside my mother’s tiny car all day.
I’ve always envisioned hitting a home run here and as I circle the pitcher’s mound, the urge to take just one swing fills every pore of my body. Plus, I have a funny feeling that that’s all it will take to hit one high and deep into the cornfield just like Shoeless Joe. And I’m not saying this because I’m that good at baseball but because this place has so much pixie-dust in it that it feels like the ball will just jump off my bat even if I swing and miss by a mile.
I decide to ask the father whose pitching to his young son if he’ll take a second to toss me one. He agrees and so I grab a wooden bat that’s propped up against the backstop and dig my toes into the dirt around home plate. I can’t help but think of the irony as I take a couple warm-up swings. I didn’t plan to be shoeless at all, it just so happens to be a coincidence. Shoeless Joe got his nickname because he had blisters on his feet from a new pair of cleats. His feet hurt so much that he decided to take his cleats off before he went up to bat in a game in Greenville, South Carolina. The story goes that a heckling fan noticed this and as Jackson was running to third base in his socks, the fan shouted, “you shoeless son of a gun.”
I tap my bat on home plate and then look at my bare feet that are still bruised and blistered from the hiking boots that were too small in Australia. Then I close my eyes and envision the ball sailing out into the Dyersville cornfield like I’m actually Shoeless Joe. It’s 281 feet to left field, 314 to center and 262 to right field, which is just a shade smaller than most major league baseball stadiums.
“Okay, I’m ready, go ahead”, I call out.
As the man starts his wind up I raise my right arm up and cock the bat back.
I can’t believe I’m about to do this, to hit a home run at the famous Field of Dreams.
As the ball comes towards me I can see the red seams of the baseball like time has slowed down. Whenever great athletes get ‘in the zone‘ and have a career game they usually say in their post-game interview that the game seemed to slow down and that everything just became a little bit easier than normal and that’s what allowed them to excel that day.
I’m in the zone!
I twist my hips back, hitch my shoulders up, and as the ball crosses the front of the plate I close my eyes and uncoil my body as fast as humanly possible.
With my eyes closed, the beautiful crack of the bat is amplified. You can only get this thunderous sound when using a wooden bat. The aluminum ones are more of a ping, but this crack is like music to my ears.
It feels like I’ve sent the ball flying, but before I can open my eyes and watch it land in the cornfield, I start thinking about weather I should jokingly jog around the bases to celebrate or if I should just do some sort of silly homerun dance around home plate.
Once I finish my swing, I open my eyes and look up into the late afternoon sky. The sun is just about to set in the west. I try to track the baseball as it sails away, but strangely I don’t see it.
Maybe I’ve hit it so hard that it’s already landed in the cornfield.
It takes a second for it to dawn on me to look down, which is what I then do. Much to my chagrin this is when I finally see the ball. It’s rolling slowly towards second base and it stops before it even clears the infield grass.
I shrug my shoulders in disappointment and than I laugh and say to the pitcher, “Even though I’m shoeless I guess I’m no Shoeless Joe.”
Act three of the movie begins when Ray hears a third message from the same mysterious voice. This time the voice tells him to, “go the distance”. As I walk across the outfield grass and towards the towering cornstalks I can’t help but replay that line over and over. It starts swirling through and as I relate it to my own dream, it has me feeling like I’ve been subconsciously shortchanging my dream. Even after having traveled over 50,000 miles overland and with another 25,000 miles to go across North and South America some part of my being feels that I won’t have gone far enough.
My dream has always been to travel around the entire world, and as I stand face to face with the magical cornstalks, it dawns on me that for some strange reason I’ve always left one entire continent off the list.
I’ve never thought to include Antarctica because when I came up with this idea, getting there overland just seemed so far-fetched, so implausible, that I didn’t even think to bother including it. And to be honest I never thought twice about not including it. No one goes to Antarctica anyway.
This reminds me of my favorite scene in Field of Dreams. It’s when Ray is talking to an old ball player named Archibald “Moonlight” Graham about his dream to play in the major leagues. It was the last day of the 1922 baseball season and the last inning of the last game when Moonlight was sent into the game for his first and only time.
Moonlight never got to make a play in the outfield or have an at bat and so when Ray asks him about what it was like to get that close to his dream but to never accomplish it, Moonlight pinches two of his fingers together and says, “It was like coming this close to your dreams, and then watch them brush past you like a stranger in the crowd. At the time you don’t think much of it. We don’t recognize the significant moments of our lives as they are happening. Back then I thought, well, there will be other days, I didn’t realize that was the only day.”
Remembering Moonlight’s words sends a shiver of urgency through my body. The cornstalks are as high as my head and as the wind glides over them they gently sway against one another. As I stand in front of them I think about Moonlight’s message and I decide that if I’m ever going to say that I’ve officially made it around the world that I can’t just get close to doing it, but that I too must go the distance.
This in turn means that I’ve got to get to Antarctica somehow.
But here’s the thing, I don’t actually know if it’s humanly possible to visit there or not. Whenever I’ve seen Antarctica on TV or in magazines I’ve only ever seen research teams of scientist or those National Geographic explorer types there. I saw this movie on YouTube recently where David Beckham played a football match in Antarctica for charity, but he flew in on a specially equipped jumbo jet and only stayed for 3 hours before he flew back to Argentina. And its not like David personally organized his whole trip there. I’m sure he had millions of people behind the scenes helping him. All he had to do was just show up for his flight.
I look down a row of cornstalks and ask them, “This sounds stupid, but is Antarctica even open to the public?”
I hope for an answer, after all I am the same age as Ray (36) and it’s also around the exact same time of the year and same hour of the day when he heard the mystical voice for the first time.
I wait for a second, but no answers come.
I don’t know the first thing about how one would get to Antarctica overland, so that in itself is a major problem. Then there’s getting a visa. Antarctica isn’t even a country, it’s a continent and so where would I even have to go to apply for one?
I tell the cornstalks, “I certainly don’t have David Beckham’s connections.”
I take a big step forward until I’m within arms reach of a husk that’s dangling and I decide that since I’ve made it this far that it’s time for me to dream a bigger dream. I tell myself that I’m going to get to Antarctica overland one way or another or else I won’t ever truly be able to say that I’ve made it all the way around the world.
Then I peer through the stalks and wonder what would happen if I walked through them.
I ask a row of towering green stalks, “Am I going to melt into you and disappear like Shoeless Joe and all those ballplayers did in the movie?”
I laugh to myself because I know that I won’t, but it does feel sort of heavenly out here. The sun has just passed by the horizon and it’s creating a majestic golden glow across all of Iowa. Everyone that was milling around the field has piled back in their cars and headed home and I’m the only one still out here. When I eventually come to this realization, it sends a shiver up my spine. Fireflies begin to pop like tiny fireworks and it reminds me of when I would collect them in mason jars in my grandmother’s back yard years and years ago.
I run my fingers along one of the stalks and then I stick my right arm into the cornfield. I pull it out quickly to make sure it hasn’t disappeared, which of course, it hasn’t.
I take one full step in the cornfield and then I jump back out. The whole thing has me feeling like I’m five again.
I take a deep breath because I do need to work up some courage before finally getting the nerve to walk deep into the cornfield at dusk. On my exhale, I charge in and a few of the taller stalks brush against my face. I shield my eyes with my arms as I keep walking deeper and deeper.
By about my seventh or eight step I hear a voice.
I kid you not! I hear a freaking voice!
When I realize that some strange voice is speaking to me in the cornfield my heart skips a beat. I can’t quite make out what the voice is saying but I’m one hundred percent sure that it begins with a B.
This is incredible; I’m going to hear the voice!
The B intensifies and as I cup my ear and lean deeper into the cornfield I whisper, “What do you want to tell me?”
As I try to listen closer I feel a sharp prick inside my ear.
I swat at my ear a few times and as I do so that’s when I realize that the voice I’m hearing isn’t actually a voice at all. It’s a BEE!
It’s a big, bright yellow and black striped bumblebee! And it’s flown directly into my ear and it’s somehow gotten stuck in there!
I run back out of the cornstalks and across centerfield while slapping at my ear like a maniac. I grab the bottom of my earlobe and try to shake it loose, but the bee’s so fat that it won’t budge.
The B sound I originally heard intensifies and it turns into one long zzzzzzzzzz sound.
I take my index finger and scoop it deep inside my ear, which ultimately does the trick and sends the sumo-sized bee buzzing away. I survey the damage done to my ear and I’m thankful when I realize that I’m completely fine and that I somehow didn’t actually get stung.
As I stand alone in centerfield I can’t help but smile because even though it may have been just a bee stuck in my ear, I can say that I walked into those magical cornfields and something legitimately spoke to me. And it needed to speak to me so much so that it actually dove deep down into my ear.
Okay sure, maybe it was a stupid bee and maybe it was trying to hurt me. But still, I heard a voice out here!
At the beginning of the movie when Ray’s explaining the voice he heard in the cornfield to his wife he says, “When primal forces of nature tell you to do something, the prudent thing is not to quibble over details.”
So I’m not going to quibble over the details of the voice I heard. All I will say is that maybe I’m no Shoeless Joe Jackson and that maybe I’m not meant to hit home runs into this Iowa cornfield. But maybe, just maybe, I’ve got a little Ray Kinsella magic in me after all. And go the distance I shall.