Is this heaven?
As you read this, I urge you to listen to the music from the baseball movie Field of Dreams. Here is a link to find it on YouTube:
If you have it up and running, read on. Here we go…
There is nothing like feeling depressed and alone when you look around and see all the blessings God has showered upon you. That was my status in late May at the end of a stressful academic year at Texas A&M University and looking ahead to a whole lot of tedious work. I knew I should be thankful and happy but I wasn’t. To be fair, I have a habit of pushing myself really hard for an extended period of time and then needing a moment to collapse. That was part of it. But after a few days of sleeping and watching movies, I was bored. Other than reading tons of books and articles this summer to prepare for my comprehensive exams to move one step closer to completing my Ph.D., I was simply sitting around waiting for something to happen. In my life, I have absolutely found purpose in all the various events and personal connections that keep me pretty busy. But somehow I found myself in between everything. It seemed to be an extended moment of quiet and unrest. I wanted to make a greater contribution to the world around me but wasn’t quite sure where to begin.
Then, while wallowing in my own despair, I received a text message from a new friend of mine, a woman I had just met a few weeks prior. It was Miss Bobby Jean Alford, member of the city council, and paraprofessional at the school who lived on the other side of the tracks. I had met her recently when I discovered an old abandoned baseball field on the other side of town. She was one of the key people who inspired the construction of the baseball field ten years ago in an attempt to provide a summer activity for the community. But for the most part, no one really ever went out there to play.
A historical marker at the field signifies the birthplace of Andrew “Rube” Foster as the founder of the Negro Baseball Leagues in 1920, but since then it seems that no one in our town had much interest in playing ball. It may be as simple as understanding that no one had ever shown our kids how. But Miss Bobby had a passion for it and so did I. She was inspired to honor Rube Foster by providing a valuable pastime for the young men, like he did. I played baseball in college and had missed it ever since. We were looking for a way to get things started but nothing had materialized quite yet as each of us were extremely busy coming to the end of another semester.
But now it was summer. School was out. I was bored, depressed, and wanting purpose to get me up and running. Finally, I got the text. All it said was…
High school students asking to start playing baseball.
My heart immediately fluttered in my chest. It was as if it had been lying dormant all winter and this new information became the spark that brought me back to life. We picked a day to meet on the field. Miss Bobby said she would bring the kids and a few old gloves. I would bring some bats and balls. Together we didn’t have much, but we came with all we had.
On Wednesday last week, Miss Bobby and I showed up, along with my wife who is always my supporter and my friend Rebekah who agreed to document the event with her video camera so we could tell the story of the field and the kids who came to play. Four young men showed up. Their names were Antonio, DJ, KD, and Cohan. It wasn’t a lot but they were excited to learn about the game.
And so we played. On the field that was once abandoned, there was life again. Boys gripped the laces on white balls. Young men grasped wooden bats to send the balls soaring. We took infield practice and then outfield practice. We worked on batting and we tweaked our catching. The field was saturated with the sounds of life, laughter, and balls popping off wooden bats. A small crowd from the neighborhood even gathered to investigate the new activity on a field that had been unused for so long.
Four boys. Four adults. One evening of summer bliss. We played until the sun began to set.
When I got home that evening, just as the sun was going down, my wife and I took the dogs outside to play in our yard. Enjoying the moment and looking back over the gathering of baseball that took place that afternoon, a vision hit me.
I thought about playing with the high school boys, teaching them how to hit and catch, and seeing the pure joy on their faces when they heard the crack of the wooden bat hitting the ball as they connected with a solid hit for the very first time. I thought of Miss Bobby cheering us on excitedly and gathering every foul ball we hit. Now in my own yard, I looked over at my home with a big green yard as my dogs frolicked after the balls I threw and my wife sat watching with a huge satisfied smile on her face while the sun went down in an incredible showcase of color on a perfect summer day. I thought about all the adventure, community support, and friends I had right here in Calvert, Texas.
I thought of the movie Field of Dreams. In the film, the character Shoeless Joe Jackson, who was inspired by the real-life baseball player, had been unable to play baseball for many years but was presented with the magical gift of playing once again. Soaking in the opportunity, Shoeless Joe asks the character Ray who built the field for him, “Is this heaven?” Ray pauses before responding to look around at the beautiful baseball field, his home, and his wife standing right beside him. Before he even offers his response, as members of the audience, we know that it is heaven. It’s heaven on earth.
That vision from the movie brought me back to the blessings in my own life. I took a moment to look around. I reminisced about our evening of baseball with the young men at the start of a new adventure as a purpose-filled summer opened up before us. I considered the old field that used to be abandoned but now hosted laughter as balls were tossed and feet were moving swiftly through the grass. I heard wooden bats hit balls and the banter of boys as they learned to play for the very first time with smiles as big as their dreams. I saw members of the community show up to the baseball field to watch it come to life. It was a neighborhood of wonder and delight.
That was Wednesday evening with four boys. On Friday evening, ten young men came to play. Their names are Antonio, DJ, KD, Cohan, J’Carius, Gio, Tavares, Dai, Dee, and Billy. How many will come this week?
Is this heaven?
Baseball helped us see it.