April 2, 2017


"Field of Dreams": Baseball, the Prodigal, and Paradise (Stephen Turley, 4/01/17, Imaginative Conservative)

As I reflect on this film, I am struck by how beautifully it portrays in a contemporary idiom the Parable of the Prodigal Son, but even more so, the grand cosmic drama to which that Parable points: that of Paradise lost and Paradise regained. The baseball park is a paragon of geometrical perfection, carpeted with grass glowing as parrot green, cool as mint, soft as a cashmere blanket, framed by the breezy movement of cornstalks, backgrounded by the eternity of the stretched-out canopy of a fathomless blue sky; a garden of aesthetic delights that awaken the senses and cultivate the imagination. Shoeless Joe in fact says as much; he tells Ray when they first meet that after he was banned from baseball, he would wake up at night with the smell of the ballpark in his nose and the cool of the grass on his feet. "Oh man, I did love this game," he says longingly; "the game, the sounds, the smells."

But for Ray and Shoeless Joe, the baseball field involved an additional dimension: it was a place where they both knew life before innocence was lost. For Ray in particular, the baseball field was a place where he could commune with his father, who appeared larger than life through childlike eyes, but whose stature faded as those eyes began to change. The baseball field was perceived progressively as a prison, and freedom was found away from home.

And yet, while Ray may have fallen away from his childhood paradise, the ballpark never seems to leave him. Indeed, we see this 'hound of heaven' motif with all the characters throughout the film, uniting them in a symphony of redemption that is able to transcend time. One commentator writes: "Baseball is rhythm without time, the lack of clock rendering the events immortal instead of static. There's no running out the clock... A baseball game lasts exactly as long as it needs to, like a life time.... Baseball is the way our hearts wish time worked."

Terence Mann draws from this "time outside of time" when he informs Ray that he will not have to sell his farm or the baseball field that he built, because it will be a field of dreams for more people than he could ever imagine. In an eloquent soliloquy, Terence proclaims:

People will come, Ray.... And they'll walk off to the bleachers and sit in their short sleeves on a perfect afternoon. And find they have reserved seats somewhere along the baselines where they sat when they were children... And they'll watch the game, and it'll be as they'd dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick, they'll have to brush them away from their faces... This field, this game... reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again. [...]

It's the beginning of springtime as I write; that time of year my two young boys take to the diamond-shaped field of the Little League gateway into the dawn of summer. I often sit on decaying wooden slabs across rickety stands, watching these once toddlers turn into young men. Sitting there, gazing over that field illuminated by the late afternoon sun, my boys are transfigured into what, in many respects, we were always meant to be: delighted dwellers in a timeless garden, that place where our humanity flourishes. And it is there, when my sons look for and catch my fatherly eye surveying their immersion in this field of dreams, that I am truly reminded of all that once was good, and that could be again.

We smile at one another. Paradise regained.

Posted by at April 2, 2017 7:20 AM