There really is magic in an Iowa cornfield.
We are driving on a fine late June day on secondary roads in rural eastern Iowa over rolling hills and passing the monotonous beauty of endless dark green corn. Just a few small discretely placed signs point the way.
Traveling by mini motorhome on a meandering vacation we noted the "Field of Dreams" movie site on a map and on a whim decided to find it.
Finally, there it is, we turn and drive down the winding dirt road and park in a small unpaved area to the side. And then the magic begins.
The field is simple, with small wooden bleachers, a lightly framed backstop, basic lighting on straight wooden poles, a well-trimmed infield, and corn growing on the outfield's edge. The tidy farmhouse, where the real-life owner still lives, is up a gentle hill on the first base side.
It is perfect. There is no admission, no staff, no public address system, no food stands, no neon. People come and quietly walk about, playing catch with other strangers. They are of all sorts, some who carry themselves like athletes, others who do not. Some men who throw like girls and some women who throw like boys. Young and not so young, in shape and overweight.
Small children run the bases. Someone begins to throw batting practice, others take places in the field. The crack of the bat, or more often the thud, is the loudest sound. Someone brings an aluminum bat, the ping of the bat an out of place noise and soon abandoned. No trash talking, no raised voices, no posturing.
Some people leave, others arrive and replace them. Everybody gets a turn at bat. We sit on the bleachers, just watching, in no hurry to leave. The movie site aspect of this wonderful place has been forgotten by us and, it seems, by everyone else.
The magic that resides here has nothing to do with the reappearance of late baseball players or departed family members. It has everything to do with baseball, the baseball of childhood, and of childhood itself.
Sitting there, enjoying the simplicity of it all, I am transported to the time in my own childhood half a century earlier when we played baseball for the plain fun of it. There were no uniforms, no concession stands, no cheering parents or encouraging coaches. There were no umpires; close plays were decided by a bit of shouting, negotiations, or do-overs. The number of players per side varied on who was able to play that day and never reached a full nine.
We played in an open lot, landlocked so that we had to pass through neighbors' yards to reach it. A rough diamond had been formed by earlier unknown players. The diamond and small outfield was surrounded by brush and tall grass and trees where too many balls were lost. It was simply called "The Field."
Three or four or perhaps five to a side we played with baseballs often covered with tape, their horsehide covers long worn off, one or two bats, sometimes shared gloves. We played all spring and summer and into the autumn. One year, after a particularly effective January thaw in our New England town had melted enough snow to uncover the infield, I organized a game which we played wearing heavy winter coats, the game ending when someone hit a ball into a snowbank in the outfield, the ball lost in the white on white of ball and snow.
Decades later a childhood friend and I returned to our hometown and tried to find The Field. It was gone, the brush and trees having reclaimed the open area, and identified only by a stand of tall pines which had once served as our outfield wall.
Sitting on those bleachers in Iowa, looking at the neatly maintained field and recalling those childhood games I suddenly wonder; who maintained The Field those years ago and kept it from being overgrown? No one seemed to own it and an adult was never seen.
I ponder the question as I sit in the delight of the Iowa cornfield. I decide it was somebody who played on The Field himself years earlier and who on a warm summer day might sit at an open window and listen to the sounds of children playing baseball just for the simple joy of the game.
The Iowa field and The Field, each kept up so that anyone could play baseball, unadorned baseball. A visit to the one has returned me to the other.
Originally appeared in the Nassau Review.