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Roots and Wings, and a Field of Dreams Moment

“Good parents give their children roots and wings.” -Jonas Salk

As Father’s Day approaches I received one of the best gifts a father could hope for: quality time with my wife and all three of our children. These moments are becoming increasingly harder to coordinate, so as a parent, you just appreciate them that much more. This time together had special meaning as our youngest son was about to depart for Minneapolis to start his career.

I am a true believer that we must give our children the roots to know where they come from, the wings to live their own lives and the wisdom to understand these don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Family matters.

Our daughter, Brianna, had come south to celebrate her “birthday week.” We half expected our oldest son, Jonathon, to show up as he’s known to pull off such surprises. Well, right on cue, as we sat down for a Sunday brunch at Nectar in Old Town Bluffton, he walked in. My wife’s joyful scream was so loud that she scared half the patrons! Having all three kids with us for the Memorial Day weekend was a blessing. 

The Adventures of Carolina Joe and Nittany Lion Ryan

Our family visit was terrific but short-lived as Ryan and I were about to begin what turned out to be a magical father and son trip from Bluffton, South Carolina, to Minneapolis from May 30 to June 3. Ryan graduated a semester early from Penn State in December and lived with us while working part-time at Belfair Golf Club. Now it was time to put his Penn State supply chain degree to use at Medtronic (medical technology company) headquarters in Minneapolis. 

Ryan shares my passion for golf so as our departure date approached, we squeezed in 11 rounds of golf in 14 days. We played five courses on Hilton Head Island, three in Pinehurst, North Carolina and two back in Bluffton. Each round was with a mix of different Penn State friends, including Bill Charles, Colonel Bloom, Bob Jones, my old PSU hockey teammates Clark Dexter and Randy Fardelmann and Ryan’s siblings. 

While dining at the Pine Crest Inn in Pinehurst, we briefly hung out with former Cincinnati Bengals running back Ickey Woods. You may remember Woods’ famous end zone dance, the “Ickey Shuffle,” that appeared in a hilarious Geico commercial.

Penn Staters Joe Battista, Ryan Battista, Clark Dexter and Randy Fardelmann at the Payne Stewart Statue at Pinehurst Golf Clubhouse in North Carolina. Photo provided

That all turned out to be just the warm-up for our father and son adventure to move Ryan into his new apartment in Minneapolis. After an emotional farewell, Ryan and I began our two-day journey. We passed through Savannah, Macon, Atlanta and Chattanooga, before stopping in to see an old State College friend and former Penn State hockey coach Mo Stroemel in Nashville.

Mo and his wife Joan are the proprietors of Twelve Keys Saloon, “A Beer Joint with a Music Problem.” It was great to see one of the best guys you’ll ever meet. He was an unsung hero of the growth of interest in hockey at Penn State and a longtime member of the legendary Phyrst Phamily band. We drove over to Lower Broadway to see all the famous bars and music venues and the Bridgestone Arena, home of the Nashville Predators, and Nissan Stadium, home of the Tennessee Titans.

As we neared St. Louis, we could see the famous Gateway Arch in the distance. When we crossed the Mississippi River, the bright lights of legendary Busch Stadium, home of the St. Louis Cardinals, lit up the downtown skyline. The Cardinals had just defeated the Kansas City Royals and their fans were everywhere. We made our way to the Gateway Arch Park to get an up-close view and I was taken back by the sheer size and scope of the 630-foot tall, 630-foot-wide arch. It is still an engineering marvel. 

Wednesday took us to Hannibal, Missouri to see the Mark Twain home and the Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn statue. I even picked up some huckleberry jam for my wife. A bonus for this Civil War history buff was driving through the towns of Croton and Keokuk, Iowa. Turns out that the northernmost battle of the Civil War was fought there and had we not gone this way, I would have never known this interesting piece of history.

Next we stopped at the small village of Swedesburg, home of the Swedish American Museum and Historical Society. My wife, Heidi who is part Swedish, would have loved it. We had lunch in Iowa City and made our way to the University of Iowa’s campus, Kinnick Stadium and athletic complex. We could see the Children’s Hospital where the Iowa fans turn at the end of the first quarter to do The Hawkeye Wave in unison to the pediatric patients and their families watching the game. 

“Hey Dad…Wanna have a catch?”

Our next destination was the one I was anticipating the most: a visit to The Field of Dreams Movie Site in Dyersville, Iowa. For those of you not familiar with the classic movie, it is a tear jerker starring Kevin Costner, James Earl Jones and the late Ray Liotta in the role of “Shoeless Joe Jackson.”  It is one of my favorite all-time movies with a musical score that evokes great memories and chills. 

Film Critic Jeff Shannon perfectly described the movie: 

“A meditation on family, memory, and faith, the film balances humor and magic to strike just the right chord of thoughtful emotion, affecting audiences so deeply that the baseball field created for the production has now become a mecca of sorts for dreamers around the world.”

For me it’s a story of redemption, second chances, memories of my youth, faith and family. It’s also an inspirational movie about the relationship between fathers and sons and all the things said and unsaid and what we’d do differently if we could have a “do-over.”  

Memorable quotes from “Field of Dreams” entering the gift shop at the movie site.

The movie starts with the tragic story of MLB great “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, a South Carolina native, who was, arguably, wrongly banned from baseball for his alleged role in the Chicago “Black Sox” 1919 World Series game fixing scandal. This despite leading all hitters during the series and never committing a single error in the field. Many historians now believe the mostly illiterate Jackson was coerced into signing a confession. Shoeless Joe’s “ghost” is a prominent character in the sports fantasy film.

Every time I watch the movie, childhood baseball memories flood my mind. When the emotional scene with Costner’s character Ray Kinsella having a catch with his father, John, comes on, I just lose it. If you’ve seen the film, you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s when Ray’s cracking voice says, “Hey Dad…Wanna have a catch?”  If you’ve never seen it, watch the scene on YouTube.

One year my parents and brother were visiting us in State College and upon returning from a restaurant, my father, brother and I sat down on the couch. I turned on the TV and “Field of Dreams” happened to be on right at the scene. There we sat, three adult men crying. My wife couldn’t believe it. She didn’t understand what was happening. It was the bond between fathers and sons and baseball memories. 

Baseball was such a huge part of my childhood. Our hometown Pirates won several World Series with the likes of Roberto Clemente, Bill Mazeroski and Willie “Pops” Stargell. My father, a former minor league baseball player himself, coached my brother and I and many of our closest friends in baseball and softball for years. Hence the movie’s spiritual impact on me. So, I knew I had to prepare myself emotionally for the moment I would see the actual field for the first time. 

As we entered the town of Dyersville, Ryan surprised me by putting on the “Field of Dreams” soundtrack and I immediately felt a lump in my throat. All the iconic lines from the movie came pouring from my mouth. 

“If you build it, he will come.” “Go the distance.” “Ease his pain.”

As soon as we saw the field and the Kinsella house, I started crying as I was overwhelmed with so many emotions past, present and future. Walking onto the field with my son was magical. Ryan and I picked up the gloves and a ball made available at the field. We asked another father visiting with his sons if they would video us “having a catch.” I was shaking from my emotions at that moment and afraid I’d miss his throw.

The film’s iconic final scene between father and son goes like this:

Dad: “Is this heaven?” 

Son: “It’s Iowa.”

Dad: “I could have sworn it was heaven.”

Son: “Is there a heaven?”

Dad: “Oh, yeah. It’s the place where dreams come true.”

Son: “Hey Dad…Wanna have a catch?”

Dad: “I’d Like that.”

It was pure heaven for me, if only for a few moments. For this father and old baseball player turned senior softball player, it was an early Father’s Day present. For someone who loves the mythical nature of the movie, I’m not sure my son fully understands what an emotional moment it was for me to share with him. The only thing that could have been better is if my own father and brother could have joined us. Maybe Ryan will understand my feelings more someday when he’s having a catch with his own son or daughter. 

The Field of Dreams movie site 

When I watch the movie in the future I won’t just think of my father and brother and my old baseball and softball teammates. I will think of that moment I got to have a catch with my own son, right there on the very “Field of Dreams” site. A bucket list dream had come true. 

Eventually, I had to grudgingly leave the field and get Ryan to Minneapolis. Reality set in with taking care of the details of moving him into his apartment, closing one chapter and beginning another.

The trip created memories of a lifetime, certainly for me, and hopefully for Ryan as well. It was a dream come true for this son of a baseball father. It’s also the next step in my own son’s “roots and wings” journey. I hope and pray that it will in some way be where Ryan’s own dreams begin to come true. 

To my dad, my brother, and all the other dads out there, Happy Father’s Day.