Field of Dreams
Unlike Kevin Costner’s baseball “Field of Dreams,” mine pertained to football.
And while apparitions visited his on occasion, I pretty much had to talk to myself while playing on my field.
We had no close neighbors, my elementary school friends lived in other areas of the district, and my brother was too young to play. So, after school in the fall, I would go outside and into my back yard and role-play just like the actor. But my script was nowhere near as complex. I played the role of a high school football player, and with the Adams-Summerhill band practicing and supplying the music about a quarter of a mile away, I had no trouble finding the incentive to come up with some very good scenarios and game-like situations.
The sounds of the band seemed to flow right out of the valley where the town of Sidman was located. I could hear every note with remarkable clarity. Even the band director’s commands amplified through the bullhorn made their way up the hill toward my dream field.
The field was triangular in shape and it was bordered on two sides by fairly steep hills. My home comprised the third side. Space to play was sparse and any errant footballs striking windows or the porch would have placed my field in the condemned class. My dad, the commissioner of football, would see to that. I had to be very careful. Playing by one’s self with little room may have caused problems for some youngsters, but not for me. Actually…
I became the world’s best punter! (If the punt was meant to go straight up, that is.) Punting for distance, then running after it was boring. And the hills prevented that anyway. So, out of necessity, I learned to kick that pigskin directly off my foot and straight up over my head. I also became quite good at catching the ball as it fell. I could call out a “fair catch” better than anyone my age, get under the ball, and have it fall softly into my waiting hands.
The return into my arms was closely followed by a quick run. I could cut, zigzag, or stop on a dime. At times I decided to run the return up the hill to imitate a long touchdown run, complete with a knee-down ceremony in the end zone. Dancing in the end zone was a practice that came along later on televised games. There was no place for that nonsense on my field.
With the band playing “On Wisconsin” or the “Notre Dame Victory March” in the background, I had little trouble getting caught up in my own little game, even if it was totally make-believe. My voice supplied the play-by-play comments from the booth and I visualized the cheerleaders, majorettes and fans all in unison, calling out my name.
My passing skills were developed in the same way. I couldn’t see heaving the ball a long distance then having to chase it down. So I took my fabricated snap from my pretend center, dropped back, and tossed the ball into one of the two large maple trees in the middle of the back yard. Those maples were my wide receivers.
If a throw hit the branch that I was aiming for, it was a completed pass. A pass that hit a different branch was termed “broken up” by a defender. I had no interceptions – the coach, cheerleaders and fans did not tolerate that.
As the ball fell back to the ground, its course changed often due to the tree branches and large trunk in its path. Getting into position under a falling ball was no easy endeavor. Making a catch after numerous deflections was even more difficult. But when I did, the band and the imaginary fans applauded enthusiastically to show their approval.
Not having a large, flat area to play and not living close to kids my own age always troubled me at the time. Growing up with no playmates close by left me feeling short-changed. But looking back at those days, I now consider myself fortunate.
I never argued or got into a fight in my imaginary field of dreams. And my athletic skills were sharpened there, more so than at any other location or organized practice. Totally at ease, turnovers (mistakes) were few and far between. I may have looked and sounded a little odd while talking to myself and playing the role of a future football player, but without close neighbors, I had little to worry about.
I can vividly recall my football field attire back then. My blue jeans and high top Converse tennis shoes were topped off with a short-sleeved sweatshirt. I had no helmet, no toy shoulder pads or spikes. My football was not made of leather and it was not new. But, I didn’t care. The feeling I got while playing on that field was as good or better than when I ran out for real in a bona fide game years later in high school.
The smell of the fall air, the crisp temperatures and the sound of that band will cling to me forever. And being of normal male, boyish character, the visualizations of the majorettes and cheerleaders kicking their legs high, and cheering me on, provided enough incentive for me to play for hours.
But what I remember most about my field of dreams isn’t a memory at all. It was an authentic physical phenomenon – an actual involuntary response. It was as much reality as I was. When the band played the National Anthem, a chill traveled up my backbone and down again like Johnstown’s Inclined Plane. The nomadic chill was accompanied by visible goose bumps that appeared no matter how hot and sweaty my skin was. And it felt so good!
As a youngster I was just beginning to learn the importance of patriotism, and my parents taught me well to show respect whenever the anthem was played. A glance toward my forearms revealed tiny hairs standing on end. And a giant goose bump surrounded each hair, large enough to consume about a dozen follicles at a time.
There was no better learning experience than that which originated from my field of dreams - honed athletic skills, a make-believe camaraderie, and a genuine feeling of patriotism combined. Today, when I hear the opening strains of the Star-Spangled Banner, I still get that chill. It travels up my spine and back down again just as it did forty-five years ago. With that tingling sensation I find myself returning to my private field and to that special sentiment that only one’s back yard can provide. You see, before a player got the chance to play in a genuine football game, in front of authentic fans, with real competition, he first had the opportunity to play on his own imaginary field. Before a kid experienced the sights and sounds of a real stadium, he played in a make-believe arena. And before the National Anthem sent adult chills and goose bumps up and down one’s skin, the sound brought shivers to a youngster, on his personal field of dreams.