--from the 1989 film “Field of Dreams”
Hard to believe but yes, I do still believe. In baseball. In America too.
As I write this it is Opening Day 2017 for the Major League baseball season, my fiftieth as a fan. I first fell in love with the Boston Red Sox as a boy growing up just south of Boston. Came to my fandom the year of “The Impossible Dream”, 1967, when a rookie named Yaz rescued the BoSox from decades of futility, brought them just one inning away from a world championship. They lost that game but won back the hearts of millions of fans.
And America? I first fell in love with the United States because of a name, my name, “John F.” as in “John Fitzgerald” as in Kennedy. I entered the world on Election Day 1960, so my folks, as proud Americans, gave me that moniker in part as a mark of their love for this nation. I idolized JFK growing up, especially his idealism: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”
Remember such idealism? It’s a certain way of looking at life and living life: to believe in and cherish and try to live out noble principles, purposes, values, and ideals.
In a sport like baseball, idealism blossoms when fans trust that the game is played fair and square, and always by the rules. That the players give their best efforts, run out every hit, stretch to catch every hit ball, and then, when the competition is over, extend a hand of peace to the opponent. “Good game.” Played well, such a game embodies so much that is good in our human experience: courage and sacrifice, grit and joy.
Not so different from the idealism we hope for as citizens. In a country idealism blossoms when the citizenry trusts that institutions of government are created and exist by and for all the people. That when citizens are given the privilege of election by their neighbors to higher office, these leaders promise to serve with humility; fidelity to the rule of law; and commitment to defend the rights of every last person who claims America as home. Our shared rule book is the Constitution and the poetry of such idealism is found in the Declaration of Independence: “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights…”
Remember such idealism?
It existed and thrived before and I actually trust and deeply believe that it will and must exist and thrive again. How about you dear citizen and fan? Are you still idealistic? As a fan of the game, as an American? Do you still believe?
I hope so.
We live in strange, unprecedented, and very, very unsettled times, when idealism is regularly mocked and made fun of or just rejected as old school, old fashioned, all washed up, a quaint relic of the past. Times when patriotism is hijacked by self serving politicians who cowardly hide behind American flag lapel pins, having convinced themselves that they alone can make America good again. When the media, like a voracious monster, feeds the public raw fear and cynicism, 24/7. And yes when sports have become such big business that many of us fans have forgotten that finally, it is only a game, after all. A game. Played by overgrown children with bats and balls and leather gloves on a field of dreams.
So this year on Opening Day, I really need Opening Day, perhaps now more than ever before. I need to believe in the goodness of our national pastime and in the goodness of our nation. I need a good game of catch in the backyard on a warm summer night again and to listen to the Sox on the radio. I need to believe in America, that in spite of all our flaws, we still aspire to embody the best in humanity. Decency. Justice. Mercy. Service. Sacrifice. Freedom.
So go ahead: call me idealistic. I’m guilty as charged. I still believe. Do you?
Now let’s play ball!