“Success is getting what you want, but happiness is wanting what you get.” Eddie Scissions in Shoeless Jo
I don’t read much non-fiction. However I do appreciate writers that can tell a story and make it feel real and bring the wood pulp that becomes the pages of a book to life. I appreciate the writers who are able to blend fantasy and reality, history, religion, faith and mystery and in doing so bring me into the world that they create. It is quite amazing when I think about it.
Before Iraq the fiction I read was historical fiction or the genre of “alternative history.” I gravitated toward military fiction like Anton Meyrer’s Once an Eagle or W.E.B. Griffin’s The Brotherhood of War series and Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels. All dealt with a military culture that was part of me and that I could relate to because of that shared culture.
But took going to Iraq for me to start reading the occasional work of fiction that was not related to the military. When I was in Iraq I started reading Father Andrew Greeley’s Bishop Blackie Ryan mysteries. I was beginning a crisis in faith and couldn’t sleep at night I found that somehow the stories touched me with the grace of God. But I also read a little book called The Perfect Game by Michael Shaara which was a novel about a baseball player, a pitcher named Billy Chapel in the final game of his career. The book later became the basis of the movie For the Love of the Game. It also resonated in me because it dealt with a man looking back at his life, his successes and failures and how they all flowed through his mind in that final game.
I finished reading W. P. Kinsella’s masterpiece Shoeless Joe last night. It is not the first time that I have read it The book is the novel that the film Field of Dreams is adapted from. Kinsella is a wonderful writer who manages to write in such a way that if you pause for a moment and close your eyes that you can enter into the vividness of the story. Sights, sounds, scents and even touch are imaginable in what he writes.
I saw the movie before I ever read the book. I drove Judy a couple of hundred miles out of our way back in 2004 to visit the actual Field of Dreams in Dyersville Iowa. But the book touches me in a very deep way. I read it the first time during the summer of 2008 when I returned from Iraq. I remember hunting through the shelves of the local bookstore until I found a copy. Every page that I read came to life and there were times that I had to stop reading because tears filled my eyes.
This time I read it on my I-Phone courtesy of the Amazon Kindle App. I have been doing a lot of my reading on my Kindle or I-Phone lately and despite the lack of pages to turn and spill coke or beer on as I read, the ability to have a lot of books at my fingertips instead of weighing down my trusty Blackhawk “Three Day Pack” that has been with me since I went to Iraq with more books that I should reasonably carry. People have always been amazed with the number of books that I have lugged around ever since I was a kid going to the public library or the school library. Believe me the trade off is worth it, but I digress….
Once again Kinsella transported me to the world of Ray Kinsella, J.D. Salinger, Moonlight Graham and Shoeless Joe Jackson and the “Unlucky Eight” of the Black Sox scandal that rocked baseball in 1919. I feel like I know them. But then in a way I do. I know so many ballplayers and baseball has been such a big part of my life that there is something that transcends the pages. Like the characters in the book whose lives are tied to certain teams, in particular the 1919 White Sox and 1908 Cubs I have that sense of connection with the 1970 California Angels and players like the late Jim Spencer and Third Base Coach Rocky Bridges. Spencer was a Gold Glove First Baseman and I met him at an autograph signing session at a local Von’s supermarket in Long Beach. that year. I wrote an essay for a contest on why he was my favorite Angel. I was one of the runners up and ended up as a runner up and got tickets to a game, my name in the newspaper and announced by Dick Enberg. I met Coach Bridges that same year and have a picture of him with my brother Jeff and me. That year at Anaheim Stadium and those fleeting encounters with the ball players and coaching staff of the 1970-71 Angels made me a believer in the game of baseball.
So whenever I read the book Shoeless Joe or see the movie Field of Dreams I end up crying. I do that a lot more of that than I used to and as always by the last few pages of the book I was wiping away my tears in order to read.
I think this is because it is a story that really is about the healing power of that lush green field, that perfect diamond that the game of baseball is played. It is a story of reconciliation of fathers and sons, brothers and even strangers. It really is a story of life touched by grace, of infinite possibilities. As Ray Kinsella, the teller of the story in the novel said:
“Baseball is the most perfect of games, solid, true, pure and precious as diamonds. If only life were so simple. Within the baselines anything can happen. Tides can reverse; oceans can open. That’s why they say, “the game is never over until the last man is out.” Colors can change, lives can alter, anything is possible in this gentle, flawless, loving game.”
It is a healing balm to my soul.