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The Ornery American Sports Writer
Hey, Dad? You Wanna Have a Catch?
By Chris Bellamy June 18, 2004

A retrospective: My dad, baseball, Kevin Costner and me

There's nothing better than a game of catch. There's nothing more timeless. On the surface, of course, it's pretty boring: You throw a baseball to another person, who then throws it back to you, over and over again. But there's something about it, something special. Something that says fathers and sons have been doing this for generations. Something that bleeds tradition, something downright American. Is there anything more American than a guy playing catch with his dad? As George W. Bush might say, if you don't like playing catch, you probably hate freedom. Or something like that.

Whenever I get nostalgic, I don't usually think of my past birthdays, or Christmases, or Thanksgivings. I don't usually think of my old friends and neighborhoods. I remember standing out in the middle of the street, playing catch with my dad for hours on end. No games, no gimmicks, just a simple game of catch. Back and forth. Rinse, repeat. I remember being late for dinner because we weren't ready to stop throwing. I remember sprinting down the road trying to catch up to one of my dad's errant throws. I remember crawling down the manhole to retrieve a lost baseball.

To me, having a catch with your dad is like a rite of passage. It may not seem like much, but it was one of the defining memories of me and my dad, perhaps the defining memory, and I know plenty of people who can relate. There's a certain peace and contentment that comes from a game of catch, a certain connection, one that so many fathers and sons can't define but completely understand. It's kind of like saying 'I love you' without actually saying it. That's the importance it has for me, at least.

Which is why "Field of Dreams," the best baseball movie ever made, reaches so many people of so many generations even to this day, 15 years after its release.

Call me cynical, but I don't cry very often in movies. "Field of Dreams" is a rare exception. But the thing is, I can't exactly be embarrassed. When, in the film's epilogue, Ray Kinsella gets the courage to ask the ghost of his estranged father for a game of catch, there's not a single son who ever played catch with his dad, not a single father who ever played catch with his boy, who can hold back his tears when Ray finally forces the words out: "Hey . . .Dad? You wanna have a catch?"

To put "Field of Dreams" into a better context, I'll use a quote from ESPN.com columnist Bill Simmons: "I've always felt there were two types of people: Those who love 'Field of Dreams,' and those who have no soul."

To this day, there's still not a single movie I'd rather watch with my dad than "Field of Dreams," and I await the day I first show it to my son. After which, of course, I'll take him out for a game of catch. For me, no other movie defines the meaning of father-and-son quite like that one. It's a movie that, in the words of the film's fictional author, Terrence Mann, "reminds us all of what once was good, and will be again." Baseball's best days seem to be behind it, but "Field of Dreams" reminds us just how special the game can be. There's magic in that.

And now, just in time for Father's Day, they've released a new 2-Disc Anniversary Edition DVD of "Field of Dreams," which naturally means I'm out another $40 - of course I'll have to pick up a copy for myself, and then one for my dad. In this situation, I have no control. My hand has been forced.

I just realized a few weeks ago that I haven't thrown a baseball in years. I hate that. I never really noticed when my dad and I stopped playing catch, but it was way earlier than it should have been. We didn't mean to; life just got in the way. It goes back to that old cliche that we're all sick of: "You never know what you've got until it's gone."

Well, the memories remain and always will, and I know I'll play catch with Dad again. I've been watching and/or playing sports with him since I was six years old, and just because we live in different states now, that's not going to stop us. And there are plenty of memories to look back on.

On April 16, 1991, my dad took me to my first baseball game. In fact, my first live pro sporting event. This was back when we were living in California, and it was back when I was an Oakland A's fan. (I'll be honest, I was just a kid and I had jumped on the Bash Brothers bandwagon.) My dad had surprised me with the tickets, but since I'd been desperate to go to a game, I probably kind of forced his hand. Anyway, it was A's vs. Angels at the old Anaheim Stadium. Bob Welch was pitching for Oakland, Kirk McCaskill for the Angels. And no, I didn't look that up - that day remains pretty vivid.

Long story short: Then-superstar Jose Canseco blasted a three-run home run to lead my A's to a 5-3 lead. I was one of the few Oakland fans in attendance, and looking back, I probably made a darn fool of myself, considering I was still screaming about the home run five minutes after it happened. Hey, I was eight. Gimme a break.

Later on that month, I went to my second baseball game: Dodgers-Braves at Dodger Stadium. L.A. won, 8-4.

Over the years, my relationship with my dad was oft-defined and punctuated by sports. He raised me right - meaning he raised me a Dallas Cowboys fan, and he and I went to the see Cowboys play in the Georgia Dome twice. Along with the rest of my family, we've gone to Fenway Park, Camden Yards, the Toronto SkyDome, Turner Field, Busch Stadium, Coors Field and countless others. My dad and I have been watching football every week since I was a kid. We've been to baseball games, football games, basketball games and hockey games. We took a tour of Texas Stadium. We went to the Pro Football and Hockey Halls of Fame. And 15 years ago, we went to the movie theatre and saw "Field of Dreams." And we've been playing catch ever since.

For the record, playing catch with Dad was more memorable than any baseball game. Happy Father's Day.

Copyright © 2004 by Chris Bellamy

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