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Kadner: The vision behind a ‘Field of Dreams’

Mike Denise Stillman an Oak Lawn couple are leading an effort develop All-Star Ballpark Heaven youth baseball softball tournament complex

Mike and Denise Stillman, an Oak Lawn couple, are leading an effort to develop All-Star Ballpark Heaven, a youth baseball and softball tournament complex on the site of the Iowa farm featured in the movie "Field of Dreams." l Stacie Scott~Sun-Times

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Updated: February 5, 2013 6:28AM



There’s nothing more important than a game of catch with Dad.

That’s really the message of “Field of Dreams,” a 1989 movie starring Kevin Costner, based on a book titled “Shoeless Joe” by author W. P. Kinsella.

An Oak Lawn couple, Mike and Denise Stillman, put together an investment group that has purchased the 193-acre farm and field in Iowa that was featured in the movie for a reported $3.4 million. They plan to develop it into a large baseball complex.

A work of fiction about a man’s vision and the healing qualities of baseball have become something of a reality as about 65,000 visitors flock to the farm each year.

The Stillmans’ group, Go The Distance Baseball LLC, recruited former baseball great Wade Boggs as an investor and hopes to open 12 fields and 60 team clubhouses for lodging in 2014.

It’s ironic that many local residents are apparently upset by the streams of tourists driving through their peaceful community to get to the field.

“Build it and they will come,” a disembodied voice told the main character in the film.

And sure enough they did.

The fact that a Southland couple have become integral to preservation of the property seems like a work of fiction itself.

The Stillmans apparently went to the Iowa farm on one of their first dates. Mike has said it was after playing catch with his son in the outfield of the Field of Dreams that he learned that the property was for sale.

So I’m guessing Stillman gets it.

In the past, he has talked a lot about building a world-class complex for baseball tournaments. Stillman has said that too often children have to travel to the East Coast to play at quality facilities.

I think too often these days athletic achievement is emphasized over the stuff that’s really important.

Traveling teams, regional all-star teams that journey hundreds of miles to play baseball, have replaced to a great extent the old Little League teams that often featured children from the same neighborhood coached by one of their fathers.

Those Little League teams replaced the old sandlot games kids used to play, where there were no umpires, no coaches, no adult supervision. It was just children having fun.

And that brings me back to the movie and its message, the one that made me cry.

The main character, a farmer played by Costner, got into an argument with his father as a young man, and before they could reconcile, the father died. What the farmer remembered with great regret was that his dad had asked him to play catch, and he had refused.

“If you build it he will come,” said a voice in the night.

And so the farmer created a baseball field out of a cornfield, and Joe Jackson, the legendary star of the Chicago Black Sox, appeared.

But Shoeless Joe wasn’t the “he” the voice was referring to.

The “he” who appeared on the field near the end of the movie turned out to be the main character’s father. And they play a game of catch.

The scene made me cry for a number of reasons.

Like the character in the movie, there were many times that Dad and I seemed unable to carry on a conversation without arguing. Mostly, in my teenage years, we argued about the Vietnam War.

But no matter how frayed our relationship became, we could always talk about baseball.

And no matter how hard Dad worked, no matter how tired he was when I was young, he always seemed to have time for a game of catch.

Fortunately, my father lived to a ripe old age, and I realized at some point how fortunate I was to have him in my life.

I remember describing the movie to Dad after I had seen it and getting so choked up talking about the game of catch that I couldn’t finish the sentence.

I think he understood. I know my mother did because tears were running down her face.

When a work of fiction touches on a universal truth it has a power that is unimaginable.

I can understand how some people would see the movie “Field of Dreams” and wonder what all the fuss is about.

It’s not about baseball. Not for me, anyway.

It’s about fathers and sons spending time together. And it’s about the desire of anyone who has lost his dad to have an opportunity for one more game of catch.

As crazy as it seemed for Costner’s character to plow part of his cornfield under to create a baseball diamond, it was justified by that moment.

Organized youth baseball programs are fine and can be a useful tool to teach children about rules, competition and good sportsmanship.

But too often adults stress achievement over life lessons that are far more important.

It’s great if kids have a quality field to play on and a fancy tournament to play in, but it’s not necessary. The adults usually want that stuff more than their children do.

I hope somewhere on their Field of Dreams the Stillmans remember to remind people what’s really important about the place they’ve bought.

It symbolizes how a game of catch between a father and son can so grab the hearts of people that an author’s vision in a book can turn into a movie and become reality.

As a character in the movie says, “... People will come, Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom.”

Yes, it’s just another baseball movie. But unless you’re an idiot, you understand it’s really about that game of catch.

And the people did come.



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