Al Batt: The lasting legend of a larruping good lick in Ledyard

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt

I played in a baseball game at the Field of Dreams near Dyersville, Iowa.

Al Batt

The movie “Field of Dreams” tells the story of an Iowa farmer who plowed up his corn crop to build a baseball field, and then the ghosts of famous dead players come and play baseball on it. Why did he do that? Kevin Costner’s character, Ray Kinsella, built the ballfield after hearing a voice in his cornfield say, “If you build it, he will come.” Instead of seeking therapy from someone who specialized in talking cornfields, Kinsella built a baseball field.

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On the day I played, no ghost players dressed in vintage uniforms emerged from the cornfield. A tiny dog without a baseball glove or bat walked along the edge of the field.

We all have a Field of Dreams—an inner voice telling us to do something. It might tell us to learn Spanish, make lefse, clean the vulture’s cage or suggest other more reasonable suggestions than building a baseball field for ghosts.

I was a teenager who thought Daffy Duck was the world’s greatest actor when I was asked to play for the local nine, a fast-pitch softball team held in high repute. I jumped at the chance and was given a recycled purple uniform that had experienced a washing incident while in the hands of its previous owner and turned a muted pink in color. It might have suffered from a low thread count, too, but I didn’t care.

I donned the uniform and strutted around in front of a mirror, while telling myself that this was what a real man looked like. Summer became a time that when I wasn’t trying to teach fireflies the Morse code, I played softball.

I played most of the positions while replacing any player who couldn’t make a game, was late for a contest or had a hitch in his gitalong. It was fun, although the games caused me to rush through my farm chores and leap over electric fences. I wasn’t old enough to drive. I needed to be ready when my ride arrived.

During my father‘s last years, I’d take him for drives without a destination. We’d mosey. I was driving Mr. George on a Sunday drive on any day of the week.

I manned the steering wheel as Dad talked about when things were a dime a dozen, but his eyes farmed every field we drove past.

I’ve done something similar while driving past ballfields. Memories come galloping back like a lame pony, with recollections battered by time. I’m not losing my marbles, but the ones I have are chipped. Questions accompanied each mental image of a former teammate. The fabulous photographer Ansel Adams said, “There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.”

I have fond recollections of hitting a home run in Ledyard, Iowa, to win a 1-0 game against a tough Ledyard team with a lineup made from one large family. I’d swung hard in case I’d hit the ball and it worked out.

I wasn’t far from Ledyard for a funeral when I had the bright idea of visiting the ballpark where I’d cracked out a home run and shouted a hip-hooray.
Ledyard has a population of 121. I favor small towns. There was a sign advertising a tractor ride. I felt at home.

I drove all around town. That didn’t use up much time, but I couldn’t find the scene of my triumph. How could a ballfield hide? I did what I had to do. It was something that’s not always easy for a man to do. I stopped and asked a friendly local where the softball field was. She thought there used to be one and indicated where it might have been. I hastened to that spot. There was no ballfield. It had disappeared with the ages. No ancient softball players came staggering out of a cornfield. No voice told me that if I rebuilt it, I’d come and hit a home run. Pity.

My Field of Dreams had vanished. That was humbling.

I’ve given this table prayer, “Humble our hearts, Lord, and make us thankful for these and all our blessings.”

The Ledyard memory is a blessing for this humbled heart.

Al Batt’s columns appear in the Tribune every Wednesday.