By Barb Arland Fye
Movie star Kevin Costner played catch with his sons on the “Field of Dreams” June 13 in Dyersville, Iowa; a day later children and adults with disabilities played ball on their own Field of Dreams in Davenport.
Costner traveled to Iowa to participate in the 25th anniversary celebration of the “Field of Dreams” movie in which he starred. The popular film transformed Dyersville into a tourist attraction and gave Iowa an ego boost. Remember this famous exchange between a ghost baseball player and Costner, playing an Iowa corn farmer: “Hey, is this heaven?” “No, it’s Iowa.”
For the 50 or so Davenport Challenger League players hitting the field on Saturday mornings this spring and summer, Junge Park is their field of dreams, a little bit of heaven.
Watching the ballplayers blossom from one season to the next makes the experience sublime. My son Colin started Challenger League as a first-grader 21 years ago, hopelessly distracted by just about anything — the wind rustling the leaves in the trees, a child crying — and had a tendency to wander off the field. Today he stays focused at bat and, while he tends to daydream in the outfield, will chase after a ball that lands near him and throw it accurately to the pitcher.
In the intermediate league just about anything counts for a hit, even a foul ball. Some players have the strength to knock the ball out of the infield and beam with pride when that happens. Others, sitting in wheel chairs and assisted by a helper, are all smiles when the bat makes contact with the ball.
We their fans encourage the players whether it’s their first or 10th strike; everyone gets a hit, assisted or unassisted. Then we cheer loudly and praise them all the way to first base. As they round the bases, they anticipate the sound of the crowd’s approval upon crossing home plate. Everyone is safe, no one gets tagged out, and the ballplayers soak up the adulation. One of the girls in a wheel chair extends her leg to allow her foot to tap home plate. The look of delight on her face is priceless.
Challenger Division of Little League Baseball began in 1989 so that children with physical and mental disabilities could enjoy the game of baseball just like their typical peers. Teams are set up based on ability, not age. As the children who began Challenger Division grew into adulthood, they were allowed to continue to play because organizers and supporters recognized that the love for this special league has no age limit.
Each of these ballplayers has been made in the image of our God; their parents or guardians have stepped up to the plate, responded to God’s call, to ensure that their loved one lives life to the fullest.
One little boy out in the field has captured my heart. Running and walking require extraordinary effort on his part. But I’ve never seen a child with such a look of joy on his face out on the field. His mom, sitting next to me, knows she’ll need to massage his legs when the game is over. It’s a small price to pay for the opportunity to play on this Field of Dreams.