The Place Where Dreams Come True
By Michael Illiano
America's pastime has always had a place inside me since childhood.
It was my first love and captured some of my favorite childhood memories.
I witnessed some great moments such as Kirk Gibson's homerun and some sad ones like the Earthquake that shook the World Series the following year.
Joe Carter's homerun in 1993 off Mitch Williams to win the series was the last really timeless memory and everything after has been a haze of confusion.
The strike followed with steroids, big payrolls, and just completely jolted almost one hundred years of history. I lost a great deal of respect for baseball, especially growing up in the Tri-State area where the game is under such a huge microscope.
Fans and talk radio are losing sight of what matters and for the most part, it has gotten progressively worse.
I wondered if I would ever get that passion back for the game I once held in such high regard. Last summer, I moved to Arizona and followed baseball only when it was playoff time. For me, this transition from a rabid die-hard to a casual baseball fan made me more concerned about the direction of the game.
In September of last year, I met Danny Burkhart through a friend. At the time, he just signed as a prospect out of Ohio State to play for the San Francisco Giants, who were on the verge of winning the World Series. Danny recently came back here for what are essentially placement tryouts. His fate could send him one of four places:
- San Jose, which is ideal and means he's progressing fast
- Augusta, Georgia, which would also mean progression# He could stay here for extended spring training
- Worst scenario: He is cut and sent home.
Danny is confined to a hotel room with a buddy and ironically a competitor who plays catcher as well. Imagine the quiet awkwardness Danny and roommate Joe Staley face knowing that they are in the same room for a month competing for the same position.
Their one month consists of $20 a day for food, an 11 p.m. curfew every night, and not a day off from either practicing or playing in actual games. That month, Danny is away from his family, girlfriend, and pretty much his life in general, with his fate up in the air.
Danny doesn't know what will happen next like the rest of us, but he is playing baseball --so who cares?. He is doing something that I used to dream of as a kid playing wiffle ball. Danny understands this thought process and that is what makes him special.
This makes me want to care about baseball. Knowing that there is a Danny Burkhart and many others like him. You see, Danny is not tainted by big money, shoe commercials, and groupies. He lies in that cocoon stage of becoming something special, that likeable factor that most athletes don't have today. He is the quintessential All-American who still has still has that glimmer from childhood.
Inside of my gut, I would like to have believed that all athletes had this quality at some point before losing site of what matters. Take a quote from "Field of Dreams":
"The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again"