Under a darkening sky

Last night, I drove to western Massachusetts to catch a Pittsfield Dukes game with Rachel and her husband, Ethan. Last year, I’d met Rachel and Ethan in North Adams to watch Keene’s own Swamp Bats lose to the Steeple Cats, but this year, our schedules didn’t allow us to meet for a Swamp Bats game. So instead of root, root, rooting for my home-team, last night I made like a Pittsfielder and made pilgrimage to historic Wahconah Park to cheer on the Dukes.

Batter up

I’ve blogged before about the the New England Collegiate Baseball League, the regional collegiate league to which the Keene Swamp Bats, North Adams SteepleCats, and Pittsfield Dukes all belong. As much as I love Major League Baseball, there’s something delightful about seeing college kids playing their hearts out in a small-town setting. This is amateur baseball in the best sense of the term: baseball played for love, not money. Although many players participate in the NECBL to strut their summertime stuff in front of professional scouts, these are players who haven’t yet made it to the big time. In an era when many Major League fans are disgusted with players who lie about performance-enhancing drugs, whine about their multi-million-dollar salaries, and otherwise serve as poster boys for Bad Behavior, regional leagues like the NECBL offer a more wholesome, small-time version of America’s favorite pastime.

Safe

Part of the allure of any baseball game–major league or otherwise–is the game itself, the daunting challenge of hitting a round ball squarely teamed with the intricate dance of well-choreographed defense. Watching baseball is a leisurely pursuit: you spend much of your time waiting for the next batter, waiting for the next relief pitcher, or waiting for umpires to confer over a questionable call. The down-times of a good ballgame, however, serve as counterpoint to a good game’s heart-pounding moments. There’s nothing like a well-orchestrated double-play or a safely stolen base to get your adrenaline running, but these highlights tend to happen suddenly, in the blink of any eye, right when your mind might have considered wandering. Along with sudden surprises, a good ballgame offers hushed moments of expectation as everyone’s eyes follow a fly-ball, breathless, to a waiting fielder’s glove, or everyone gets on their feet, fidgety, during an inning-ending at-bat.

Sliding home

It’s easy to wax poetic about baseball, seeing the game as an iconic field of dreams. The young men of the NECBL seem to be a dream-filled bunch, sacrificing their summers to play ball in the hope of being noticed by scouts who can pluck them from small-town obscurity. And yet, I suspect that a young ball-player’s dream of fields is fueled not by wishful thinking but by old-fashioned blood, sweat, and tears: these are fields of doing, not dreaming. It takes a lot of work to make it to the majors; it takes a lot of work to finish a collegiate career and leave that league for the Big Time that is life after graduation. It’s easy to quote Hollywood by saying “if you build it, they will come.” What’s difficult is the actual building, the work required to realize one’s dreams through practice, practice, practice.

Historic Wahconah

Whether or not we’ve ever knocked one out of the ballpark–whether or not we’ve ever belonged to any league, major or minor–we all tend a private field of dreams: a wide, fertile space where almost anything can sprout with the proper cultivation. The magic of Hollywood’s field of dreams isn’t the unbelievable phenomenon of Shoeless Joe Jackson sauntering out of a cornfield; the magic of that field of dreams is the sweat equity it took an unknown Iowan farmer to coax a diamond out of corn.

Whether we dream of making it to the majors, making it out of college, or making a living in a world where bills pile more quickly than cash, it’s the building that causes the coming. In the real world as well as on ballfields, dreaming bears fruit only if it’s coupled with doing. Last night in Pittsfield, it was positively dreamy to see two teams of players, their coaches, and a ballpark full of fans gathered to cheer on some doing, the action of a small-town Monday night happening under lights that shone like stars.

Night lights

Click here to see my full set of photos from Pittsfield’s historic Wahconah Park. Enjoy!