Shell Shocked: The Sanibel field of dreams
I was returning home to Sanibel late one evening recently. It was around 2 a.m. I was tired and cranky and lambasted myself for allowing good conversation and a fine dinner to keep me up so late.
I was driving on Sanibel-Captiva Road when I saw it. The athletic field of the Sanibel Elementary School was all lit up. I wondered why the school would waste so much electricity by allowing the field to be lit up so late at night. But, as I got closer I realized there were people on the field.
Who could be populating the school athletic field so late at night? And what were they doing? I slowed down to take a look. There was a baseball game going on. At 2 a.m.? I stopped my car at the side of the road to take a better look. That’s when my eyes almost popped out of my head.
Babe Ruth was batting. Dizzy Dean was pitching to him. A real game was going on. There was Lou Gehrig on deck. Sitting on a bench waiting their turns to bat were Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Ty Cobb, George Sisler and many all star legends from the American League. Among the National League players on the field were Duke Snyder, Mel Ott, Rogers Hornsby, Honus Wagner, and Ernie Banks.
I blinked my eyes several times. Was I dreaming? And then I saw Connie Mack dressed in his dark business suit, as always, giving signals to the hitters. He was the manager of the American League team. He caught my eye and beckoned me to join him on the sidelines.
Could this be happening? Did I fall asleep at the wheel and dream about this “field of dreams” before being pulled over by police officers who were ready to measure the alcohol content in my breath? I walked toward the venerable Connie Mack. In the meantime, Babe Ruth hit one of the longest home runs I’ve ever seen. The ball sailed well over SanCap Road and plunked down in the Gulf of Mexico. The Babe wobbled around first base and tipped his hat. But to whom? There were no spectators there except for me.
Connie Mack looked the same as I’d always seen him in grainy photographs of baseball in the 1930s. He said: “You’re our first spectator. We enjoy playing the game, but it would be nice if there were fans watching us play.”
I must have sputtered my words out. “But what are you guys doing here? Is this heaven or something? I don’t mean to be direct, but aren’t all of you dead?”
There was a pained look on Mack’s face. “I’m not sure what you mean. We just love to play baseball and we’ve been looking for a new place to play ever since that corn field in Iowa became low income housing. This field is a little too small for major leaguers as you can see by the ball the Babe just hit. But we love Sanibel and hope to play on this field for centuries to come.”
“This is amazing,” I said. “To see you guys play is like a dream come true. I wasn’t even born when most of these guys were in their prime. Where do you spend your off time?”
Mack winked. “Oh, we get around, don’t you worry about us. We show up in the most unlikely places. But, most people don’t recognize us anyway. We were at the Farmer’s Market last Sunday and someone thought he recognized the Babe. But, while he was shaking his head and blinking his eyes, Babe disappeared into the crowd. It happens once in a while.”
“What can I do to help you guys?” I asked.
“Get us some crowds. We play better when fans are present,” Mack said.
So I beg all of you out there. Support these players. Come out at 2 a.m. next Monday and treat yourselves to major league all-star baseball. Watch Jackie Robinson try to steal home.
-Art Stevens is a long-time columnist for The Islander. His tongue-in-cheek humor is always offered with a smile.