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A Real Life Field Of Dreams
New Hampshire storyteller Sean Hurley visits a man in Vermont who has fulfilled a lifelong dream and built a miniature Fenway Park on his property...and people have come. This makes Sean recall his own impossible boyhood dreams, and whether they could come true, too.
When I was a kid there were a lot of songs about wishing on stars and dreaming whatever dreams and how you could pretty much have whatever wanted, if only you wished it:
SONG: Wish Upon a Star...
Even then, I thought there was something crazy about it. But like a lot of kids I took these silky promises for my own test drive. I didn’t just wish on stars. I put in some hard work. To make my dream of becoming superman come true, I did a lot of very fast running. I’d lift heavy rocks and try to bend bars. I’d triangle my arms through the air and jump off little hills.
SOUND: Superman FX “Look up in the sky, it’s a bird, it’s a plane...”
Of course, at some point, you realize this formula of wishing and dreaming doesn’t quite culminate. But this is a very American idea. That dreams aren’t just dreams. It’s deep in our culture and it gets reflected all the time. When I saw Field of Dreams – I went with it.
SOUND: Field of Dreams...”If you build it...they will come...”
In the movies, I can suspend my disbelief. But outside of that? I knew that if you build it - they won’t come.
The world of course has a way of turning such...judgments upside down, as I recently discovered on a trip to Essex, Vermont. To the home of Pat and Beth O’Connor. Unlike their farming neighbors, the O’Connors have a parking lot. It’s not unlikely for a thousand cars to come rumbling down the little dirt road. Because, for the last decade the O’Connors have held regular fundraising wiffle ball tournaments that play out on a pair of miniature replicas of two major league baseball parks. Little Fenway and Little Wrigley.
Pat O’Connor remembers the first time he shared his plan with a friend:
Pat O’Connor: Little Fenway was drawn on a napkin for the first time with Bill Livingstone over coffee and Bill thought it was a great idea. And that was part of, I think in the back of my mind, why I wanted to run it by Bill first, was because I thought he was probably the closest guy I knew to not telling me this thing is ridiculous...
After the napkin meeting, Pat O’Connor, a hardware analyst at IBM in Burlington, went to his computer:
Larry Riegert: Basically he sent an email out to a bunch of his friends and said I’m gonna build a field and who wants to come and help and about 30 guys showed up one day and we started to put the green monster together and putting the posts in the ground...
That’s Larry Riegert. He’s been umpiring games at Little Fenway for the last decade. The exactingness of the details and the lengths that Pat O’Connor went to for purposes of accuracy takes a small bit of your breath away:
Pat O’Connor: I remember talking to a groundskeeper at Fenway Park and saying, you know, would you mind filling up this vial with dirt from 3rdbase? And the look in his eye, was like, Who is this clown? And then I went and got some from the track too and I brought those vials of dirt back to Vermont and then I went and started visiting various quarries to find out what that dirt was and how I could actually get the same granularity of dirt and the same color at Fenway and I was able to match it up pretty good.
The initial idea, as Larry Riegert says, was to just build an outrageously spectacular wiffle ball park.
Larry Riegert: My understanding was that it was for friends and family. The first event he had was a friends and family event. It was a 4thof July party. After 9/11 they had a small event here to raise some money for the Red Cross.
The tragedy of September 11thtransformed a slightly crazy backyard project into a hugely successful fundraising endeavor. In ten years, Little Fenway has raised over 1.2 million dollars for charities like the Travis Roy Foundation. So where does this vision, and the tenacity to see it through, come from? Even Pat’s wife Beth isn’t exactly sure:
Beth O’Connor: Small scale Fenway Park was pretty much the first thing I heard about it. I was like “yeah, right”. I couldn’t envision it and the next thing you know he’s got a guy over here with a bulldozer and they’re flattening the earth. I knew he was a little eccentric when I married him. I just didn’t know the extent of it.
Sean: Do you yet know?
Beth: That’s the scary part.
Pat traces the roots of this big project that’s come to involve his entire community to a trip he took with his brothers in 1993.
Pat O’Connor: We mapped it out and we drove in a Ford Aerostar. Went 9000 miles and we saw every team. But when we went on that trip, I realized that going into a ballpark was something special, but that going into Fenway was the best. And because of that I think I thought that if I was ever going to do something in my backyard it would be something related to Fenway Park. And I guess that’s what led me to say, wouldn’t it be nice to have a miniature Fenway Park?
I don’t know about you, but I think I could spend my entire life touring beautiful baseball parks in a Ford Aerostar, and never ever ever once think about building a miniature park. But that gets to the essence of dreams. Like fingerprints or shadows or faces, we all have them. No two are exactly alike.
Pat O’Connor: A lot of it is, you kind of, sort of, plant these seeds and they just grow. People take care of a lot of the hard work. It’s contagious. It brings out the best in people in terms of their generosity and their feeling of by giving something like their time and resources and money, and to see the folks that are benefiting from it, it’s really what life’s all about.
MUSIC: Sigur Ros “3”
Back in high school I remember there was a janitor who used to sneak into the auditorium after school to play the piano in the dark. At the same time, I had a friend on the track team. One day I found him out in his father’s shop. He’d been going out there making sculptures out of wood. Using drills and jigsaws and sanders. He was embarrassed when I found him. He didn’t want me – he didn’t want anyone - to know about this. But I always wondered what happened. To the piano playing janitor, to my wood sculpting runner friend.
Someday you might find yourself scribbling something ridiculous on a napkin. Or your fingers might keep finding pianos. Or you may, unaccountably, keep going out to your father’s woodshop. If you’re lucky, you’ll see that you are, for some strange reason, a little bit in love with something unexpected. Something that’s not what a janitor is, not what a runner does. Not what a hardware analyst at IBM...is or should be doing.
If you can see it, like Pat O’Connor did, you can then bring it into the world. And the world will take it where it wants. And you’ll follow after it, with a shovel or a lawnmower... whatever you need to keep it alive. Maybe you won’t change the world, or make your fortune. But if you build it...well at least you’ll have it. And maybe they will come. Maybe your dream is like that.
SOUND: Wiffle ball hit hard, crowd cheers.