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David Harris: Little field of dreams

By David Harris, Columnist
Published September 3, 2014

Every sunny afternoon as a kid, plastic bat and wiffle ball in hand, I would walk out onto the green grass of my backyard. At one end I had placed a temporary home plate, a fixture so common in my yard that the grass underneath seemed permanently flattened. I’d walk up, left foot in the batter’s box first, then right foot. A tap of the bat on the far corner of the plate. A check swing. As I pulled the bat back behind my head, the grass of the yard gave way to an infield, surrounded by filled bleachers of cheering fans. Thousands of them. Yet this infield was not the Comerica Park of the Detroit Tigers or the infield of Wrigley Field that I so adored. My backyard was now Williamsport, Pa., the site of the Little League World Series.

Every year, the best Little League teams from around the world convene in Williamsport for not just any baseball tournament, but one special enough that ESPN devotes an entire two weeks of coverage to 12-year-olds. And there was nothing I wanted more than to step up to the plate and have millions of viewers watch as ESPN’s batter graphic showed up on the screen. “David Harris,” it would read, along with my number of hits, batting average, home runs, and since ESPN liked to include fun facts about the kids, my favorite sports movie: Field of Dreams.

This was the field of dreams itself. And as I endlessly hit whiffle balls over the fence in my backyard, I’d imagine it was the bottom of the sixth, bases loaded, down by three runs, and the grand slam I just hit won the game against the powerhouse team from California, and the little town of Grosse Pointe, Mich., was the greatest Little League in the United States.

Little League was the communal event of my hometown, where the school cafeteria talk was always about who won the day before and who would pitch the next game. Where spectators lined the fences of the fields to watch the local finals. Where every year the goal for the 12-year-old team was the same: Win the district, then the state, and then win the region and journey to Williamsport.

For me, the dream was over before it even began. For the first time in my baseball career, I was cut from the postseason tournament team that would represent the city. The chance for me to introduce myself with the team lineup on SportsCenter with a “My name is David Harris and my favorite baseball player is Bobby Higginson” was gone forever.

No team from Grosse Pointe had made it all the way since 1979. This team, too, would fall short, ending the dream of youth SportsCenter glory for 12 more kids. The 455 miles between Grosse Pointe and Williamsport seemed so much farther away.

Youth sports are among the greatest of lesson-teachers. Lessons of winning and losing, humility and graciousness, successes and failures. And sure, I learned all of that. But more than anything, I learned to dream.

It was the dream of victory that drove me as I rode my bike to every practice. Coming to the University was once a dream too. Soon enough, dreams of being a Nobel-winning scientist or Supreme Court justice ensued, as it’s these grandiose dreams that spawn over the course of our lifetime and draw out the path we attempt to follow. One day I’ll dream of owning a house, with a backyard, and my own son running around the grass hitting wiffle balls in every direction.

I would take my baseball glove to every Major League Baseball game as a kid. I dreamt of snagging a ball hit into the stands. I left empty-handed every single game, endlessly awaiting my chance to catch the ball that never came. But to reduce the splendor of the game to the failure to collect a souvenir is a disservice to everything experienced.

A dream is not a measure for success or failure, nor a straight course from point A to point B. But to dream is the significance of life. As Prospero says in Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”, “We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”

Eight years later, the dreams of 12 hometown kids would come true. And with eyes glued to the screen, my youngest brother, 10 years old at the time, watched ESPN as the team from Grosse Pointe took the field at Williamsport. Next year is his chance to live the dream, whether or not the journey ends in Williamsport.

David Harris can be reached at daharr@umich.edu.