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Field of Dreams

On many a hot summer day in Central Texas years ago, I was my dad's helper on his potato chip route to small towns within driving distance of Waco. "See you got the boss with you today," storekeepers and beer-joint owners would say to him as we walked in. I'd blush and look down at the floor, even though I was proud.

Fridays meant Marlin, a sleepy town that had the air of the South about it, and where, down a dirt road parallel to a railroad track, we drove past a ramshackle old baseball field, its rickety wooden outfield fence gapped and broken like the teeth of an old boxer. "That's where the New York Giants used to train," my dad said.

He was right. From 1910 to 1918, manager John McGraw brought the Giants to Marlin to take medicinal advantage of the town's hot sulfur springs. That old park became my field of dreams, as I imagined Giant ghosts. I could hear the sound of their chatter echoing around the empty park as they took infield practice, see the arc of a ball as it sailed through a cloudless springtime sky and over the wooden fence. To an 8-year-old, it seemed like ancient history, maybe around the time of the Civil War.

My Marlin meanderings were prompted by a wonderfully nostalgic New York Times article by Gerald Eskenazi about Harvey Haddix, the diminutive Pittsburgh Pirate lefthander who, on May 26, 1959, had a history-making perfect game going into the 13th inning against the Milwaukee Braves. Haddix lost it when big Joe Adcock stroked a low liner over the right field fence.

Although it's been 50 years -- more time than the distance between the Giants and me in Marlin -- it seems not so long ago. Time's varying vistas are like that.

"They are all gone away" (borrowing one of the most poignant lines the poet Edward Arlington Robinson ever wrote), including Haddix, who died in 1994. And yet, in my own mind, John McGraw, "Little Napoleon," is still ambling down that dirt road from his downtown Marlin hotel, derby-wearing reporters recording his every word; Haddix is still trying to sneak a breaking pitch past big Joe Adcock; and my dad is still behind the wheel of his yellow delivery truck, Creamer's Clover Fresh Potato Chips emblazoned in green on its side. A kid sits beside him on the engine cover, enthralled by his stories about baseball.

By Joe Holley  |  May 25, 2009; 3:26 PM ET
 
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