Shaw tried to remember the last time he’d been on a date. Way back, right after he met Sally. He hoped this one wouldn’t be as awkward. They’d arranged to meet at the west end of a pedestrian bridge over the river, just a short walk from the police station. He could see her approach from a distance, sporting a close-fitting white top and shorts. She was dressed for the heat and hard to miss. Her light brown curls were tied back and topped with a Cubs visor. A Cubs-blue bag hung from her shoulder.
“Hi, Red,” she said as she gave his hand a little squeeze. “Are you ready for some baseball?”
“You bet” was the best he could do. If her V-neck were any deeper, he wouldn’t have been able to speak at all. He took in her smile, her green eyes, and tried to relax. He tried to ignore the sweat trickling down his back and wished he hadn’t worn blue jeans. They followed the walkway south along the river.
“I played here once,” Shaw said as they approached the stadium.
“Well, not here, exactly, but in the old stadium. Same spot. This is nicer.”
They stopped to buy tickets. Not many seats were left for a hot summer night and they small-talked as the line crept along.
“So you were in Triple A?”
She knows about the Iowa Cubs. Shaw wondered if she was old enough to remember the Iowa Oaks, and Vida Blue, and Mudcat Grant, and Goose Gossage. Probably not, he decided. He’d been a kid himself then.
“I never made it that far,” he said. “It was a high school game. Back then they scheduled a few here, sometimes playoffs, that sort of thing. I was a senior.”
She stepped back and looked him over, nodding her approval. “Were you good? Did you pitch?”
“I was a pretty good catcher, got on base a lot.” He pointed toward right field. “You see that sign, wrong side of the foul pole?”
“Yeah, the Bud Light sign?”
“The longest ball I ever hit went almost that far.”
“Yup. Right fielder chased it down. Third out, tying run on second. Game over.”
“Awwww.” She put a hand on his shoulder, comforting and exciting him at the same time. They shuffled a few steps closer to the ticket window.
“Yeah. That was the last game I played.”
Shaw gave her the short answer, downplaying his brief career. “Nothing in particular. We were out of the tournament. I had a couple of tryouts for the pros, but other guys were better and got drafted and I moved on. Peaked early as an athlete.” Shaw bought the tickets and they strolled along to a concession stand. There was plenty of time to kill before the first pitch.
“What would you like, Cheryl?” he asked.
“Dog and a beer,” she said to the server. Shaw laughed, held up two fingers and reached for his wallet.
“No, no, this is on me,” she said, sliding her debit card into a chip reader.
“Dog and a beer,” Shaw said. “I love that. Field of Dreams. Ever been there?”
She hadn’t. “I’d be disappointed if it wasn’t exactly like the movie. If Kevin Costner wasn’t there, and James Earl Jones.”
They took their beers and hot dogs, loaded with relish and mustard, and found seats up high, in the shade, where a slight breeze made the early August evening a little more comfortable. The box seats she’d bought near third base sat hot and empty in the sun.
“So have you been there?” she asked. “To the actual Field of Dreams?”
“Once,” he said, leaving out the part about how Sally had twisted his arm to get him there. “I disappeared into a corn field but eventually found my way out.”
She laughed and held her cup out to him in a silent toast. “Were there any ghostly ballplayers? Shoeless Joe? Did you see him?” The name, and the sparkle in her eyes, told him she was a real fan. Of baseball, the movie. Maybe even of Red Shaw for some reason.
“You’re a funny lady,” he said. “Would you believe me if I said yes, I saw Shoeless Joe Jackson?”
They finished the hot dogs and sipped at their beers, watching more fans stream in, balancing ballpark nachos on top of plastic cups of ballpark beer and soda. Players started warming up, stretching, throwing, running. Spectators, vendors, athletes all playing their roles, doing what they do.
“You know what, Red?” she asked.
Shaw turned to her. “What?”
“This will sound corny, no pun intended.” She hesitated, watching his expression.
“If you can’t be corny here,” he said, scanning the surroundings before turning back to her.
“Okay, I’ll just tell you. That’s sort of a metaphor, what you said about disappearing and finding your way out. Did you really get lost in the cornfield?”
She was right. He may have exaggerated. “Maybe metaphorically I did. That whole movie was a metaphor, you know, like the book it was based on.”
“Baseball,” she said, looking him in the eye, deadpan serious, “is a metaphor.” She struggled in vain to keep from laughing. Shaw laughed, too, harder than he had in years. They laughed together, then ran out of laughs, and then just looked at each other and kissed, oblivious to the hoots and whistles of nearby spectators.
Shaw learned the next morning that the I-Cubs had shut out the Omaha Storm Chasers, 4-0.