By Brenda Duke

In 1989, a film was released starring Kevin Costner called “Field of Dreams”. The farmer who owned the land had a passion for baseball and he imagined a baseball field in his cornfield. While walking through the cornfield, he hears a voice whisper, “If you build it, they will come.” He follows his vision and works on the field for the next couple of days plowing under the corn and he waits all year to see whatever happens. One night the next summer, several deceased ballplayers from the famed 1919 Black Sox team team begin practicing and playing on the field. This ordinary cornfield became a place where dreams can come true.

In 2011 when I moved into the Gibson neighbourhood, Woodlands Park was barely more than a field; a baseball diamond where no one played, an outdated and inadequate play structure, an unused building, no flowers and few trees. It was an unsafe area that I was forbidden to take my young grandchildren to by their concerned parents.

We imagined all the things that Woodlands Park could be and working as a community, we formed a team determined to make it better. It began slowly and improvements were small steps towards a bigger goal. In 2017, Woodlands Park was featured as a “Park Makeover” sponsored by The Ellis Foundation and spearheaded by our Adopt-A-Park leaders and The City of Hamilton. The magic had started to happen; a new playground, a soccer field, pollinator gardens and trees, artwork, picnic tables and an elaborate all sports pad.

The volunteers and the neighbourhood took stewardship of the area and the park became busier and populated by more children and more families. It was getting better!

Then, the pandemic happened and encampments were allowed. Much of the work that had been done was decimated. When they were disbanded, the community began the work of repairing the damage. And we continued our efforts for more improvements. The Arkells sponsored an improved basketball court, we worked with partners to restore the gardens and seating areas and we continued to petition the city for a splash pad. After almost 10 years of advocating, we were finally listened to and installation is planned for 2024. Sometimes it takes a while for dreams to come true.

In March, I started planning gardens. The first ones on the list were at Woodlands Park. We had organized a major cleanup to repair the damage that was done during the encampment period and we were ready to plant. I reached out to the plant sites for donations and they started coming in. In April, I received a message that two tents were back and they were set up directly on top of the garden beds.

Since then, the neighbours have watched more and more tents move in. At last count, there were twenty six tents. Major art pieces have been vandalized, the trees have been broken and the picnic tables have been moved to the encampments. Open drug use and public defecation are not uncommon sites and the washrooms need to be constantly repaired and cannot be considered sanitary in any way.

The city has increased public works staff to clean up the garbage. Police cars, ambulances and fire trucks are a constant presence in the park. At what cost to the taxpayers? Is it cheaper than providing alternatives or adequate, dignified housing? Is it better to displace families and children that used to enjoy the park, upset and terrorize the immediate neighbours forcing them to purchase cameras and security lights to protect their property?

The city talks….a lot of talk….but no action. They talk about the human rights of the marginalized population, they accuse anyone who comments of being a NIMBY, they blame the pandemic and the increase in rental prices because of greedy landlords and of course addiction. And then they say that all homeless people are stigmatized because of us.

We have an informed, intelligent team of people working on solutions but the people sitting on council think they know better. Why waste the time and resources of those trained to come up with a solution. Why pay them a salary if their work is not recognized or appreciated.

This crisis hasn’t decreased in any way because of band aid solutions. It has increased. Four years ago we had the same problems and unless things change drastically it will be the same at the end of this election term.

It’s time for our city to stop all the glorified ideas of correcting the past and condemning previous leaders. It’s time for them to think of the residents who are being displaced and it’s time to stop promoting their personal agendas. This is an epic pandemic that cannot be cured by any vaccine. It needs focus and determination. While we wait, our public spaces fill with people, some good and some not so good who abuse the security and safety of long-time residents.

Our Field of Dreams has become a tent city built by the City and “they have come”.

Soon after, Ray is told by his brother-in-law that unless he gets rid of the baseball field and returns it to farmland, he will go bankrupt.

Ray hears the voice again, which prompts him to contact 1960s author Terence Mann (James Earl Jones), who had once written about the golden days of baseball. He wrote that as a child he dreamed of playing for the Dodgers on Ebbets Field. He goes to Boston to find Terence and bring him to a Red Sox game, which he envisioned in a dream one night. At the game, Ray sees a message on the scoreboard telling him to find a 1920s ballplayer named Archibald “Moonlight” Graham.

Ray and Terence travel to Chisholm, Minnesota, Moonlight’s hometown, to find him. The first place they check is the office of the local paper, but one of the researchers there tells them that Moonlight Graham been dead since 1972. A confused Terence and Ray return to their motel room, wondering how to find Moonlight. Ray decides to go out for a walk. During the walk, he discovers that he has somehow been magically transported back in time to 1972. He quickly finds the elderly Moonlight Graham (Burt Lancaster) in the streets, who has been working as a doctor since his brief time in the major leagues. In Graham’s office, when Ray asks why he left baseball for medicine, Graham answers that he’d rather save lives as a medical doctor than scrounge through the minor leagues again. He declines Ray’s invitation to fulfill his dream.

When Ray comes back to the real world the next morning, he and Terence return to Iowa. On their way, they pick up a young hitchhiker. After a brief discussion of how the man is trying to find a way to play professional baseball, the young man introduces himself as Archie Graham (Frank Whaley) – the young Moonlight. The three return to the farm, where Moonlight begins to play with the other ghosts. More baseball players have appeared in Ray’s absence, and Moonlight is having a great time playing, while also being razzed by the veteran players about his youth and enthusiasm.

During an argument between Ray and his brother-in-law, who is forcing him to lease the property before it’s too late, Karin falls off the bleachers. Karin appears to be not breathing. Moonlight quickly runs to help, but hesitates to leave the baseball field. He does step off the field, instantly becoming the old doctor Ray met in Chisholm. Graham recognizes that Karin is choking, and holding her steady and pounding her on the upper back, causing her to cough up the piece of hot dog that had blocked her airway. Ray realizes that Graham’s decision means he cannot return to the field as his younger self, and apologizes to the doctor. Moonlight assures Ray that it’s alright, and thanks him for his chance. He walks out into the ballfield toward the cornfield, the players now addressing Graham with subdued, respectful voices. Terence and Karin persuade Ray’s brother-in-law that tourists will pay admission to see the magic of this field to bring back memories of the game.

At the end of the day, the players head for the cornstalks in the outfield. Just before vanishing, Shoeless Joe asks Terence if he will come with them. An angry Ray demands to know why he can’t go. Terence persuades him that he has to stay behind to take care of his family. After saying goodbye, Terence walks into the cornstalks and disappears.

Shoeless Joe then tells Ray, “If you build it, HE will come”, and glances toward a player near home plate in catcher’s equipment. The player removes his mask, and Ray recognizes his father, John, as a young man. At his wife’s urging, Ray introduces John to his granddaughter, Karin, catching himself before telling Karin who he is, and simply introducing him as “John”. As his father is heading toward the outfield, to leave with the rest of the players, Ray asks his father to play catch, finally calling him “Dad”, as father and son choke back tears. As they play catch, a long line of cars begin approaching the baseball field – people coming to watch the game… thus fulfilling Karin and Terrence’s prophecy that people will come to watch baseball.