Much of W. P. Kinsella’s novel addresses the relationship between reality and fantasy. Overall, the haunting figures of both Ray’s father and the baseball player Shoeless Joe Jackson play important roles in Ray’s project to build the baseball field. Although both figures seem very real to him, he knows that both men are dead—Joe Jackson played for the White Sox in the 1910s—but he also interacts with them like living people. He does hesitate to tell other people, such as his wife, about his visions. Each reader will approach these fantastic persons and events differently and may experience problems with any of them.
"Ease his pain” and “fulfill the dream”: Ray connects with J. D. Salinger and takes him to stadiums. Salinger was a real person, and he was alive at the time Kinsella wrote the novel so he could feasibly have gone to baseball games. Because he was a confirmed recluse who never ventured far from his hometown, it is virtually certain that he would not have been persuaded to go around to stadiums. In this vision, he also actively participates in Ray’s plan. Some critics have regarded Kinsella’s use of Salinger in his fiction as problematic.
Within the baselines anything can happen. Tides can reverse; oceans can open, . . . lives can alter . . . .
This statement makes sense as a metaphor but not literally. It offers an overview of the novel’s central premise that baseball has tremendous power. For Ray, however, the statement is literally true; his and Salinger’s lives are altered by the actions inside the baselines.
“If you build it, he will come.”: Once the field is completed, the prophecy Ray heard comes true. He built it, and they do come—the deceased players arrive to play ball.
“This must be heaven.”: When Shoeless Joe arrives on Ray’s field, and Ray shows him around, he is overwhelmed by the quality of the work Ray has done, especially the outfield.
[W]e'll hardly realize that we're talking of love, and family, and life, and beauty, and friendship, and sharing.
The final reunion and game between Ray and his father is similar to the ball game of the deceased players but has a much more personal meaning for Ray. He needs the symbolic reunion and conversation with his late father who, 20 years after his death, is young enough for catch.
Page numbers will vary by edition.