Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1050
Young Ray Kinsella gains a lifelong love for baseball from tales told by his father, including the story of disgraced former star “Shoeless” Joe Jackson. Ray leaves his native Montana to attend college in Iowa. One day, he overhears the daughter of his landlady vow that she will marry him when she grows up. Years later, that vow comes to pass. Suddenly a husband to Annie and a father to Karin, Ray begins selling life insurance, a job he detests. When local former ballplayer Eddie Scissons grows too elderly to maintain his farm, Annie talks Ray into buying it. Ray knows little about farming, but he is able to keep the farm afloat.
One evening, while sitting on his front porch, Ray hears a disembodied voice say, “If you build it, he will come.” Ray somehow understands from this terse message that he is to plow away several acres of corn and build a baseball field, complete with outfield fences and lights. He also knows that, once complete, his field will be visited by the specter of Shoeless Joe. With Annie’s blessing, Ray complies. It takes three seasons, but, finally, Annie spots a man dressed in old-fashioned baseball flannels standing in the outfield. It is indeed Shoeless Joe. He and several phantom teammates materialize regularly and play baseball on Ray’s field. After each game, they vanish into the corn beyond the left-field fence.
Ray believes that he has accomplished his mission, until the voice revisits him and implores, “Ease his pain.” Again, despite the brevity of the message, Ray perceives a full set of instructions. He is to travel to Windsor, Vermont, to the home of reclusive writer J. D. Salinger and take Salinger to a baseball game at Fenway Park in Boston. Ray sets out for Windsor and encounters the famous author in his Vermont driveway. Ray entreats Salinger to join him. Fearful of unduly agitating this strange visitor, Salinger accedes. On the way, Ray details the story of his magical baseball field in Iowa. Salinger does not understand, but he envies Ray’s passion, and he relaxes enough to allow Ray to call him “Jerry.”
At the game, Ray again hears the voice, urging him to “go the distance.” Ray senses yet a third set of instructions: He must travel to Chisholm, Minnesota, and inquire after Archie “Moonlight” Graham, a ballplayer who appeared in a single game around the turn of the twentieth century but never got a turn at bat. To punctuate this directive, Graham’s meager statistics appear on the Fenway Park scoreboard. Plainly, no one else in the crowd hears the voice or sees the record, and the game ends with no further incident. Afterward, back in Jerry’s driveway, Ray is anxious to set out on this new quest. However, Jerry reveals that he, too, heard the voice and saw Graham’s record on the scoreboard. The two set off for Minnesota.
In Chisholm, they learn that Archie Graham became a doctor. The local citizens bombard them with warm memories of “Doc” Graham, who died twenty years earlier. Ray and Jerry accumulate much information but remain uncertain of what to do with it. This uncertainty robs Ray of sleep, and late one night he slips out of his hotel room for a walk. He passes the building that once housed Graham’s office. The door opens and an old man emerges. It is Doc Graham himself, alive and happy to talk. Graham explains how he came to be called Moonlight and divulges his greatest wish: To have come to bat in a Major League game. The next morning, Ray shares with Jerry the details of the encounter. The two have fulfilled their mission, and they decide to head for Iowa. Outside Chisholm, a young man stands beside the road, his thumb extended. His hair is slicked down, and he wears an old, featureless baseball uniform. Ray and Jerry pick him up. Their passenger’s name comes as no surprise: it is...
(The entire section contains 1050 words.)
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