“Is this heaven?” Shoeless Joe Jackson asked as he surveyed the glorious scene: A baseball field glowing under the clear summer night sky.
“No, it’s Iowa,” Ray Kinsella answered with a smile.
A baseball field in Iowa became part of American culture in 1989, adding to the mystique of America’s favorite pastime. Baseball became more than a game. The baseball field became more than a grassy diamond. It became a place to chase after dreams.
Kent Stock was chasing his dreams on Iowa ball fields long before “Field of Dreams” hit the box office. He grew up in Ankeny, Iowa, where he would fall in love with the game of baseball and the St. Louis Cardinals.
“I always had to have a ball in my hand as a little kid,” Stock said.
He remembered the excitement of finally being able to play on a “real” team in Little League when he was 8 years old. And like in the famous film, playing catch with his father in the backyard was a special memory.
He said his father had a great impact on his love of baseball.
“No. 1 (in impact) is my father, who was my Little League coach and he is also the person that turned me on to the Cardinals,” Stock said.
Stock said he and his father shared a special bond through baseball – especially St. Louis Cardinals baseball.
“My first Cardinal memory is of my dad and I listening to Cardinal games on KMOX with Jack Buck and Harry Caray and eventually listening to Jack Buck and Mike Shannon,” Stock said, “He led me to be a Cardinals fan.”
The special times by the radio led to visits to Busch Stadium for Cardinals games.
Stock said, “I can’t thank my dad enough for taking me to Busch Stadium many times when I was a kid.”
His love affair with the Redbirds had begun. From the late ‘60s to today, he has had some great memories surrounding the Cardinals. From the stars to the role players, it seems Stock remembers them all. One player stands above the rest for Stock, though.
“Bob Gibson was my idol as a little kid,” Stock said, “His book, From Ghetto to Glory was the first baseball book that I read. I think I did about four book reports over this book.”
His teacher in school told his parents it might be a good idea if Kent did a book report on something other than baseball. He couldn’t help it, he just loved the game.
His love for the Cardinals was only matched by his love for playing that same game. He said his only dream as a kid was to be a professional baseball player for the St. Louis Cardinals. The diamond became a field of dreams for Stock from a young age and that dream never really left him.
He played in college, but never had a shot at the big show. So, he changed his dream from playing to coaching so he could help others chase their dreams too.
Little did he know that his players would help him live out an impossible dream far greater than playing in the big leagues.
His new dream began where his childhood one started – on a ball field in Iowa.
It wasn’t just any ball field either. He started coaching baseball as an assistant under “the legendary” Coach Jim Van Scoyoc at Norway High School. Norway had won 18 state baseball championships in 23 years when Stock arrived as an assistant. It was a baseball powerhouse despite its size. The school had only 100 students. The team was made up of 14 boys, small roster for baseball. Norway was a class 1A school, but often played and beat 3A and 4A schools.
Norway did it by playing the game the right way.
Coach Van Scoyoc told Kent, “We may not be bigger, faster, or stronger than our opponents, but no one has the fundamentals down better than our boys.”
Stock proudly agreed, “How true that was. The Norway ballplayer wasn’t afraid to play anyone.”
With Stock on the coaching staff, the Tigers won its 19th state title in 1990. He was just happy to be a part of the winning tradition for a season.
Then, the town was turned upside down.
There had been whispers that Norway would soon merge with a neighboring school district. Many doubted it would ever happen. The school and baseball team were the pride of Norway – the town’s heart and soul. Norway wouldn’t be the same without the Tigers.
In the October following that summer’s state title run, the whispers became reality.
Coach Van Scoyoc called Stock and said, “It’s a given, Norway is going to be merged with Benton Community.”
And that wasn’t the only shocking news Van Scoyoc had for Stock. Van Scoyoc said he was leaving Norway to become the pitching coach for the Class A Detroit Tigers team. He would not be coaching Norway in its final season. Van Scoyoc wanted Stock to take over and lead the Tigers in its final season. The final chapter of Van Scoyoc’s program would be written by a 28-year-old with no baseball head coaching experience.
“Boy was I nervous,” Stock said.
He felt pressure to live up to the Norway tradition the entire season.
“A majority of the pressure was internal,” Stock said, “I felt like I had to lead this team to a state championship.”
The players felt the same way. At the first team meeting, they laid out their goals for the season.
A senior on the team spoke up, “Coach, we only have one goal, and that’s to win Norway’s 20th state title in our final year.”
The entire state of Iowa was watching, too. Norway had a population of 586, yet most games had a crowd of 800-1000. The media followed Stock and the Tigers around from day one, watching their every move.
“It was an awesome experience, but it was a lot of pressure,” Stock said.
It was an impossible situation. But sometimes when you believe the impossible, the incredible comes true.
The Tigers believed and lived up to the Norway name. The team captured its 20th state championship to send the school and program out a winner. All the pressure and controversy surrounding the merger and the team melted away for a few hours. Norway was a champion forever.
For Stock, it was a dream come true. He may not have been at Busch Stadium, but nothing could top sitting in the dugout watching his players celebrate on the mound. It was a special day for the young coach. It truly was a field of dreams for the baseball fanatic.
After the magical 1991 season, Stock coached girls volleyball at Belle Plaine High School, which was about 20 miles from Norway. He led the girls to the final four of the state tournament in 1995, which is another memorable experience for the coach. He has also been a teacher, school principal, and motivational speaker since leading Norway to the title – inspiring others to chase after their dreams like he did.
And of course, there was always the Cardinals.
Kent’s favorite Cardinals memory was one he shared with his father.
“I have to say my best moment as a Cardinal fan came when I was able to pay back my father for taking me to so many games, and I took him to game 5 of the 2006 World Series,” Stock said. “After the game, David Eckstein was crowned MVP, but it was all about me hugging my MVP, my dad, after that game. It was a very special time that I got to share with my mentor, my dad!”
Kent Stock has made the baseball diamond his field of dreams, and he has used it to inspire others to find their own field of dreams – their own heaven, the place where dreams come true.