Clarinda Herald, Kent Dinnebier
Many young boys have picked up a bat and a ball at some point, but Merl Eberly never lost the love he had for baseball as a child. However, he grew to learn that baseball is also a game that reaches far beyond the field.
“Baseball is a game, but there are a lot of life lessons in it. Looking beyond this life is where we should be focused,” Jara Johnson said.
That sentiment is expressed in a song Johnson has recorded honoring her grandfather and the legacy he left following his death June 11, 2011. The song is titled “Beyond the Field” and tracks Eberly’s career from a minor league catcher to his involvement as a player, coach and general manager of the Clarinda A’s while also raising a family.
“I am really happy with how it turned out. Before I released the single, I sent it to our family so they would have time to listen to it. I think it has been a source of healing for our family,” Johnson said. “Music is a way for me to write out what I’m feeling and work through any emotion. That was a sad time for me, but I wanted the song to be a celebration of his life.”
Johnson, who now lives in Pella with her husband, Kyle, and her family, started working on the song approximately four months before Eberly’s death. The foundation of the song is the chorus and Johnson said the inspiration for those lyrics came to her early one morning.
“I woke up and had the chorus in my head. I had to get up and write it down. I was amazed how easily it came to me, so that is one of the most special parts of the song to me,” Johnson said. “When it comes that easily you just know it was meant to be.”
The chorus Johnson crafted that morning explained that you “don’t need no shiny diamond, don’t need no golden glove. Trust me fame don’t hold a candle to the wealth of a family’s love. Don’t treat this life like a game you can make up someday... don’t play that way ‘cause it’s beyond the field, your riches lay.”
“I wanted to get across in the chorus the idea that family meant everything to my grandpa. That was his driving force. He instilled a lot of family values in the players that came through the A’s program. Many of his players really looked up to him and thought of him with a lot of respect,” Johnson said.
Along with the chorus, Johnson was able to craft the opening verse of the song and had the opportunity to play them for her grandfather and grandmother, Pat Eberly, when they visited Pella shortly before his death. Johnson said it was a very special moment for her to be able to play that portion of the song for her grandfather.
“I told my grandpa that I wanted him to hear what I had and knew by the look on his face that he loved it. I cherish that moment and cherish the time I spent with him those months before he passed and I cherish the close relationship that I had with him,” Johnson said.
Unfortunately, Johnson was not able to achieve her goal of finishing the song before her grandfather passed away. Given the personal nature of the song and the emotional times that followed, Johnson stepped away from the song and put the project on the bench.
In time, Johnson was able to resume work on the song prior to a trip to Nashville, Tenn., in late January 2012. During that trip Johnson met with songwriter Billy Smiley, who was a member of the popular Christian Rock band “White Heart” in the 1980s and 1990s. She played Smiley what she had for “Beyond the Field” and he agreed to serve as her co-writer and help her finish the song.
“We reworked a few melodic things, he wrote a bridge melody and we worked out the rest of the bridge lyrics. We then recorded a rough guitar vocal that evening. It really came together,” Johnson said. “But after months of listening to the guitar vocal I just wasn’t satisfied with it and felt it needed so much more to make it what I had envisioned for the song and to be the tribute that I wanted it to be for my grandpa.”
In April, Johnson contacted Paul Sikes, owner and producer of 7-Layer Productions in Nashville, about producing a full demo track of the song. Since Sikes had also written a song about his grandfather who had passed away, Johnson said she knew her friend would understand the delicate nature and emotional depth of “Beyond the Field.”
“About three days before my trip to Nashville at the end of April, Paul sent the partial track via email. When I heard it he had nailed each and every detail of how I wanted the track to sound. I just cried because it was truly even more than I hoped for,” Johnson said.
In that same e-mail Sikes made one other suggestion that elevated the song from a hit to a home run. He suggested adding sound bytes of and about Eberly to the song. Johnson contacted her grandmother and was able to acquire a compact disc and a few audio tapes of interviews that were recorded at the National Baseball Congress World Series at the time Eberly retired as coach of the Clarinda A’s.
Sikes was able to use the recordings to include highlights about Eberly’s career as well as a comment from the man himself.
“Hearing about his career and hearing his voice is very special to me. It was a great way to honor him and his career with the Clarinda A’s,” Johnson said. “It was all meant to be. When I was in Nashville with Paul at the studio everything clicked and musical magic happened. I don’t think the sound bytes could have worked more perfectly or more beautifully with the story of the song. As I sat in the studio late that night listening to the mix of the track, my vocals and the sound bytes emotions flooded over me and some healing began.”
Johnson originally released “Beyond the Field” on July 23, 2012. However, with the Clarinda A’s having just started their 59th season of summer baseball, she is hoping to spark new interest in the song. The song is available on iTunes and Johnson has pledged that all proceeds from sales of the song will go to support the Clarinda A’s baseball program.
Just prior to Mother’s Day, Johnson also released her latest single entitled, “I’m Going to Love You.” She will also be performing the at the Iowa Cubs baseball game July 2 and then will appear at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines at 3 p.m. Aug. 12 on the Fairview Stage. Johnson will then return to her hometown of Clarinda Aug. 15 for a performance at the Colonial White House.