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“Fenway Park, in Boston, is a lyric little bandbox of a ballpark. Everything is painted green and seems in curiously sharp focus, like the inside of an old-fashioned peeping-type Easter egg. It was built in 1912, rebuilt in 1934, and offers, as do most Boston artifacts, a compromise between Man’s Euclidean determinations and Nature’s beguiling irregularities.”

John Updike, circa 1960

So begins the most famous—and probably still the greatest—essay about baseball ever written, John Updike’s “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu,” his New Yorker tribute to Ted Williams in his final game, September 28, 1960, and final at-bat, when Williams obliged his fans and posterity with a 440-foot valedictory home run.

I have my own Chicago boyhood memories of Williams when the Red Sox came to town—of the games only vaguely but of the prior batting practice indelibly, with Williams rocketing balls off the right-field upper deck in the old Comiskey Park, his swing its own marvel of Euclidean determination. The end of that perfect swing is caught beautifully in the sepia photo wrapped around the boards of a small commemorative book reprint of the essay, prepared by Updike but published shortly after his death. On the front, the uncoiled Williams gazing upward into the stands; on the back, photographically continuous, catcher and umpire left with nothing more to do but also gaze skyward and admire.

I no longer follow baseball closely, but I do annually pull that little volume off my shelf as an autumnal tip of the hat to the passing of a season, to boyhood memories and dreams, and to one of the marvels of the contemporary American essay.

The centerpiece of the essay is, of course, Williams himself in all his iconic and aloof—sometimes truculent— excellence (famously, he never tipped his hat in acknowledgment, even to that final roar of adulation). But for me the essay’s opening lines carry evocations all their own.

Summers in the fifties for my brother and me were pretty much morning-to-night baseball, our endlessly practicing, say, our shortstop-to-second or second-to-shortstop moves to begin the flawless double play. It was always shortstop for me and second for him, except for a brief angsty period when, fired up by Mickey Mantle, I wondered whether my stardom might come in centerfield, a sadly low-grade existential crisis, considering my talent.

The exception to the daily routine came, of course, on Sunday, when baseball outside was not to be, lest our second base cause one of our neighbors to stumble or our raucous hitting put a dent in my father’s ministerial image. He couldn’t have been too much of a stickler about sabbath-keeping, though, allowing, as he did, for Sunday afternoon rag ball in the basement, which probably didn’t help him, a floor above, put the finishing touches on his evening sermon.

The other interludes to our outdoor play were, naturally, all those warm afternoons and evenings in front of baseball radio (dulcet Bob Elson) or, later, TV (Jack “Hey, Hey” Brickhouse and his original sidekick Harry Creighton. Creighton, to enhance the headiness of it all, was known for enthusiastically drinking the sponsor’s beer during play and promoting it between innings). On TV, only local games were broadcast, and the owner of Channel 9 seemed to have ordained that when the Sox were on the road, the Cubs were in town and the reverse, guaranteeing equal treatment for each team and a game almost every day.

Chico Carrasquel

Finally, came the day when, thanks to a friend of my father, my brother and I were invited to the real thing, a night game at Comiskey Park. Chico Carrasquel at shortstop and Nellie Fox at second base—in the flesh. And in left field, charismatic Minnie Minoso, close enough for my center-field ambitions.

The approach to the old Comiskey Park at 35th and Shields was not bucolic. Constructed in 1910 over a former city dump—a joke had it that legendary shortstop Luke Appling once caught his spikes in a buried coffee pot—the park was surrounded by the gritty working-class neighborhood of Armour Square and sat in a sprawl of jammed city streets and parking lots from which would emerge, as soon as you parked, a youth who promised, for a price, to “protect” your car. As to the brick front of the park, this was before Bill Veeck (as in “wreck, he announced) came to town in 1959 and painted, to little uplifting avail, the exterior walls white and, in his most flamboyant antic, installed the major league’s first exploding scoreboard, inspired by a James Cagney movie with pinball machines.

Then through the gates and into caverned levels and inclines of concrete and steel, with beer and hotdogs and pennants hawked on every side, upwards to the top. And there, as we emerged from the stadium surround into the tiered rows of the upper deck, it was! The lights were already on, and far below, a glorious expanse of grass whose preternatural green our black-and-white Zenith TV could never have prepared me for. The infield base paths, pitcher’s mound, and batter’s circle seemed less constructed than precision-punched out of the manicured turf. And a vast expanse it was, Comiskey Park having been designed for pitchers and defense, reflecting from the outset the playing style of the original White Sox “Hitless-Wonders” and a design still favorable to the stellar-defense, spray-single “go-go” teams I knew in the fifties. No cheap home runs here, with a deep center field of 420 feet in an outfield allowing plenty of range for Minoso, Busby, and Rivera to haul down long fly balls. And unlike Williams’ Fenway Park, with its asymmetrically short left field and high wall, Comiskey was in perfect proportion, 363 feet down each foul line. Whatever the small changes over the years (Bill Veeck was a hard man to keep down), they were held to absolute scale. Not an irregularity in sight.

But beyond the glories of color, expanse, and scale, something deeper, it occurs to me now, may have been coming through, however unrecognized at the time. That entrancing Easter-egg perspective so named by Updike. Here, in a nighttime spectacle enclosed by high grandstands and enveloping lights, was, startlingly, a magical world within another world, contained but entire in itself. Other worlds, then, sometimes unexpected and sometimes closer than we think.

Jon Pott

Jon Pott is the former Editor-in-Chief of the William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company and The Reformed Journal. 


  • Bob V E says:

    I remember the 59 White Sox well. Beat the Dodgers 11-0 behind Early Wynn in first series game but lost series. This article was very fun and nostalgic for me. I also am not the fan I was when it was a game, at least I thought it was different then.

  • Daniel Meeter says:

    Yes, yes, that first wonder of passing through the tunnel into the upper deck stands to see at last the field, the surround, in height and depth and color. To enter the Kingdom of Heaven, right there as a cosmic hole in The Bronx, with our bag of sandwiches made by our mom. And to see the angels (not from LA) enter and engage in their immortal contest, stretching into eternity

  • Bruce Buursma says:

    Thanks for this nudge of nostalgia, Jon. My preacher-father took me to my first White Sox game during those “Go-Go” ’50s, a Saturday afternoon affair with the mighty Yankees. It was a transcendent experience to see the vast emerald expanse of the ballpark’s outfield for the first time with my seven-year-old eyes. And then to spot my childhood heroes, the pint-sized keystone combo of Little Louie Aparicio, wearing number 11, and Nellie Fox, adorned in number 2, engaged in a little pregame “pepper.” Oh, my, they were breathing the same rarefied air as I was. The old ballpark was packed with men, many of them dressed as if they were heading to church immediately after the game. Cigar smoke and the aroma of buttered popcorn and mustard-slathered hotdogs, wafted through the stands. It was a feast for body and soul, until Yogi Berra cruelly, inevitably, smacked a three-run homer in the top of the ninth inning to vault New York past my White Sox. Damn Yankees.

  • Jeff Carpenter says:

    Invariably, any venture into the Old Comiskey ballpark (“Kaminsky” in Chicago-ese) seemed to include an “obstructed view” . . . :?)

  • Duane Kelderman says:

    “Other worlds, then, sometimes unexpected and sometimes closer than we think.” Yes. Powerful. Thanks, Jon.

  • Jeff Carpenter says:

    From Donald Hall’s essay collection _Fathers Playing Catch With Sons:
    “Couplet: Old-Timers’ Day, Fenway Park,
    1 May 1982”
    When the tall puffy
    figure wearing number
    nine starts
    late for the fly ball,
    laboring forward
    like a lame truckhorse
    startled by a gartersnake,
    —this old fellow
    whose body we remember
    as sleek and nervous
    as a filly’s—
    and barely catches it
    in his glove’s
    tip, we rise
    and applaud weeping:
    On a green field
    we observe the ruin
    of even the bravest
    body, as Odysseus
    wept to glimpse
    among the shades the shadow
    of Achilles.

  • James Schaap says:

    Whew! That brought me home again, although I grew up nowhere near Wrigley or Comiskey. If I were to count the hours I spent playing ball as a kid–and dreaming–it’d be an endless task. I can’t help but reference the title, however. You can well imagine how we Iowans loved what happened in that magical replay a couple of months ago, right there on the Field of Dreams. The whole night was other-worldly for sure. Thanks!

  • David Hoekema says:

    A beautiful essay of remembrance, for ballparks and players and fathers and brothers. My memories of father – son bonding over games are limited to swimming (the one sport my father loved, and excelled at) and chess ( in which my greatest achievement was to draw him once into a stalemate). But in matters of Biblical interpretation and theological nuance, he could hit it out of the park.

  • Marcia Pater says:

    Nicely said Jon!

  • Mary VanderVennen says:

    How about a father-daughter memory? I grew up in southside Chicago playing baseball in the alley behind our house. Any hits had to be straight-away centre field. In those early days, preachers sometimes got free tickets to Monday games, and my father sometimes took my brother and me to White Sox games or Cubs games. I still enjoy baseball. As a Torontonian now I follow the Blue Jays, but had a thrill along with all of Chicago when the Cubs – finally – recently won the World Series.

  • Jon Pott says:

    Warming to see so many memories stirred among old friends.


  • John Tiemstra says:

    Thanks for getting me back in touch with my Chicago roots today.

  • Peter Kok says:

    Thanks, Jon, for the insightful trip into “another world”: summers in the 50’s, Chicago’s South Side, Comiskey Park, and, of course, baseball.

    And why is baseball so often present when sport fans reminisce? Perhaps current and former White Sox Manager Tony La Russa had the answer long ago when he opined: “There’s a lot of stuff goes on.”

    Your evocative reminiscing about Comiskey Park may be the start of something big. How about a tour de force on the great ball fields like Fenway, Wrigley, Ebbets etc. Might I suggest you call it, “Dreams of Fields.”

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