Yesterday my friend Yakut emailed me the article “Federer as Religious Experience” by David Foster Wallace, which appeared in the New York Times’ Play Magazine on August 20, 2006 (available here). Wallace penned an immaculate piece on Roger Federer, who also happens to be my favorite tennis player these days. As per his custom, Wallace resorts to 17 footnotes, provides detailed accounts of what he terms “Federer Moments” from the Nadal v. Federer Wimbledon Final of 2006, comments – in a tongue-in-cheek fashion, of course – on the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum and the tournament’s rules. It is a great ode to Federer, and contains a healthy rebuke of Nadal – who happens to be my least favorite pro these days. If you’re a tennis – and DFW – fan, enjoyed his essays in Consider the Lobster, and do not have the guts to restart Infinite Jest just yet, but would like to continue reading some brilliant prose, you should definitely check it out.
From its modern origins in eighteenth-century London, the sport of boxing has generally engaged the working class, titillated the upper class, and horrified the bien pensant middle class. Movements have arisen at regular intervals to regulate it, to reform it, even to ban it. To its critics, it is as persistent and as worrisome a social phenomenon as prostitution; and indeed, being a very direct way for poor young men to make use of their bodies, it is a kind of masculine cognate for the female sex trade. The more sympathetic view is that boxing is ugly but necessary. Great boxers, like the great courtesans, have in their physical blatancy been recognized as providing a kind of hygienic service, a reminder of our fleshly origins, to modern societies otherwise clotted with hypocrisy and cant.
Boxing stands apart from other sports. As boxing trainer and commentator Teddy Atlas is fond of observing, one plays baseball, basketball, and even football, but one does not “play” boxing. The fight game appeals simultaneously to our hunger for authenticity and our tendency to mythologize. When it comes to boxing, the boys’-story tropes of conventional sportswriting will not serve; to capture what is at stake in the ring, we need reference to the more vital discourses of art.
It is the boxer in his symbolic role within Anglo-American culture that engages Kasia Boddy, lecturer in English at University College, London and author of Boxing: A Cultural History, an encyclopedic account of the shifting use that painters, poets, novelists, and filmmakers have made of fighters through the years. In both its syntax and its emphasis on situating fighters within shifting notions of race, class, and gender (“Drawing variously on aesthetic, entrepreneurial, religious and therapeutic discourses, the aims and ambitions of late sixties and early seventies black cultural nationalism were constantly being debated and reformulated”), Boxing: A Cultural History, is markedly the work of a contemporary academic. It is also, by contrast, the work of a cultural critic able to range easily across periods and genres, with a kind of lightness not usually associated with contemporary departments of English.
Boddy’s ability to command a broad range of reference is most evident in her essay on the period 1880-1920, a time in which the center of gravity in boxing shifted from London to New York, the audience grew dramatically, and the first concerted efforts were made to regulate the sport — in effect to make it more wholesome. While the literature of this period is full of boxing allusions, it was perhaps the new American painting that best captured the lewdness and violence of the sport. George Bellows, John French Sloan and others sought to bring a new immediacy and vitality to the depiction of the sprawling, unruly spectacle of urban life, and they turned to boxing to represent its striving, its conflict, and its seething violence. Thomas Eakins invoked the nobler side of the warrior aesthetic, exploring the vogue of amateur boxing among the gentlemanly class, whereas Bellows captured the brutality of the sport in its professional form and the degree to which these same gentlemen, top-hatted and with ladies in tow, were willing to countenance exploitation in the service of their own entertainment.
Boddy’s treatment of boxing post-World War II emphasizes its link to the emerging consciousness of black Americans, culminating in Muhammad Ali’s association with the Nation of Islam and the Black Power movement more broadly. The great black boxers of this period, from Joe Louis to Sugar Ray Robinson to Ali, carried immense symbolic freight:
The difference between a history of boxing and a history of the cultural representation of boxing becomes apparent if we consider the part played in each by Sugar Ray Robinson. While Sugar Ray is revered by many as the all-time best ‘pound-for-pound’ fighter, he never became a cultural symbol in the way that [Jack] Johnson, [Jack] Dempsey, Louis, or Ali did … [He] is a kind of interregnum figure in the history of culturally and politically significant boxers, between Louis (whom he idolized) and Ali (who idolized him).
This is Boddy at her most authoritative. Indeed, she is at her best when she “lets her hands go”, as fight people would say, using her analytical gifts freely to suggest patterns and connections among what might seem remote representations. If her book has a weakness, it is one inherent to its encyclopedic ambitions. While she references dozens of works within each period, amply illustrating the range of symbolic uses to which the fight game has been put, she does not risk making the kinds of choices – lingering over fuller or more exemplary treatments, setting others aside – that would allow her to place her materials in high relief. Making such choices always risks tendentiousness, but failing to choose risks a flattening of effect. Would that Boddy had been more willing to impose. She has, however, done the necessary spade work for more adventuresome interpretive works to follow.
So, while I was at work yesterday, I finally picked up Moneyball by Michael Lewis. This book has been in stores for a while, and yet people continue to talk about it in glowing terms, so I decided I ought to take a look. Considering that this is a book about baseball, I was surprised that people have continued to talk about it even though it’s been out for two months. Usually baseball books interest only the baseball fans who read them, and that’s that. Moneyball, however, appears to transcend the ghetto of sports literature. I manged to breeze through about a hundred pages yesterday, and I have to say, I can’t wait to get back to reading it. The interesting thing about this book is that in discussing the mini revolution that has occurred in the business of baseball, it touches upon a variety of disperate topics. This book is a must read for baseball fans, but it should also be read by anyone who is interested in economics and psychology, as well as by anyone who enjoys a good character-driven, non-fiction book. It’s good stuff.
Award-winning polyglot Turkish author Elif Şafak has been accused of plagiarism by a translator in Turkey, where her newest novel Iskender was released on August 1. Shortly after publication Iskender, which had already sold upwards of 200,000 copies, was called out by a blogger for its resemblance to the Turkish translation of Zadie Smith’s White Teeth. The comparisons move from the general to the specific, with one vignette in particular offered as the most damning evidence of perfidy. Shortly thereafter, Smith’s Turkish translator, Mefkure Bayatlı, doubled down with a full accusation of plagiarism.
The kerfuffle, which is front-page news in Turkey, does not of yet seem to have surfaced in the American literary blogosphere, despite the relative renown of Şafak in this country. Şafak, who writes in both Turkish and English, has enjoyed huge popular success globally for, among other novels, The Bastard of Istanbul, The Saint of Incipient Insanities, The Flea Palace, and The Forty Rules of Love. She was the winner of the Union of Turkish Writers prize for The Gaze and she is a frequent presence on the Turkish best-seller list. She has done the professorial/lecture circuit in the U.S., appeared on NPR, and written for the New York Times, The Guardian, and The Wall Street Journal, among other publications. In May, Şafak shared a stage with Jonathan Franzen and Salman Rushdie as a PEN presenter. In short, she’s a big deal (and in Turkey, a huge deal).
For those out of the loop, here’s a brief timeline of the scandal (NB: highly unprofessional translations ahead):
August 1: Iskender hits shelves. A novel about a bi-cultural immigrant youth living in London.
August 3: Culture blog Fikir Mahsulleri Ofisi (very loosely, “Department of Ideas”) reviews an advance copy of Iskender in a post titled “Elif Şafak’s new novel is a little too ‘Familiar.’” The review details the many ways in which the characters and themes of Iskender resemble those of White Teeth: Muslim immigrants living in London, inter-generational conflict, and so on. The blog makes an extended comparison of thematic and character similarities, before delivering the parting shot — two versions of one moment spent daydreaming in front of a basement apartment window. The money quotes are here (note that passage was taken from the Turkish translation of White Teeth, so what follows is the Turkish translation back into English, with many apologies to Zadie Smith and translator Bayatlı for liberties taken).
Bowden’s living room was situated below the road and there were bars in the windows so that the view was partially obscured. Generally Clara would see feet, tires, exhaust pipes and umbrellas being shaken. These instantaneous images revealed a lot; a lively imagination could conjure many poignant stories from a bit of worn lace, a patched sock, a bag that had seen better days swinging low to the ground. (White Teeth, p. 30, Everest Publishing)
He would sit cross-legged on the living room rug and gape at the windows near the ceiling. Outside there was frenzied leg traffic flowing right and left. Pedestrians going to work, returning from shopping, going on walks… It was one of their favorite games to watch the feet going to and fro and try to guess at their lives — it was a three-person game: Esma, Iskender and Pembe. Let’s say they saw a shining pair of stilettos walking with nimble, rapid steps, their heels clicking. “She’s probably going to meet her fiance,” Pembe would say, conjuring up a story. Iskender was good at this game. He would see a worn, dirty pair of moccasins and start explaining how the shoes’ owner had been out of work for months and was going to rob the bank on the corner.” (Iskender, p. 135, Doğan)
August 4: Burak Kara, writing for Vatan newspaper, prints a statement from Bayatlı, the Turkish translator of White Teeth:
A coincidence of this magnitude isn’t possible. Şafak, using Zadie’s book as a template, made the family Turkish and wrote a book. She simplified the topic. I especially note the similarity of the window story. Ten parallel stories like this can be written, but the window story isn’t even a parallel. This is called plagiarism. It’s like an adaptation. It surpasses inspiration…
August 7: Şafak, one of her editors, and the General Director of Doğan Kitap Publishing respond in the Sunday print edition of Milliyet newspaper (web version here). The editor defends the book, noting that White Teeth bears resemblance to Hanif Kureishi’s The Buddha of Suburbia (published before) and Monica Ali’s Brick Lane (published after). “There are a number of similarities between Smith and Ali’s books,” stated Şafak’s editor. “Doctoral theses have even been written on this topic comparing the two novels. And yet no one says that Monica Ali plagiarized.”
The General Director, too, addresses the natural and inevitable similarities between works of immigrant literature dealing with similar themes: “These are probably not the only two novels for whom the basement apartment represents a state of destitution.”
And Şafak hits back:
Enough already! Iskender, which I wrote in England, which my English publishers read line by line with great pleasure, which my English agency represents with great pleasure, will be published back-to-back in England and the U.S. in 2012 by Penguin and Viking, two of the best publishing houses in the world. Given all this, I don’t take seriously the accusations levied by a handful of people whose intention is to wear me down. As with all of my books, my hard work and imagination is evident in this novel. I’m fed up, we’re fed up with the reckless attacks against people who do different work. My reader knows me. Iskender is my eleventh book, my eighth novel. This is what I say to those dealing in slander, gossip, and delusional behavior.
August 8: Fikir Mahsulleri Ofisi, the blog that published the original review, addresses its old and new readers, reminding them that their original statement was simply that the book “might show influence to the extent that opens the way for an argument of plagiarism,” and that the real accusations were made by Smith’s translator. Like any hapless blogger who starts a shitstorm, they are gratified and bewildered by the new readership, alarmed by the repercussions, and disgusted by some of the comments. It’s as if internet shitstorms are the same in every language!
August 10: Fikir Mahsulleri Ofisi publishes a timeline for new readers, a response to Safak’s response, and an epic polemic about the state of criticism in Turkey.
There was value in bringing this to light: plagiarism is serious to the last degree, and not a claim that can be made lightly. But it is not an insult or an attack. As far comments like [columnist] Deniz Ülke Arıboğan’s tweet, “to accuse an author of plagiarism is no different than to curse them” — well, to curse someone is ill-mannered, it’s hitting below the belt. One refrains from responding to curses. As for plagiarism, when it is held up with concrete information, it is a serious claim that must be responded to with a cool head. It’s a criticism. Since this isn’t something that is well-known in Turkey let me spell it out again so that it’s well understood: CRITICISM.
Moving to the political, the post goes onto criticize people who use Şafak’s 2006 appearance in court for denigrating the Turkish state (Article 301) as a reason to excuse or discount the plagiarism controversy:
Just as Elif Shafak’s liberty to write novels in the face of conservative laws, the liberty of others to criticize her novels must be held sacred, too. What to do about one warning left by a commenter who calls him/herself Elif Şafak: “If you don’t erase this, criminal prosecution can be started against you?”
Without having read both Iskender and the Turkish translation of White Teeth, it’s impossible to weigh in on the validity of the claims, but it’ll be interesting to see what comes of this. We would love to hear from readers who have some perspective.
The great English broadcaster Ray Hudson once said of the great Argentine footballer Juan Román Riquelme, “Look at him, so languid, look at him walking. He’s like a big, beautiful zombie, Riquelme. He just strolls around…like smoke off a cigarette.” Hudson values hyperbole over precision—or at least succumbs to the former—for he suffers from a sort of fanatic epilepsy when he works. Hudson told me, “When that spotlight’s on you, and you’re calling a game, you’re in the moment, instantaneous, and the selection of words, phrases, and anecdotes are improvised. There’s very little time for actual thought. There’s very little time for reflection on what you’re actually going to say.” And Hudson’s quips, spontaneous and unedited, have gained him a reputation as one of the most notorious announcers in all of sports.
Hudson made his career first as a soccer player—for Newcastle United in England, and later for various teams in the defunct North American Soccer League. But he is best known for announcing the modern game for GolTV. Commentary for a soccer match, more so than in any other sport, is like the musical accompaniment to ballet. Therefore as a broadcaster, Hudson is comparable to the conductor of an orchestra playing in the pit beneath a stage of dancers; he adds context and emotion to the drama. No wonder, then, that he often likens footballers to beautiful women. “I’m telling you man,” Hudson once said of FC Barcelona’s seventeen-year-old striker, Bojan Krkic, “this kid could be the best thing on two legs since Sophia Loren.”
Unlike most American sports, soccer is a fluid game, with frequent changes of possession and few clear, numeric statistics to evaluate. Soccer is improvisational, whereas American football is regimented. In football, plays are designed then executed, to greater or lesser success. In soccer, players practice formations and then improvise within a spontaneous framework. Therefore soccer, whose action is as constant as light, requires a reactive, jazz-like call. “Most people,” Hudson said, “have no concept of how challenging and demanding it is to call a game. I mean, we’re seeing those pictures the same second you’re seeing them.” There are few numbers to pore over, so the color man’s broadcast, if done well, strives, not to investigate the efficacy of a play, but to transliterate excitement. “When it gets into the red zone,” Hudson said, “when it gets into that area where something truly special might develop, that’s where I come out of the long grass. That’s when it’s showtime for me. And that preparation takes on its own dynamic. If it’s an intoxicating game that has all the ingredients for a beautiful, hot stew, then what are you going to do?”
Stylistically, Hudson is a compositor of metaphor. Like the critic and memoirist Anatole Broyard, who describing a lover once wrote, “Her waist was so small, it cut her in two, like a split-personality, or two schools of thought,” Hudson is disinterested in, or even incapable of, inventing basic similes. His description of a goal scored during a meeting of the Mexican and Argentine national sides—“Heinze jumps up like Rudolf Nureyev, beautiful, [and] stabs it home. But it’s Riquelme, man… [His movement is] impossible, like pouring a pint of beer into a shot glass”—suggests, if not a frenetic mind, an uncontainable one. His mouth can’t always keep up with his brain. “It’s not within me,” Hudson said. To be pedestrian with any of my descriptions. I’m just incapable of it. I mean, you hear me now. Once you start me, you cannot stop me.”
I asked him to tell me about the most exciting match he ever announced, and he thought immediately of the 38th round of the 2007 La Liga championship (judging by Youtube views, it is also his most famous). Hudson’s announcing is passionate to the point of violence. To give a little context to the game, Hudson was the color analyst, and Phil Schoen the broadcaster, for Real Madrid’s season-ending match at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium. The morning of the 17th, Real Madrid was tied at the top of the table with its perennial political and sporting rival, FC Barcelona. Earlier in the season, in their head-to-head match-ups, Madrid had taken four of six points from Barcelona, beating the Catalans at home and drawing away. This meant that if by day’s end both teams were victorious in their matches, Madrid would win the league.
Both clubs kicked off simultaneously. By halftime, Barcelona was laying waste to Gimnastic 3-0. Madrid, on the other hand, was trailing 0-1 to Mallorca at home. If the result stood, Barcelona would win the title. But then in the 68th minute Madrid scored, leveling their match. In the 78th they scored again, taking the lead. When Jose Reyes scored two minutes later, he confirmed Madrid’s victory, and with it, the title.
“The world was watching,” Hudson remembered, “and you felt something historical was going to happen. Also in that game, there was a good bit of jousting between Phil [Schoen] and me, because the camera kept cutting to these people in the stands, these Hollywood celebrities. I remember in particular for that game Tom Cruise [and Rafael Nadal] were there. And Phil kept going on about Tom Cruise while this gladiatorial fight to the death was happening before us.” As we talked, Hudson’s voice began to rise. “And I got so incensed that I nearly lost it.”
Recapping the match live as time ran out, Hudson said of Madrid’s goalkeeper, Iker Casillas, who by his estimation had saved the game, and who had cried in joy after the definitive third goal got scored, “That’s why you see those beautiful tears from a man whose heart is bursting.” The camera, here, cut away to the crowd, where Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes were kissing triumphantly in the stands. Perhaps to annoy him, Schoen asked if Hudson’s comment were directed at Cruise. Hudson screamed, “Would you stop talking about tennis players and stupid Hollywood actors, Phil! It’s the gladiators out there, man.” Then, with great disgust, Hudson went on: “Tom Cruise. Give me a break. If he smelled a soccer jockstrap, he’d faint dead away.”
Between his playing and commentating days, Hudson has seen countless goals—and many magnificent ones—but one in particular stands out above them, as Real Madrid’s definitive game in June 2007 rises in his mind above the other matches he’s called. Ronaldinho, the Brazilian striker who played his best football in Barcelona, once scored a goal against Villa Real that during the match, along side other hyberboles (“As electrifying as a hairdryer thrown into a hot tub” ) Hudson claimed was tantamount to religious art.
Hudson described the goal to me this way. “It was an overhead kick, at an angle, just into the corner of the box, and I called it, if I remember correctly, ‘A Bernini sculpture of a goal, that rivals the Ecstasy of St. Teresa.’ Now, there are probably two people around the United States tuning in who had even heard of Bernini. But for me, it was that good. And in my opinion, instances like that need to be compared to something monumental, to something of an exquisiteness completely unique. And that sculpture came immediately to mind.” He went on: “[During the replays] there was this one wonderful shot of the defender who had been the closest to Ronny, who had just seen this goal, and he was simply stupefied. I described him like Lot’s wife, turning to salt. And then the next second the camera cut away to this little blonde boy in the stands, this little cherub in a Barcelona shirt, and he started smiling. I remember saying, ‘His big bright eyes have just grown the size of saucer plates. He’s never seen anything like this in his life, and he never will again.’”
I did not grow up a sports fan. I played soccer and baseball, and later golf, but my father, despite coaching a number of teams I played on, didn’t watch games on TV. By the time I got to college, being a sports fan seemed primitive to me. I fancied myself an artist. Entertainment, I thought, should be a strictly intellectual pursuit, so I watched a lot of emotionally vacant French films, and read a bunch of calamitous, dystopian novels. Back then I thought of Bande á parte and Blood Meridian as the pinnacles of culture.
Then in October of 2002, I was staying at my parents’ house. I’d dropped out of college in New York two days before the start of my sophomore year and returned to California. I was drinking too much in Brooklyn, but more significantly, my girlfriend lived in my hometown. Fittingly, though, a month after I got back, she left for school in Irvine. Finding myself alone and acutely depressed one Saturday evening, I turned on the sixth game of the World Series. The Giants, who because of their proximity to my hometown I’d been a nominal fan of as a boy, led the Angels until the seventh. But with one out in that inning, Dusty Baker pulled his starter, Russ Ortiz, who to that point hadn’t allowed a run. The reliever, Félix Rodríguez, promptly gave up a three run homer. In the eighth, the Angel’s third baseman, Troy Glaus, doubled in two more runs. The Giants lost.
The next night I watched the seventh game, which was a sort of underwhelming catastrophe. By the third, all the runs that were to get scored had been. The Giants almost rallied in the ninth, getting two men on with only one out. But Kenny Lofton flied out to right-center to end the Series, in favor of the Angels. I broke down in tears. It’s the only time, before or since, that I’ve cried over a game. But that loss, and my illogical reaction to it, proved to me that sport has the capacity to evoke, or at least unlock, genuine emotion.
Since then I’ve been a dedicated fan—first of baseball, then of soccer, and finally of mixed martial arts and cycling. As a writer, sports provide for me a finite dramatic stage where a protagonist and an antagonist attempt metaphorically (though in fighting sometimes literally) to kill each other. The plots of the stories, if I’m being reductive, are repetitive. But the distillation of competition, thematic and actual, is the stuff of art. One night in Boston, after the Oakland A’s (I am, again, a geographical fan) got swept by the Detroit Tigers in the 2006 American League Championship Series—a defeat that ruined my mood for the remainder of the playoffs—I felt inspired to write on my wall when I got home from the bar, “If I’m not allowed to care terribly about a game men play, neither should I be affected by anything else man invents.”
This is why I like listening to Ray Hudson. He takes sports even more seriously than I do. If, for me, soccer (or baseball or cycling or football) is a representation of human struggle, and is in that sense a means to dissecting and then producing art, for Hudson the game itself is the end—and therefore art itself. “What an absolute scientific goal again,” he once said of a Riquelme masterpiece. “[It’s the great Argentine] who is the Einstein of it…Stand up! Get out of your sofas and applaud if you’re a football fan, because the poets just wrote a sonnet to all of us.” Soccer, for Hudson, is the conflation of science and art, equal parts spontaneity and technique. But when I spoke to him, he was rather dismissive of his role as a broadcaster. “I’ve never had much foresight into what I’m doing. Literally, when the lights go on, I just get out there and tap dance my way through it… I use my very minor knowledge of the English language, and my passion for the game, to accentuate a match.” When everything is said and done, though, the novelist only strives to accentuate the world around him. He observes and he comments. And if that commentary is sufficiently careful and emotional, he commemorates the action permanently.
I wrote the following piece in 2005 when I was in graduate school in Chicago. It was fun to research and write, but I never had the opportunity to do anything with it. However, with baseball season just around the corner, and this correspondent already getting excited, it seemed like a reasonable moment to dust off this essay about the colorful history of a neighborhood park where the neighborhood guys still get together to play ball.I.On the Saturday morning of Memorial Day weekend, a school teacher, a real estate agent, a bartender and a legendary record producer played baseball on the grounds of an old cucumber farm.The cucumber farm is now better known as Winnemac Park, and among its many purposes, it serves as the home field for the Winnemac Electrons, a perennial basement dweller in the Chicago Metropolitan Baseball Association, an 18 and over men’s baseball league. But the park is also a high school athletic facility, an urban nature preserve, and the preferred spot for pickup games of soccer, baseball, Frisbee, and anything else people can think up.Before the ballplayers arrived on that May morning, the park was serene, but by no means empty. Joggers shared the park’s gently curving paths with dogwalkers and the occasional cyclist just passing through. The park sits in the Ravenswood neighborhood of Chicago and is bound by Foster Avenue on the north, Damen Avenue on the east, Argyle Street on the south and Leavitt Street on the west. On the park’s northeast corner sits Amundsen High School, a dense brick building that dates back to 1930.From the back of the high school, one has a pretty much unimpeded view of the sturdy brick grandstand of Jorndt field, a smart-looking high school football stadium that runs along Leavitt Street on the west side of the park. The fenced-in field is less than a year old, and it was named after Louis C. Jorndt, a teacher and coach at Amundsen from 1930 to 1953.Twenty yards to the east of Jorndt field, the game between the Electrons and the Chicago Aviators got underway about twenty minutes late because the umpire got stuck in traffic. The Electrons typically don’t win, but they liked their chances in this game. Ryan Rezvani, a computer lab teacher at Patrick Henry Elementary School said that when the Electrons first started out “we got our ass kicked the whole year.” He pointed to the Aviators players warming up on the field, “they’re the new us.”Also on the bench was Steve Albini, who is known to many music fans as the producer of albums by some of the most popular bands of the 1980s and 90s, including The Pixies and Nirvana. His company, Electrical Audio, is one of the Electrons sponsors, and gives the team its name and logo, a maroon lowercase “e.” Albini had arrived on an old bicycle wearing coveralls with a big version of the “e” logo on the back. At 42, he’s the oldest member of the team, but he also epitomizes the team’s playful spirit. “We all got such a kick out of playing baseball after not playing for such a long time,” he said of their first season in the league in 2003.Before the game, Electrons coach and first baseman Al Stern gathered the team under the paltry shade of a young oak tree and told them not to take the Aviators lightly, even though they were widely regarded as the league’s weakest team. Stern read off the starting lineup, and the team gave an earnest round of applause after each name.Pitching for the Electrons was John Federici, known to his teammates as “J. Fed,” who has the same build as David Wells, the sturdy pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. According to Rezvani, the hardest thing for these teams to find is good pitching, and in Federici, a bartender who many speculated hadn’t gone to sleep the night before, the Electrons had found their ace. He allowed a run in the first inning on a single to left followed by a double to the gap in right, but he would hold the Aviators scoreless for the rest of the seven inning game, striking out 13.II.It costs about $3,000 to field a CMBA team, $1,100 of that is dues to the league and the rest goes to uniforms, equipment and umpires. One significant outlay is for baseballs. Every ball that was fouled beyond third base and over the locked fence that surrounds Jorndt Field elicited groans from the players. Beyond the first base line is a patch of knee-high prairie grass, and each time a ball landed in the thicket, one of the Electrons went bounding in to retrieve the ball and save the team some cash.The patches of prairie that sit in the middle of Winnemac Park aren’t the result of negligent groundskeeping; they’re a part of the $2 million renovation of the park that was completed in 1999. The prairie, crisscrossed by paths, is a reminder of what the park once was, and laminated signs posted by the Chicago Park District help visitors identify the plants that grow there.After the original prairie was cleared away, this land was a cucumber farm, but as far back as 1837, the 40 acres that constitute Winnemac Park have been in the hands of the city. A man named Charles M. Pettit was the last private owner of the land, and he lost it when the Chicago’s Commissioner of Schools foreclosed on a loan for $1,500 he had made to Pettit out of school funds. Pettit had used the property to secure the loan.The archives of the Chicago Tribune offer a sketch Winnemac Park’s history, one full of sporting events of every kind and at every level. But before the games could be played, the facilities had to be put in place. From the June 6, 1912, Tribune: “Commissioner Charles Bock obtained the [park] commission’s consent to allow young men and boys to play baseball in Winnemac park at Foster avenue and North Robey street. Six baseball diamonds will be laid out.”By 1920 plans were being floated in City Council meetings to put a high school on the land, but it wasn’t until 1930 that Amundsen opened, named for the polar explorer Roald Amundsen who had died on a rescue mission to the North Pole two years earlier. A 6,000 seat stadium, now replaced by Jorndt Field, was put in soon after. For much of the 1930s the park was the site of WPA projects where workers improved and regraded the land, but by the 1990s the park had fallen into disrepair. Winnemac Avenue, which at the time bisected the park from east to west, was the site of drag races that were accompanied by nightly beer bashes. The drainage systems underneath the fields south of Winnemac had never been properly connected to the city sewers, and after strong rains the park would turn into a muddy lake. The park’s athletic fields, especially the ones used by the public and not the high school, were in disrepair.The latest incarnation of Winnemac Park is something of an oasis on the North Side of Chicago. 2,000 new trees were planted along with the prairie, and Winnemac Avenue was closed to traffic and converted into a pedestrian path. The paths through the park are now accented by old cobblestones and decorative lights and fencing. The park seems to be a favorite destination for neighborhood residents who flock there on summer evenings and weekend days, but not everyone is happy with the new Winnemac Park.Ron Markowicz, president of the CMBA, described Winnemac Park before the renovation, as a “wide open sports complex.” Markowicz used to have two fields available for games, but a new parking lot took away most of right field in one of them. Markowicz isn’t just a disgruntled taxpayer though; over the years, with the blessing of the city, he has spent league money hiring independent contractors to improve the baseball diamonds at Winnemac. Still, Winnemac is the perfect spot for city baseball players who don’t want to trek out to the suburbs for games, and each season four or five teams in the CMBA use Winnemac as their home field. “We love it because it’s local,” Markowicz said, “not having to drive all over hell’s half acre is a big selling point.”Though the CMBA has worked to keep the field in good shape, it’s no Wrigley. Winnemac “has a notoriously irregular field,” Steve Albini said. The bad bounces caused by the pitted infield are so frequent and so noteworthy that the phenomenon has been dubbed “The Winnemac Hop.” As the Electrons and the Aviators battled each other, both teams faced a few Winnemac Hops, which the scorekeepers ruled were base hits and not errors.III.By the third inning, the Electrons were already pulling away. They came up to bat in the bottom of the third with a five to one lead, but before the inning could get underway, the Aviators catcher, a wiry fellow who sported a mohawk haircut, got tagged in the nose with an errant warmup pitch. For some reason he hadn’t been wearing his catcher’s mask. There was a brief delay as he tried to staunch the bleeding, but that wasn’t by any means the first blood spilled at Winnemac in athletic pursuits.In 1940, Bob Sparks, left fielder of the Ace Staplers, broke his leg above the ankle sliding into second, and in 1956, Jerry Buechel, – the “star senior halfback on Tuley High school’s football team,” according to the Tribune’s report the next day – was knocked unconscious for 20 minutes in a game against Amundsen. Far worse, however, was the fate of fourteen-year-old Aleck Isheksen, who died on the way to the hospital after being struck in the head by a line drive at the park in the summer of 1919.The same Aviators catcher who got tagged in the nose in the third had gotten yelled at by the ump in the first for stepping on Electron first baseman, Al Stern’s leg as he reached first base on a ground out. “It’s a point of contention,” said Stern, of the fact that only one ump calls the games. But most games it works out fine. “If the ball beats the runner there, the ump’s going to call him out, which is what he should do,” said Stern who is a real estate agent during the week.Players have been grumbling at officials in games played at Winnemac for decades now, but on occasion tempers have really flared. In the summer of 1956, a semi-pro soccer game had to be cut short after fans of a team called the Falcons rushed the field and tried to attack the referee for kicking one of their players out of the game. The ref escaped harm. But two years later a halfback for the Eagles, Kas Iwanicki – “address unknown,” according to the Tribune report – knocked 60-year-old ref, Eli Korer to the ground with one punch. Iwanicki was disputing a goal scored by the Falcons (the ones with the rowdy fans), and Korer ended up in the hospital with ten stitches.Luckily it appears as though, on at least one occasion, the right of an official not to get slugged was held up in the court of law. From the July 2, 1921, Tribune: “‘So long as a base ball umpire has nerve enough to stand by his decision. I’ll do all I can to protect him,’ said Judge John R. Newcomer in the Sheffield avenue court yesterday in assessing a fine of $3 and costs against Harry Kullander of the Winonas, who was charged with attacking Umpire George Le Marsh during a game at Winnemac Park last Sunday.”The Electrons and the Aviators, however, managed to play their game in relative peace. As the game wore on, the clouds thickened as they moved in from the west. To the south of Jorndt Field a pair of tennis players were dashing around the public court, and pickup soccer games had sprung up on various empty patches of grass despite the threatening weather. On a weekend walk through Winnemac, one is likely to encounter several different sports being played, but these are only a tiny fraction of the athletic endeavors that the park has hosted.Soccer, football, and baseball have been the most frequently played sports at Winnemac. Soccer was once the top draw. As many as 7,000 people came to the park to watch men’s amateur and semi-pro soccer games in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. The park has also hosted football games for Amundsen, Senn, Lake View and several other high schools. The Chicago Bears even worked out there in the 1950s to spare their home turf at Wrigley Field. And baseball, from pickup games, to little league, up through high school, amateur and semi-pro leagues, has been a near constant summer presence at Winnemac for almost a hundred years.But other sports have been contested there as well. There was once a skating rink in the park that hosted events called Ice Skating Derbies in the 1920s and 1930s. The “National Amateur Athletic union 25 kilometer walking championship” was held there in the 1950s and the park has often been the finish line for long distance running and bicycle races. Games of rugby and cricket have been played there, but perhaps the strangest of all was the Girl Scout Olympics in the summer of 1940. According to the Tribune, “A medium sized raw potato, a bean bag, a troop flag and the Stars and Stripes will be the necessary items of equipment for each of the 92 troops participating.”There were no potatoes on hand as the long-threatening clouds finally doused the park with rain, and the Electrons drubbing of the Aviators came to a close with a final score of 13 to 1. Some of the Electrons raced off through the downpour to their cars in order to make it to holiday barbecues or to head home for a nap, while others strolled triumphantly, if damply, to Gio’s, a nearby sports bar that co-sponsors the team. The joy that the Electrons derived from this hobby of theirs – the one that allowed them don uniforms and bat the ball around an emerald oasis in the city – was plain on their faces.As Steve Albini, the patron saint of this plucky club put it, “Baseball for all of us is not the most important thing in our lives, but it’s important enough for us to do it.”