Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A lyric little bandbox of a ballpark and Ted Williams' last home run

On the passing of John Updike, we offer this column

By John Ryan, Mercury News

John Updike, the celebrated author who died Tuesday at age 76, had an eye for sports. His "Rabbit, Run" featured the travails of a former high school basketball star.

And his essay in The New Yorker on Ted Williams' final game at Fenway Park remains a staple of sportswriting nearly 50 years later.

Appearing in October 1960 and titled "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu," the article begins: "Fenway Park, in Boston, is a lyric little bandbox of a ballpark."

That description is repeated to this day. But Updike's more memorable writing involved the buildup to Williams' last at-bat, in the eighth inning.

"Have you ever heard applause in a ballpark? Just applause—no calling, no whistling, just an ocean of handclaps, minute after minute, burst after burst, crowding and running together in continuous succession like the pushes of surf at the edge of the sand. It was a sombre and considered tumult."

Williams hit a home run, of course. And Updike writes:

"Like a feather caught in a vortex, Williams ran around the square of bases at the center of our beseeching screaming. He ran as he always ran out home runs — hurriedly, unsmiling, head down, as if our praise were a storm of rain to get out of. He didn't tip his cap. Though we thumped, wept, and chanted 'We want Ted' for minutes after he hid in the dugout, he did not come back. Our noise for some seconds passed beyond excitement into a kind of immense open anguish, a wailing, a cry to be saved. But immortality is nontransferable. The papers said that the other players, and even the umpires on the field, begged him to come out and acknowledge us in some way, but he never had and did not now. Gods do not answer letters."

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