In the early 1960's my family resided at Sacramento and Devon Ave in Chicago. One of the fondest memories of anyone who lived in that general area was that of Thillens Stadium, the original Field of Dreams built in 1938. A baseball stadium located near Devon and Kedzie, that had the feel of Wrigley Field. It had 17,000 baseball players a year competing.
The stadium had lights, a public address system, electronic scoreboard and concession stands. It seated more than 2,000 fans. The memory that lingers with me is that my old pal Jack Brickhouse, Broadcaster Hall of Famer along with Arne Harris, the late producer and director of Cubs telecasts, pioneered the center field camera there.
The city’s first Little League and Pony league were established at Thillens. The stadium had 2 playing fields. Old time broadcaster Ernie Simon also had broadcasted games along with Jack Brickhouse. Mel Thillens, the founder of this storied field made many a Little Leaguer feel like a Major League player. My own children at the time were much too young to play at Thillens, but, occasionally remind me of that great big baseball stadium in the neighborhood. I haven’t visited the site of Thillens Stadium in many years but I can still hear the shouting of the fans in the stadium cheering them on to victory. And you could hear the public address system outside the park with a play by play description.
My family has its own personal history with this historic stadium. My oldest daughter who was too young at the time we lived in the neighborhood, years later had her own personal experience. Her son, my grandson, played baseball in the Skokie Park District in center field. His team was invited to play at Thillens as part a special event in 1998. Unfortunately I lived out of state at that time and as a proud grandpa did not see him play.
For him and my daughter it was a once in a lifetime experience to set foot on the field of dreams where thousands of boys before him had played baseball. Unfortunately my daughter did not bring a camera so we don’t have a picture of that moment in my grandson’s young life. But, there he was, as so many boys dreaming he was in Wrigley Field playing baseball with the big boys.
So the City of Chicago owes a great debt of gratitude to Mel Thillens who provided the ideal venue for thousands of boys and thrilling their families for decades.
This is a memory of Chicago Then that lights the corners of my mind and so many others. I hope you are one of them.
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