Unless we act quickly, one of the more important standing symbols of this American century will soon be lost to us. It is Comiskey Park in Chicago, a field of our national dreams, a symbol of the growth and history of this country and a wonderful place to learn history while having some fun. But after this baseball season ends, it is scheduled to be torn down to make way for a parking lot. Say it ain't so.
Charles Comiskey built the stadium with his own money in 1910, and -- just as in the movie "Field of Dreams" -- "he" came. The "he," of course, was Shoeless Joe Jackson -- the real one, not a film actor -- who as a rookie left fielder had 233 hits and a .408 batting average.
Comiskey called the park he had created the "Baseball Palace of the World," and although its location downwind of the stockyards was somewhat unpalatial, the name seemed apt: it proved to be a lovely place for a ballgame. It has also seen a lot of history. In 1917, Shoeless Joe led the White Sox to the world championship there. Two years later, came the "Black Sox" scandal -- the disclosure that members of the White Sox -- most prominent among them Jackson -- had been bribed by gamblers.
And so "he" was gone from baseball forever, but the park remained. In 1933 Comiskey Park was the site of baseball's first All-Star game. In the '30s and '40s it was also the scene of several Negro League All-Star games.
On July 5, 1947, Larry Doby got off the overnight train from New York and went to Comiskey, where he signed a contract with Bill Veeck's Cleveland Indians and played in a doubleheader against the White Sox, thus becoming the first American of African ancestry to play in the American League.
When Nikita Khrushchev was in Iowa in 1959, Chicagoans with Cold War jitters were startled to hear the city's air raid sirens go off in the middle of the night. Not to worry: the Pale Hose had just won their first American League pennant in 40 years.
Since then Comiskey Park has endured Bill Veeck's exploding scoreboard-cum-fireworks, a short-lived experiment with artificial turf on the infield and the continuing absence of a world championship -- and still it has stood. It is now the oldest park in the major leagues.
Unless something is done, however, this is its final weekend of baseball. The owners of the franchise have committed themselves to take the team across the street next year to the glitzy new place built with funds extracted from the state legislature after the owners threatened to move the team to Florida.
Can Comiskey be saved at this late date? At present the issue is snarled in Illinois state and local politics. But the solution that is urgently required is really a national one.
Comiskey Park is a kind of Ellis Island, Cooperstown and Statue of Liberty all rolled into one. Comiskey's father was a refugee from the Irish potato famine who arrived in America in 1848. His park is where millions of American immigrants and their children have come to dream over the past 80 years: Irish, Germans, Southern and Eastern Europeans, African Americans, Hispanics. It is a living symbol of our century to be preserved for future centuries.
The National Park Service should be given the job of adapting Comiskey Park into a living museum. The Grand Old Park could pay its own way with user fee income. Baseball could be played there every day by teams of all ages: amateur, pro, semipro. Who wouldn't relish the opportunity to play where Shoeless Joe once played? Its exhibits, films, and lectures could use the story of Comiskey Park to tell the history of this century.
The owners of the White Sox should use the funds they have budgeted for destroying Comiskey Park for the development of parking facilities elsewhere in the vicinity. But since they continue to refuse to save Comiskey Park themselves or to offer it to the United States, it is time for government to exercise its powers of eminent domain.
Is anybody in Washington listening? Make Comiskey a national park and they -- the people -- will come.
Bruce Oudes is a writer who lives in Reston.