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Ballfield
In cities across the country, Americans engage in the national
pastime, either as participants or spectators.

Paris Lakers

Kathleen Stephens
Paris High School, Paris

Past times in Paris, Illinois, included many simple, yet satisfying activities. Although some of the recreational activities found in big cities would not be found in the rural community of Paris, residents were quite happy with what they had. A nearby lake was available for swimming, fishing, boating, picnics, family reunions, and ice skating, and in the 1950s the lake was also the setting for a minor league baseball team, the Paris Lakers.

The Lakers were a Class D team in the Mississippi-Ohio Valley League. Paris took great pride in their team, which included three African-American men: Butch McCorde, Quincy Smith, and Harold "BeeBop" Gordon. Many people believed McCorde to be the team's most valuable player, because he was the league's top batter with a .392 batting average. Other members of the team were George Case, Bill Savoree, Gene Brand, Doyle Chadwich, Jim Payola, Don McAndrews, Russ Gilmore, Jack Derousse, Jim Turner, Glen Brickey, Neil Maxq, Herb Heiser, and a man called Milligan. A powerfully built player named Jim Zapp hit long home runs and played the outfield. The team's pitcher was Kenny Grubb, and the manager was Tom Sunkel. Laker Stadium was located on the south side of what is now the west side of Twin Lakes Park. Part of the original stands as well as the original field still exist in that spot.

Originally, the stadium was a fenced square with unsheltered bleachers seating 2,500 people, plus a concession stand and locker rooms for the players. A small covered pressbox was situated behind home plate for the town's sportswriter, Bud Whittick. The outfield fence served as a billboard, advertising everything from donuts to Cadillacs. A small concession stand served the usual ballpark foods: popcorn, cotton candy, hot dogs, and most importantly, peanuts.

One fan, Edythe Stephens, recalls her box seat just in front of third base. Dr. Chittick and Skinny Ewing had boxes on either side; they were always faithfully in attendance. With a small town "county-fair" atmosphere, the townspeople spoke of crops, business, and babies as they waited for the players to appear for the pre-game warmup. Door prizes were given out at each game, such as a dozen donuts or a free meal at a downtown restaurant.

Baseball has not changed much over the years. The same thrill comes from seeing the players. The excitement can still be witnessed when fans enter a ballpark for the very first time. Although the menu has been increased by a few choice snacks and beverages, the memorable "Peanuts! Popcorn!" is still a commonly heard phrase. In Paris, professional baseball made its mark and now has disappeared. The potential is still there, however, with those who play in little league on the same diamond once used by the Paris Lakers minor league baseball team. [From "Echoes of the Great American Game," Kankakee Journal, July 26, 1975; student historian's interview with Edythe Stephens, May 9, 1995]

ILLINOIS HISTORY / APRIL 1996

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