Thillens Stadium, at the corner of Devon and Kedzie on Chicago’s North Side, was a ballpark for youth baseball for decades beginning not long after World War II.
It’s connected to Cubs history in a unique way — it’s the origin of the center-field camera TV shot:
Back in the early days of televised baseball, TV producers and directors always assumed that the best view of the pitcher and batter was from overhead — the behind-the-plate upper deck shot. But in 1954, WGN televised some Little League games from Thillens Stadium on the North Side. Because of the tight quarters there and no place to put a camera behind the plate, they installed one in center field.
They quickly discovered that this shot was like gold — it clearly showed movement on pitches, the pitcher and the batter in their confrontation, and zoom lenses made the action far more close-up than with the overhead shot. When they began using this at Wrigley Field, it was quickly copied by other local and national baseball telecasters.
The reason I am telling you all this now is that I recently came across this great video find, a complete half-hour show about youth baseball at Thillens, narrated by longtime WGN-TV Cubs announcer Jack Brickhouse:
This is a fascinating look at both TV production and kids’ baseball from nearly 70 years ago. You’ll recognize Brickhouse’s voice right away, if you’re familiar with it. It might be the earliest surviving audio of Brickhouse, predating his famous call of Willie Mays’ catch in the 1954 World Series.
The major-league player who appears in the film giving kids baseball tips is Otto Denning, who had a brief two-year career with Cleveland in 1942 and 1943. Denning’s SABR biography says that after his playing career he worked for the post office in Chicago and “became involved in youth baseball leagues.” He had two relatives who played in MLB: Chris Bourjos, a Chicago native (Gordon Tech High School) briefly a Giants outfielder in 1980, and Chris’ son Peter Bourjos, who had a 10-year MLB career mostly with the Angels and Cardinals and who played some spring training games for the Cubs in 2018.
The kids who are in that film would now be in their late 70s or early 80s. Do you recognize any of them? If so, let us know in the comments.
Thillens Stadium was taken over by the Chicago Park District in 2005 and the large baseball with “Thillens” on it was demolished in 2013. The park still exists for youth baseball; it’s now called, simply, “The Baseball Stadium at Devon & Kedzie.”
The film is worth watching; it’s a real slice of Chicago history.