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Shi: John Updike and the mechanics of rebirth

“Immortality is nontransferable.” John Updike wrote these words in 1960 to commemorate Ted Williams’ last game, and true to form, nearly 60 years later Boston still mourns its irreplaceable loss. Itself immortal, Updike’s “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu” is probably the single greatest piece of sports literature ever written, and similarly to the Fenway faithful, we at the sports desk are forever looking up at it.

That is not to say that there is nothing we have achieved. Far from it. Updike’s greatness is real, and we seek not to cower at the past but rather to admire it, challenge it and, yes, hopefully surpass it. It is a goal that is more of a dream than a directive. I freely admit it. But I should expect nothing less.

Every baseball player in America dreams to hit as Ted Williams did. That aspiration defines who they are. At The Stanford Daily, we have also tried to dream in that same aspirational manner. We have no John Updike on our staff. But we certainly wish we did.

Volume 244 of The Stanford Daily is ending — we operate on a semester schedule, a holdover from ages past — and on Feb. 1 we will graduate a generation of fellow dreamers. Our semester schedule, as opposed to most college papers’ full-year operations, means that people can get opportunities early on that they otherwise wouldn’t get until late in their careers. But it also means that people cycle out quickly. That’s the nature of the game.

We are losing some very special people on Feb. 1. Sam Fisher, emperor of the sports section, is a commentator the likes of which has not graced Stanford for a long time, and in whose shadow we all travel. Ed Ngai, our fearless leader for the last volume, I remember as the person who taught me how to write in news style — although, having since moved on to sports, I admit it’s not a skill I have utilized very often. Aaron Sekhri, our opinions editor and the man who convinced me to write for The Daily in the first place, is taking a well-deserved breather of his own. And it is not much of an exaggeration to say that Willa Brock and Charlotte Wayne, our resident masters of Jeopardy!, witticisms and proper grammar, have given me hope in humanity time and time again. Needless to say, their shoes will be hard to fill.

In their place, we bring in a group of editors I am relentlessly excited to welcome. George Chen, my old editor in sports and fellow troller of the University of California, will be showrunning for Volume 245 and I pledge him my full support. Marshall Watkins, recently returned from Washington D.C., will be as capable an executive editor as anybody could ask for. Do-Hyoung Park, my longtime counterpart on the sports desk, will be filling Sam’s shoes as managing editor of sports. And Michael Peterson will be taking my place among the sports columnists.

Taking my place among the sports columnists… yes. It’s hard to admit, but this is my last column in sports for the foreseeable future. Starting Feb. 1, I will be taking over the opinions desk, and there my column will go as well. We have a marvelous collection of columnists at Opinions — some returning, others new — and I will be the first to welcome you to what we have in store.

***

I have written this column at The Daily for a year now. I remember sitting in the cafeteria with George midway through my freshman year as he tried to sell me on an editorial position at The Daily. I also remember turning George down that day, but I did jump at the idea of writing a column. It was one of the best decisions of my life. I was not John Updike and I’ve never pretended to be. But I certainly tried, and I had a ball nonetheless.

What I appreciated most about my column was that it gave me the opportunity and the responsibility to consider things I had never really thought about before. A column ultimately asks its writer to develop an argument worthy of its lines. I don’t know if I have succeeded. I do know, however, that having taken the time to ponder my fandom, I am a better sports fan than I was a year ago.

It’s ironic, however, that my favorite piece of mine at The Daily is not a column at all. For that, I direct you to the inestimable Shannon Turley. As for columns, the Iron Bowl and its aftermath reminded me in dramatic fashion that there was a world of readers beyond Stanford’s walls. College football gave me perspective; the Toronto Maple Leafs showed me sorrow; Lance Armstrong personified disappointment; Tim Lincecum and Ben Gardner represented perseverance and in Fenway Park I witnessed a certain rebirth.

***

It’s strange that I’m leaving the sports desk midway through winter quarter. The Daily doesn’t sync with Stanford’s schedule; every departure feels out of place. The people who are leaving us deserve greater fanfare than they received — Williams closed his career with a home run against the Yankees, but mere mortals are rarely so lucky.

Yet that mirrors sports in a way. People leave and others take their place; it’s the cycle of athletics, and it’s part of what makes sports so compelling. Departures create openings, and where there are openings, there are also opportunities. It is the hope of finding a Ted Williams that motivates us. In constantly pulling in new faces, sports renews that hope, and in chaining our hope to the lingering glories of legends past, sports reminds us that what brought us to the game in the first place still remains and shines all the brighter. We cherish that twofold dream at the sports desk, and if I will leave it for the time being, I intend to take my leave by reminding you of why we are here.

The dream is real — and it will never die.

With the departure of Winston Shi from the sports section, The Daily will likely lose thousands of pageviews from Auburn fans checking hopefully to see if their favorite Daily columnist immortalized another of their team’s moments. Tell Winston how much you’ll miss him at wshi94 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

About Winston Shi

Winston Shi is an opinions columnist and senior staff writer for The Stanford Daily and was the Managing Editor of Opinions for Volume 245 (February-June 2014). He also sits on The Daily's Editorial Board. Previously, he worked at The Daily as a staff writer for the sports section. He is a junior from Thousand Oaks, California and majors in history. In his free time, he likes to read, travel and write about himself in the third person. Contact him at wshi94@stanford.edu.
  • Miles Ball

    I beg to differ with your statement “We have no John Updike
    on our staff.” Though he may be leaving I
    believe the staff has a young John Updike in Mr. Shi.

    Mr. Shi, good luck in your next position, sport’s loss
    is opinion’s gain.

  • JL

    I am both relieved and disappointed in the transition of this exceptional writer. Relieved because he will probably find a more sophisticated audience in Opinions, but disappointed, because if there is anyone who can convince us of the relevance of sports, of how it shows the best and worst of human nature, and how it creates the ultimate fiction, it is Mr.Winston Shi.