Originally published October 27th, 2012
Every one of Detroit’s World Series Championships happened right here, at Tiger Stadium. Some still called it Briggs Stadium, and the older still called it Navin Field, but the one constant was the history in the grounds. Sluggers like Hank Greenberg crushed home runs here, while player like Ty Cobb played with assassin like precision on the base paths and at the plate. But really, were there other players like Cobb? Babe Ruth had played on this field and Mickey Mantle had smashed home runs off the roof. There were few parks like Tiger Stadium, but by the year 2000 baseball had changed. The cookie-cutter stadiums of the 60’s were replaced first, but by 2000, there was a new phase of parks entering the League. There were rumors that Fenway was next, or maybe Wrigley, and less than 10 years later it was Yankee Stadium, but the first to go was in Detroit.
After Comerica Park opened, Tiger Stadium languished in squalor. The chairs that were left, faded and split. The paint that graced the outfield walls cracked, and mold grew in the old bathrooms and pipes. At the time the city of Detroit continued to mow the grass, but outside of that, the park was left to rot. By 2009 the park was coming down, even as residents and interest groups tried to save it.
I’ve been to almost every park in the Major Leagues, but I never had a chance to see a game at Tiger Stadium. I was there in 2009, but missed the chance to see it standing by two weeks. (I had visions of paying someone at the gate something, anything, to get inside.) When I stood outside the gates, it felt like the history was gone, replaced by tons of broken concrete and bent rebar. But things changed when I came back to Detroit in May, not even 7 months after the park had come down. The monument of destruction that I’d seen in October was gone — and in its place was a field of dandelion covered grass, the flagpole, and memories that leached from the ground like ghosts. Surprisingly, the only thing keeping me from standing on the field was a small, unlocked carabineer. It honestly wouldn’t have mattered.
I walked out and touched the flagpole. It’s still standing. I made my way to the infield and was shocked to see that it looked untouched. It was worn and faded, with small bits of grass and weeds, but at its core, it was still the heart and soul of Tiger Stadium. I ran the bases and stared out at the flagpole from an imaginary home plate before walking back out to the infield. I kicked at the hard top layer of dirt and hit pure untouched history. That was at the start of 2010.
Since then a crew of men and women hit the field throughout the year. They bring their own tools, they don’t get paid, and in fact, they’re trespassing. Do you realize how asinine that sounds? They’re volunteering their own time to keep the field clean and preserve a past “Field Of Dreams”, and the city doesn’t even want them there. I’ve stood on that corner. I parked in a vacant lot and looked around before leaving my car. It’s not a great area, but they’re doing it because they want to add value to the city. Men and women stop to pay homage. Children play catch with their dads. Families have left the ashes of their loved ones on the field. It’s living history reborn – So why won’t the city embrace it?
The city of Detroit needs to understand the value a revitalized Tiger Stadium site could mean to the community. You want to know the best way to encourage crime? Neglect. Invest in the community and good things can happen. Yesterday the city of Cleveland announced their plans to do just that.
I hit League Park in Cleveland during that same visit to Detroit. Like on Michigan and Trumbull, the area is a primarily black neighborhood. It was sad to see entire areas so rundown because you can see that historically it’s a really interesting area; you can see it in the buildings and the architecture. Until now it was a forgotten area filled with vacant stores and their washed out paint and moss covered stone, but Cleveland has decided to do something about it. At a $6.3 million investment, the city plans on refurbishing the streets and landscaping while creating a community park, trails, a spray park, and new ballfields. Detroit needs to follow Cleveland’s lead in attacking urban areas with funds and not neglect.
The Yankees dismantled the House That Ruth Built, and in its place created Heritage Field. Cleveland is coming to the plate to improve League Park by making it a destination for families and activity. Detroit? The city of Detroit turns a blind eye while volunteers work in spite of them to make the old grounds safe for everyone, to give the young and old a chance to reflect on the history of the game, to have a catch, and to enjoy that moment — before they go watch the Tigers play minutes away.
The Tigers are in the World Series, but until the final out of the final game is decided, the field on Michigan and Trumbull is still the last one to host a World Series Champion in Detroit. It’s time the city of Detroit remembers that, and honors it.