Sunday, June 20, 2010

Finding little but our memories on the spot where Tiger Stadium stood

These Tiger Plaza gates and the flagpole are all that remain of Tiger Stadium.

I’ve stood on the field in Tiger Stadium a number of times -- each time thrilling.

Several visits were for stories, including interviews with Jim Palmer and Frank Robinson. Another was a pre-game clinic with Andrew, where we listened to Tigers players and coaches offer tips and posed for photos in centerfield. And the most dangerous was sitting in the 27th row in right-center dodging chairs as Kiss launched its reunion tour.
Some of those adventures can be found here.

And the most memorable day at the park might have been when Will and I were present for the last game at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull in 1999.

But Saturday afternoon we stood on the field where Ty Cobb and Al Kaline played, and Trammell and Whitaker turned double plays. Gone were the fans and the stands, the bustle and noise. All that remained was the flagpole in centerfield, the infield with a somewhat tamped down mound and a grassy field slowly losing a battle to weeds.

We were in Detroit to see the Diamondbacks play the Tigers, and with some time to kill before the Comerica Park gates opened we headed over to the site of the stadium where we watched so many games together in the 1990s.

Exiting I-75 to get a closer view, we noticed that the large gate in the chain-link fence surrounding most of the site was wide open.

As with the Astrodome in October, an open gate is practically an engraved invitation to a couple baseball adventurers.

The whole area was deserted, and we decided that should a security guard appear, we’d easily see him coming.

We bravely walked out along what was the third base line. Tall weeds and some construction rubble dotted where the stands once stood, but we were surprised at how intact the playing field remained 10 years after the final out.

The infield dirt looked especially good, as if a good raking from the grounds crew would make it playable again.

We took turns standing on the mound, which was lower than it should have been but still identifiable as the spot where Jack Morris and Mickey Lolich fired fastballs.

Will paid tribute to the late Mark Fidrych by tending to the mound. Tom Seaver pitched two games at Tiger Stadium as a member of the White Sox, and I believe the scene looked like this.

We moved to the spot where home plate was removed in a ceremony after that final game, and the mound seemed closer than I would have imagined. I can see how intimidating it must have been for a Tiger batter to stand there and see Randy Johnson scowling and dealing.

Research shows that Tow Seaver pitched two games in Detroit, both of them impressive performances.

He beat the Tigers 7-1 on May 5, 1985, a complete game. Then Tom and Jack Morris went toe-to-toe on July 10. Both went the distance, and Morris got the win when the Tigers scored one run in the eighth inning, with Tom Brookens doubling home Lou Whitaker.

Of course I ran the bases.

We walked out to the flagpole in center, famous for standing 125 feet tall and 440 feet from home place – and standing in fair territory.

I’m glad the city left something standing, but the pole will need some work if its going to function ever again. Some of the wires that held the flags were twisted in a pile of knots at the base. Someone scrawled a tribute to Ernie Harwell.

We explored a little more, picking up some rubble with flecks of blue paint for souvenirs, before taking a last look and heading back through the gate.

Detroit is a disaster. There have been stories lately about the city looking at things to do with the open space at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull. I hope they keep the field there, even if it’s just for community games – or even for a couple fans to wander around and remember good times.


Bill Khan said...

Good stuff, Dave! I'm surprised there weren't gendarmes there to beat you guys to a pulp and whisk you away in a paddy wagon. My last trip there was to run a 5K that finished inside the stadium in 1999. Got lots of pics on the field and in the dugout before we were scooted up into the stands.

Anonymous said...

The upper deck seats behind home plate were the best seats in all baseball. You seemed to be so close, just hanging over the edge.

The new Comerica is one of the nicest new places, the entertainment is unique, but something's missing - maybe it's us, and our youth.

Where have you gone, Gates Brown?

Dan said...

Wow! Amazing! It looks like any other community field without the stadium surrounding it.

Anonymous said...

As a native Detroiter, this brought a tear to my eye. I spent many a wonderful afternoon (and night) in that ballpark. One day in 1968, my friend and I arrived at 11:30 a.m. for a 1:30 dh with the Red Sox, Left at 9:05 p.m. after a sweep. Great stuff.

MotorCity SportsSwami said...

And now, the Police Athletic League has decided to replace the grass onsite with astroturf...

The destruction/desecration of the Corner is now complete.

The Navin Fields Grounds Crew did an excellent job keeping the field in playing condition over the years, though. These volunteers should have a plaque in their honor at the site.