Today is a truly sad day for Tiger fans. But its a day that was perhaps long overdue. It was announced today that the final remaining piece of historic
Tiger Stadium will be leveled, at the behest of the Detroit Economic Growth Commision. Much of the stadium was brought down last year, and the remaining structure, spanning dugout to dugout, could be demolished in as few as two weeks.
For the past ten years, following the Tigers’ move to Comerica Park, there has been great debate about what to do with the near century old ballpark. Ideas for a museum fell flat, as did proposals that included apartment complexes, shopping centers, and even featuring the field as a ballpark for kids to play on. In the end however, a struggling Detroit economy simply could not justify the cost of upkeep on the vacant building.
Originally Navin Field, the stadium was opened for play in 1912, on the same day the the RedSox began play at Fenway Park. Through 87 seasons and many changes, both to the name, and structure, the park at Michigan and Trumbull was home to the Detroit Tigers. For the past ten seasons, the stadium has stood unoccupied, and poorly maintained.
I do not live in Detroit, and never have. I grew up two and a half hours south on I-75, in Lima, Ohio (coincidentally nicknamed “Little Detroit” for some of the city’s less flattering elements). But every year, my father, my grandfather, and I would make the trip to Motown to see our Tigers play.
The trip happened at least four times per season, but was always the same. Dad and I would get into Grandpa’s car, though he was a terrible driver, and head north, always stopping on the way to eat in Perrysburg, Ohio, at the same Big Boy restaurant.
Upon our arrival, we would park along the street, on some small side road across the interstate from the stadium, so we didn’t have to pay for parking. Then we would make our way across the walkway above I-75, stop for peanuts, and head inside. We always got there early enough for batting practice, and our seats were usually just to the left field side of the fence the separated the reserved seats from the bleachers, in the upper deck.
The memories I have of those trips are easy to recall. Through the great seasons in the 80’s into the lean years of the 90’s, those trips were always my favorite days growing up.
Once I finished high school, those trips came to an end. I enrolled in college in Bowling Green, Ohio, and the shorter distance meant more trips to Detroit for me. Several of my roommates were Indians fans, so the voyage always took place when the Tribe came to town.
My final trip to the stadium was on September 20th, 1999, when the Indians came in for the final home-stand in the park. Dwight Gooden, one of the idols of my youth, started for Cleveland. Dean Palmer hit a bomb in the first, Todd Jones blew a save, Bobby Higginson robbed a homerun with a leaping catch at the wall in right, and the Tigers won in the bottom of the tenth. It was a perfect way to say goodbye for me.
The trips to Comerica have been fun, the stadium is beautiful. But each trip coming from the south on I-75 leads you past the battered old park, and each time I pass her, I can only shake my head at what once was. The stadium had a long and glorious run, but now stood as an empty building, no longer living, but still in existence.
Several years ago, my grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, and his health began to fail. My family watched his memory fade and his health slip until he passed away earlier this year. His illness left behind a shell of the man he once was, and although his passing was difficult, my pain was eased greatly with the knowledge that I would forever have the fond memories that I will always keep with me.
Tiger Stadium, like my Grandpa, will stand forever in my mind, and in my heart, with all of the memories of all the summers spent driving to Detroit.