A highlight of my Ballpark Tour was visiting the site of old Tiger Stadium in 2004, when the grandstands and facade stood, 4 seasons after the Tigers played their final game on the corner of Michigan & Trumbell. The city of Detroit, like many once industrial cities, has struggled over the past 30 years. Factories close, jobs head out of town and residents who have the means to move do so. Tiger Stadium was a part of Detroit’s oldest neighborhood, Corktown, it’s the one ballpark I feel I missed visiting. Known for its’ obstructed views throughout the upper and lower grandstand due to columns, and tight dugouts Tiger Stadium also placed fans closer to the game. Due to the lack of financial resources the city of Detroit was unable to tear down Tiger Stadium until 2009.
Demolition crews cleared almost all of Tiger Stadium’s façade and grandstands, leaving a few entrance gates and famed flag pole in centerfield, 440 feet from home. The grounds of Tiger Stadium were left, unkempt until a ground of volunteers who called themselves the Navin Field (Tiger Stadium’s original name) Grounds Crew began cutting the grass and maintaining the field for rec leagues and site seeing opportunities. Technically they were breaking the law however the Navin Field Grounds Crew were also doing the community a service, it was a must stop on my trip back to Detroit in 2013.
Despite the lack of grandstand and facade I could feel the history of Tiger Stadium on that Saturday afternoon. Growing up in the 1980’s I thought about Sweet Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell turning double plays as they won the 1984 World Series, the field remained the same. I walked the outfield and infield dirt imagining the crowd roar on a Kirk Gibson home run and laugh when the “Bird” Mark Fidrych was on the mound. By 2013 the corner of Michigan & Trumbell had been renamed Ernie Harwell Park after the Hall of Fame Tigers announcer. Harwell was so popular that after being let go for the 1992 season; was brought back for the 1993 season after current owner Mike Illitch took control of the team. Ernie’s love for the Tigers and the game of baseball came through his broadcasts, he retired at 91.
When I make my third trip to Detroit, the corner of Michigan & Trumbell will be the new home to Detroit Police Athletic League’s (PAL) Headquarters, the field will be renamed Willie Horton Field of Dreams after the former Tiger and Detroit native. After closing its doors following the 1999 season it took Detroit city leaders and developers 14 years to put a realistic development plan in place for Tiger Stadium. Creating more after-school and summer opportunities for the youth of Detroit is a great way to re-purpose the historic site; my only issue is the PAL will replace the grass and dirt of Tiger Stadium with turf. Hopefully those who utilize the field will be able to learn and appreciate all the history that took place on those grounds.