Monday, March 30, 2015

Preserving Memories at the Corner

Gate 4 from Tiger Stadium still stands
I stopped the car outside the old gate on Michigan Avenue and began explaining to my mother-in-law the history of Tiger Stadium. I pointed out the people cleaning up the field and told her what I knew about the Navin Field Grounds Crew, the purely volunteer group of baseball lovers who maintain the sacred field that Detroit's city government has neglected since Tiger Stadium closed in 1999.

We were just driving through after a great lunch at Green Dot Stables and did not not plan to get out of the car. My wife and I had walked on the field before, and my youngest daughter was content to be secured in her car seat (and it's never a good idea to upset the status quo of our two-year-old). But then one of the grounds crew members walked up to the car and invited us to walk around what is left of the old ballpark. At first we declined, but my six-year-old daughter piped up from the backseat that she wanted to walk on the field.

Any time my daughter is interested in something I love, I jump at the opportunity to share my interests with her. So my mother-in-law, my older daughter, and I hopped out of the car and wandered onto the field. I explained to them the history of the ballpark and made sure my daughter knew how her grandpa took me to games and her great grandpa took him to games at this stadium.

A member of the Navin Field Grounds Crew at work
The names Hank Greenberg, Ty Cobb, Al Kaline, and Charlie Gehringer mean nothing to my daughter, but Grandpa is legendary to her. That's the beauty of this old field. Baseball fanatics love it for the legends that played there, but Detroit Tigers fan cherish it for the memories their families made and the traditions they have passed on since the Tigers first played baseball on the corner of Michigan and Trumbull in 1896.

Before we left the field, we watched the last remaining member of the Navin Field Grounds Crew sweeping home plate. We stopped and talked with him about the old ballpark and the future of the stadium site, and we thanked him for the work he and his group did to preserve the field for future generations.

Home plate at Tiger Stadium
As we walked away, I looked at the pitcher's mound and noticed a baseball resting on it, as if it was eagerly waiting for a couple of teams to show up for a pickup game. And pickup games and organized games still happen at the Corner throughout the summer, but the Tigers are long gone from the site.

The pitcher's mound at Tiger Stadium
My children will never see the Tigers play baseball at the Corner, but it's an important part of the city's history. I just hope that the planned development for the site preserves a grass field and as much of the original layout of the field as possible. I also hope that the field is open to the public so that someday my children can walk out on the field with my grandchildren and tell them about grandpa watching games there as a kid and their memories of walking on the field as children.

As we left the field, my daughter asked if we could take the baseball, but I told her that it belonged to the field. We left it behind, still waiting for a baseball game to return to the Corner.

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