Viewpoint: Remembering Tigers stadium

BY DAVID HARRIS

Published April 1, 2014

Of all the perks of working in downtown Detroit, the restaurants the city has to offer during lunch breaks might be the best of them.

So as I did every Friday, I left my office for a lunch break to enjoy some of Detroit’s finest. I was in the mood for a good burger, so Mercury Burger Bar in Corktown was the destination.

The drive along Michigan Avenue in Corktown may be the worst in the city. It’s useless to try to avoid the potholes — you just drive through them hoping for the best. The road is made of bricks, remnants from when trolley cars used to take patrons from Michigan Central Station to downtown with a single lane of patchy pavement in the middle to cover the old tracks, unused for more than 60 years now. Sometimes a bit of the metal tracks can be seen peeking out of that poorly paved asphalt, fragments of a past far brighter than the blight that has faced the center of Corktown since the closing of Tiger Stadium.

I’d driven past the blank field of the former stadium site on the corner of Michigan and Trumbull many times since the old ballpark had closed. Some of my first memories were formed in that stadium, a cathedral to the golden age of baseball. I would go with my dad, take a seat underneath the overhanging upper deck and take in as much of the field that wasn’t blocked by the support beams scattered among the seats. The Tigers were never winners during those years. Not once did they even post a winning season during my lifetime of games at the stadium, but not once did it matter to me.

Today, for whatever reason, I decided to pull up next to the iron gates — the sole remnant of the exterior of the stadium. Gone are the large white facades and the large, white-painted light structures. In right field, where that famous overhang of the upper deck once stood, is just patchy grass. Where I once sat as an eager kindergarten-aged child — baseball glove on my left hand waiting for the souvenir that never came — was nothing.

It was a perfect summer day for the baseball game this field would never see again. I walked inside the gates to the infield dirt, which remains from the original playing field and is kept up by volunteers alone. The Navin Field Grounds Crew, as they call themselves, pays homage to the original name of the field that opened the same day as Fenway Park in Boston. How different have the two historic icons been treated.

In the middle of the barren block, 200 feet in the air stands the flagpole that once rested inside the left-center field fence as an obstacle in the outfield. The same flag that 53,000 fans stood to face with their hats off before each game now stands alone. Comerica Park once had its own flagpole placed in the field of play as an homage from the new to the old.

I turned to resume my lunch plans but realized I wasn’t alone. Another college-aged man — perhaps another intern working downtown — and his dad walked through the gates taking in the same empty field. The dad wore an orange-billed Tigers cap, the old logo with the rough tiger face emblazoned on the front. The Tigers haven’t used that logo in 20 years.

The original Mercury Bar in Corktown closed in the 1980s. What once was the popular spot for train travelers at Michigan Central Station since before World War II became abandoned just like the station itself. A few years ago, two new owners found the bar’s original sign, flipped on the neon sign and proceeded to open the best burger joint downtown. The restaurant still stands in the shadow of the decrepit station, as the splendid decay appears synonymous with the city. Even as time passes, the past remains in plain sight.

It’s been almost five years since the demolition of the sacred stadium, The Corner. It too once loomed for 10 years and was decrepit and decaying like the train station. The bases Ty Cobb stole, the dugout where manager Sparky Anderson yelled, “You don’t want to walk him!” to Padres pitcher Goose Gossage before Kirk Gibson homered in the 1984 World Series, the field Charlie “The Mechanical Man” Gehringer patrolled and the fences that Hammerin’ Hank Greenberg slugged baseballs over, the football grass where Lions player Chuck Hughes suffered a heart attack during a football game and passed away. None of it remains.

But even though the stadium is gone, reduced to a blank slate of infield dirt and grass, something is still there. Something far grander than the grandiosity of the stadium ever was. It can be covered up like the pavement covers the trolley tracks. It can be pushed aside. But it can never be taken away.

As I exited through the gates, the dad and his son broke out their baseball gloves and started to play catch. They say baseball is America’s pastime. And the pastime never dies.

David Harris is an Engineering junior.