Saturday, June 17, 2006

Going... Going...

...and nearly gone. "I heard the news today, oh boy..." that the city of Detroit has finally decided to tear down Tiger Stadium.

And when it's gone there will be only Fenway Park in Boston to represent the old time stadiums. It's hard to get really worked up about it.. it's been sitting unused for 7 years now. The last game played there was in 1999.

This web site
keeps track of "at risk" ball parks. There's a nice sentiment there that resonated with me somehow:

For many, old ballparks represent simpler times and a more egalitarian atmosphere; they also serve as direct links to the past, bridges to childhood memories of time spent as a child with parents and loved ones.

No wonder, then, that an old ballpark can stir some powerful memories. In an ever-changing world, an old ballpark is an island of stability and tranquility. There are few places that are the same as they were 20, 30 or 75 years ago. Your grandfather's Tiger Stadium is the same as your father's Tiger Stadium. Sadly, it's not your Tiger Stadium if it's torn down to make way for a Best Buy or a Home Depot. That's why this list was compiled: to stir public awareness and to perhaps make people realize that there are old ballparks worth saving.

I don't know how "powerful" the memories are, but they remain.. Tiger Stadium is the one sports venue in Detroit that I went to more than once or twice. I saw one hockey game at the old Olympia... never went to "The Joe". Saw one Pistons game at Cobo Arena. Haven't been to the new football field yet, or Comerica Park- the Tigers' new home. I was trying to remember how many times I have gone to Tiger Stadium.. at least half a dozen, probably more.

I remember coming into Detroit to attend a game when I was very young. I was with my father, and the neighbor kids and their father. We were down on the expressway, and there was a house burning, up on the surface street. "Fully involved", as they say on TV. Had nothing to do with Tiger Stadium, per se, but I remember it like it was yesterday.

I think it was at Tiger Stadium where I first became unable to pee in public.. may need hypnosis to confirm that theory.. but there was an event in the public restroom that I remember well. Big room with long troughs. Very fancy plumbing, and zero privacy. I might have been 10, or so.

In later years, we drove down from Saginaw to see Mark "The Bird" Fidrych pitch. He was a phenomenon of the '70s. Known for talking to the ball. The game was rained out. We spent the rest of the afternoon at the Lyndell AC. A legendary bar near the stadium.

I saw the Lions play an ABC Monday Night Football game there. The series was in it's second season. We could see Howard and the boys in the booth.

That booth was another phenomenon of Tiger Stadium.. hanging off the upper deck, directly behind home plate. Van Patrick, or Ernie Harwell, or George Kell, or Al Kaline would have to duck the foul balls. You could hear the ricochet on the broadcasts. And how did Ernie always know where the guy down the left field foul line, who caught the ball, lived? "That foul ball was caught by a man from Whitehall, Michigan..." Amazing.

I've sat everywhere in Tiger Stadium... the upper deck on the 3rd base side, the box seats on the 1st base side, the centerfield bleachers, lower deck behind the plate.

So many amazing things happened there, just in my lifetime. I didn't go to any games in 1968, (I was in the Navy), but I followed closely the World Series from my duty station in Memphis. They were all Cards fans- it was Tim McCarver's hometown.) The CW is that the Tigers saved the city that year... it was the year after the riots. The Tigers brought the city together.

Again in 1984, the year of "Bless You Boys". The Tigers started the season 35-5 and never looked back. That World Series gave us a preview of Kirk Gibson's proclivity for dramatic home runs.

An on and on. I can see the stadium in my mind's eye. I can smell it. I can taste the peanuts purchased from the vendors on the way to the turnstile. I guess I'm going to miss it. I'm surprised at how much the memories came back as I started to type.

Comerica Park's a nice place. One of the best of the new "retro look" parks. But it ain't on Michigan and Trumbull.

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