Hughes: The effort to save Tiger Stadium

From James Hughes at on April 17, 2014:

Opening Day was just around the corner. But the Detroiters whose hearts never left “The Corner” — the intersection of Michigan and Trumbull where baseball lived for more than a century at Tiger Stadium — were filing in to the Detroit Institute of Arts to honor a lost masterpiece. It was the closing day of the Freep Film Festival, and the museum was hosting a screening of Stealing Home, a documentary about the Navin Field Grounds Crew, an all-volunteer group of Michiganders who tend to the original ball field that survived the stadium’s demolition in 2009. The stands are long gone, but the patch of dirt where Ty Cobb, who scored the first-ever run at the original Navin Field with an intrepid steal at home plate, still remain. With a diamond picked clean of trash and an outfield stripped clear of towering weeds by the grounds crew, pickup baseball has returned to the Corner the past four seasons, as have scores of pilgrims from the Midwest and beyond, who travel there to stand at home plate, flipping the script on the city’s institutional neglect.

Though fans lost the decadelong battle to preserve the stadium, hundreds of them still filed into the museum that Sunday in good spirits, their Verlander and Gibson jerseys tucked under layers of winter wear.1 Even the treasures lining these walls and corridors are no longer safe, as creditors continue to size up the museum’s holdings as collateral to potentially offset a portion of the city’s debt. The strength in numbers from baseball fans, groundskeepers, and museumgoers in attendance made a simple point clear: It takes more than a wrecking ball or art auctioneer’s gavel to crush the culture that defines Detroit.

The story of the groundskeepers evokes a return to nature, a memory of baseball’s pioneering days in the Midwest, when oak groves were cleared to make way for wooden ballparks and wildcat fans on rooftops witnessed amateur nines develop into pro clubs before their eyes. A mile from the Detroit Institute of Arts, the first recorded baseball game in the city’s history — the Early Risers versus the Detroits — was played on August 8, 1859, in the vicinity of what is today Cass Park.2 For the next half-century, baseball teams battled for supremacy, and the Tigers — originally dubbed the Creams by local sportswriters3 — emerged as the focal point, with the Corner their stronghold. In 2010, when Tom Derry, a 50-year-old mail carrier in Redford Township, saw what had become of the field that begat so many memories, he took action, organizing a self-financed group to shred an urban jungle that had grown as tall as eight feet.

Read the full article here:

Originally published: April 17, 2014. Last Updated: April 17, 2014.