Tuesday, May 27, 2008
I've been to three Major League Baseball games in my entire life - all within the past year, most recently last Saturday, and all at state-of-the-art Comerica Park in Detroit.
I've seen old Tiger Stadium the three times I've ventured to Detroit for those baseball games. But my view of the ballpark has been limited in more ways than one.
I've only seen the rundown exterior with faded and peeling paint, shredded banners, rusty light fixtures, and broken signage. I've taken dozens of pictures of the ballpark and even posed for a few near the front gate. That's as far as I could go.
A glorious game played on the shamrock green grass against a piercing blue and cloudless sky are alien to me. The only memories I have come from pictures, books and stories.
Tiger Stadium is locked up to the outside world. No one gets in. Perhaps, in its current state, that's the way it should be.
Opened on April 20, 1912, the ballpark that berthed on the same day as Boston's Fenway Park has been closed since the final day - Sept. 27 - of the 1999 season. Facing economic hardship and a seeming lack of awareness of historical significance, the city of Detroit has let Tiger Stadium rot for the past nine years.
When I stand outside the old ballpark, sometimes at The Corner, and look at it in its dilapidated state, I think about the thousands of games played by the thousands of players there. Tiger greats like Ty Cobb, Hank Greenberg, Al Kaline, or the 1984 World Series team. Babe Ruth once hit a 575-foot home run out of that ballpark - considered the longest shot in history. Roger Maris began his quest for 61 home runs inside those walls. Reggie Jackson smashed the right-field lights with a towering home run in the 1971 All Star game.
Given the ballpark's current state, those moments and games should forever be locked inside. My attempt to fill the void of never experiencing a living Tiger Stadium are what drive my endless curiosity. I want a perfect visual forever etched in my mind of what a game was like. What the inside walls entailed. The double-deck around the entire park. The World Series banners and retired numbers.
Tom Stanton, author of the 2001 book 'The Final Season: Fathers, sons, and one last season in a classic American ballpark,' precisely captivates my feelings:
"Old buildings brings life to stories. They put a foundation to memories. They link you to the past and help you feel rooted."
One day soon Tiger Stadium will be gone. The ballpark will likely face the wrecking ball next month unless $369,000 is raised by an advocacy group - and that only guarantees another six months of survival.
When the old ballpark tumbles to the earth, tears will be shed, stories will be shared and eventually people will move on. But the memories will always remain.