I’ve stood on the field in Tiger Stadium a number of times. Several times were for stories, once was a pre-game clinic with my son and another time was to watch Kiss launch its reunion tour.
And Will and I were last at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull for the stadium’s final game in 1999.
But Saturday afternoon we stood on the field where Ty Cobb and Al Kaline played, and Trammell and Whitaker turned double plays. Gone were the fans and the stands, the bustle and noise. All that remained was the flagpole in centerfield, the infield with a somewhat tamped down mound and a grassy field slowly losing a battle to weeds.
We were in Detroit to see the Diamondbacks play the Tigers, and with some time to kill before the Comerica Park gates opened he headed over to the site of the stadium where we watched so many games together in the 1990s.
Exiting I-75 to get a closer view, we noticed that the large gate in the chain-link fence surrounding most of the site was wide open.
As with the Astrodome in October, an open gate is practically an engraved invitation to a couple baseball adventurers.
The whole area was deserted, and we decided that should a security guard appear, we’d easily see them coming.
We bravely walked out along what was the third base line. Tall weeds and some construction rubble dotted where the stands once stood, but we were surprised at how intact the playing field remained 10 years after the final out.
The infield dirt looked especially good, as if a good raking from the grounds crew would make it playable again.
We took turns standing on the mound, which was lower than it should have been but still identifiable as the spot where Jack Morris and Mickey Lolich fired fastballs.
We moved to the spot where home plate was removed in a ceremony after that final game, and the mound seemed closer than I would have imagined. I can see how intimidating it must have been for a Tiger batter to stand there and see Randy Johnson scowling and dealing.
Of course I ran the bases.
We walked out to the flagpole in center, famous for standing 125 feet tall and 440 feet from home place – and standing in fair territory.
I’m glad the city left something standing, but the pole will need some work if its going to function ever again. Some of the wires that held the flags were twisted in a pile of knots at the base. Someone scrawled a tribute to Ernie Harwell.
We explored a little more, picking up some rubble with flecks of blue paint for souvenirs, before taking a last look and heading back through the gate.
Detroit is a disaster. There have been stories lately about the city looking at things to do with the open space at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull. I hope they keep the field there, even if it’s just for community games – or even for a couple fans to wander around and remember good times.