Detroit is a city that has been through tremendous ups and downs through much of American history. Because this city is in the midst of recovering from such a great collapse, its perseverance can and should be admired by those on the outside. Although Detroit has many sites that represent it with a positive perspective, there is only one that truly symbolizes this unique city. That site is one that used to possess one of the greatest ballparks of all time; Tiger Stadium. Due to its lengthy up-and-down history, memorable moments, and nourishment received from Detroiters, the Tiger Stadium site is truly the best “way of seeing” Detroit.
When choosing a site to bring to my group members, I immediately started researching the Joe Louis fist and Spirit of Detroit statues. My initial thought was that because using both of these sites for this essay was acceptable, more information would be at-hand. However, when researching these statues, I had a difficult time finding decent websites on them. Regardless of this observation, I brought in two websites (one on each site) to class. Between this difficulty and the surprising popularity of those sites throughout the classroom, my group immediately came to the conclusion that a different site was necessary. Thankfully, one of my group members brought in a website on Tiger Stadium. Our group agreed that this site would be sufficient due to its lengthy history. After doing further research on Tiger Stadium, I have realized just how lucky I was to have a group member propose this site.
Tiger Stadium opened its gates in 1896 at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull. Back then, however, it was known as “Bennett Park,” and the Tigers were a minor-league team. The stadium was built with a capacity of 5,000 people and at a price of $10,000, paid for by then-owner George Vanderbeck. The park’s name derived from a former catcher known as Charles Bennett, who played for the Wolverines (the team’s previous name) a decade earlier. The area where Bennett Park was built was previously a hay market. Therefore, in the early years of the ballpark’s existence, there was cobblestone under the surface of the grass. This led to rocks rising up above the dirt and creating a dangerous environment for the players. In addition, the field’s positioning allowed the sun’s rays to give the hitters trouble seeing. Regardless of the ballpark’s inadequacies, people latched onto the Tigers and became loyal fans. This personal attachment resembles the attachment Detroiters have to their city today; one that’s allowed the city to begin its recovery (Ferkovich).
Due primarily to a change in owners, the stadium at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull changed names frequently during its history. It became Navin Field in 1912, Briggs Stadium in 1938, and finally Tiger Stadium in 1961 ("Tigers Ballparks: 1901-Present"). Through these name changes came iconic moments that Tigers fans will forever pass down to preceding generations. These moments include Denny McLain’s 30th win on September 14, 1968 with Detroit. He is the most recent pitcher to accomplish such a feat. Another moment, perhaps the most iconic, was Kirk Gibson’s three-run home run in Game 5 of the 1984 World Series, which gave the Tigers a four-run cushion in what would be their most recent championship. Achievements like the two above united Detroiters around their beloved team. The success of the Tigers was and still is a way to let the country know Detroit’s ability to be successful. Because Tiger Stadium was the home of the Tigers for 103 years, times of success were not limited. These times continuously allowed citizens of Detroit to come together and take part in the city’s accomplishments ("Greatest Tiger Stadium Moments").
After Tiger Stadium was torn down, many people wondered what was going to happen to the site. Initially, the results were rather disappointing. The historic area at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull contained virtually nothing but weeds and long grass. A man from Redford named Tom Derry decided these grounds deserved better. After seeing the site’s gruesome conditions in 2010 on Mother’s Day, Derry brought 30 people with him a few days later to start fixing it up. Later known as “The Navin Field Grounds Crew,” Derry’s volunteers made and have maintained a little-league ball field for kids to play on. Because of the crew’s efforts, people can visit the legendary Detroit location and view it with a sense of pride and respect. The Navin Field Grounds Crew’s efforts resemble the work-ethic of Detroiters; although conditions may seem negative, perseverance is always possible (Dow).
I visited the site last Thursday. Having not seen it since the stadium got torn down, I did not know what to expect. Upon arrival, I saw the site mostly enclosed by a fence about 10-feet above ground level. Some of it, however, was enclosed by an entrance gate from Tiger Stadium itself. On the inside of the site, I saw two baseball fields, one of which was in good condition. I assume that field is the one maintained by Derry’s crew; the other is probably just for some practices. The fences surrounding the site contain two conspicuous signs attached to them. One was titled “Ernie Harwell Park,” and the other “Keep the Corner Alive.” Although these signs look rather cheap, they symbolize the fact that Tiger Stadium will never be forgotten.
Because of its extended and memorable past, unforgettable moments, and the love it received from Detroit citizens, the Tiger Stadium site is definitely the best “way of seeing” Detroit. Fans remained loyal to the Tigers early on, despite the stadium’s poor field conditions. Various successes in that ballpark continuously united Detroit around the team. The efforts of the Navin Field Grounds Crew show Detroit’s inability to give up when times are bad. Detroit keeps on moving, and so will this site.
Dow, Bill. "Tiger Stadium Diamond Preserved by "Navin Field Grounds Crew" Volunteers - Detroit Athletic Co. Blog." Detroit Athletic Co. Blog. 2014 Detroit Athletic Co., 20 July 2013. Web. 28 Sept. 2014.
Ferkovich, Scott. "Bennett Park (Detroit)." Society for American Baseball Research. SABR 2014. Web. 28 Sept. 2014.