To an extent, our sports legends and the teams we come to root for as children are inherited from our fathers. Taught about the game and, if we’re lucky enough, taken to the game, by our dads at a young age, we have very little say in which team will be our favourite, or even which sports we’ll follow – at least in the beginning.
Accordingly, my brother and I were born Detroit Tigers fans. And whereas I’ve known guys who have learned to move on from the teams that destiny (i.e. their father’s urging) had thrust upon them, somehow the wearing of Tigers’ baby pajamas has had a long lasting effect on me and my brother. Indeed, to someone not similarly afflicted, my love of the Detroit Tigers would seem to defy all logic (Consider the fact that the Tigers had just 2 winning seasons from the time I was 8 until I was 25 and perhaps you can understand why people went ballistic when they managed to win the American League championship in 2006).
However, as much as my appreciation of The Tigers may have been my dad’s wishes, it likely wasn’t him that has created this lasting impression of the team so much as it was Tiger Stadium.
While I can’t remember my very first visit to Tiger Stadium, it doesn’t actually matter because, as most fans who visited The Corner can attest, walking out through those dark tunnels that led toward the field was virtually the same experience every time. Tiger Stadium is old. Assuming I saw my first game there at age nine, the building was already 77 years old. To a young kid, this huge old building seemed like a massive, old, cement maze and, depending on how good our seats were, the walk up to the ramp could be unbearably long. We’d pass a weird barrage of ticket takers, older kids yelling about programs and 50/50 tickets, long lines of men buying beer; we could smell hot dogs, pop corn, maybe hear the announcer over the PA. Then it got really dark for a second and you were aware only of the bright light ahead. Then suddenly: Baseball.
No one walked out of the tunnels at Tiger Stadium at the beginning of a game without stopping to just stand there for at least a second and breathe it in. You’d walk out, likely still in the shade yourself given the massive overhangs all over the stadium, and in front of you, lit by bright sunlight you’d suddenly see that huge, green field and the tall, blue bleachers and those massive outfield stands. Your favourite players were down there warming up in clean white uniforms and it seemed you could actually here ball hitting glove from any where in the stands as they tossed the ball around.
It didn’t matter how old you were or how many times you had been to the stadium. Walking out of the tunnel toward the stands in Tiger Stadium, you were always suddenly very certain of one thing: This was baseball.
Tiger Stadium just felt historical. It was an authentic place with real grass, groomed, full dirt base paths, towering light stands and notably, for a long time one of the deepest centre fields in all of baseball at 440 feet.
Yes, even peeling paint, chipped cement, and rusting girders. Tiger Stadium was ancient; and you could tell. You didn’t need to know that the building was built in 1912 to know that Ruth, Cobb, Dimaggio, Williams, Kaline, Gheringer and Cochrane had played there. You could tell.
My brother and I are too young to have even a small slice of the storied history of Tiger Stadium. We were too young to remember the 1984 Tigers’ World Series win, and even their 1987 AL East division Championship, but as kids, we still cheered on Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker.
By the time we were going to games at Tiger stadium, Sweet Lou and Tram were past their prime to be sure but, in the early nineties, they were still more than capable of showing occasional flashes of the brilliant ball playing that typified their reign as one of Major League baseball’s best ever double play combinations. Perhaps most memorably during a game my brother, my dad, and I were at in 1994 against the Texas Rangers when Whitaker, just one year away from retirement, followed up a 3rd inning three run homer with an 8th inning grand slam. I was only 13 years old at the time and I still remember it. My brother was only 10 and he remembers it better than me.
The last game at Tiger Stadium was played on September 27th, 1999.
Between that day and the day it first opened (April 20th, 1912 – The same day Fenway opened), a lot of kids, and indeed a lot of grown men, too, built similar lasting memories at Tiger Stadium.
We life long Tiger fans have had time to accept that baseball will no longer be played at Michigan and Trumbull. We’ve even been to games at Comerica Park, as much as we resisted the idea of it. We may have even come to appreciate Comerica Park a bit (maybe just a little bit).
But it doesn’t make the demolition of Tiger Stadium, started just a few days ago, any easier to watch.
I’m sure that fathers, sons, brothers, and friends can and will build memories at new ball parks. Some kid taken to see his first ball game at Comerica or at the new Yankee Stadium next year may very well feel that same rush when he sees those fields for the first time. I’m also sure that, under manager Jim Leyland, the Tigers have the potential to create some more exciting Tiger history very soon at Comerica Park (though sitting at .500 at the All Star break as of this post, the outcome of this season is questionable). But while bulldozers raze the outfield walls in Detroit, and the battle led by Ernie Harwell to keep some small part of Tiger Stadium in tact begins to look more and more futile, let’s just take a minute to remember the great old stadiums like the one that stood at Michigan and Trumbull for 96 years and all the memories that were built both on the field and in the stands there.
Here’s wishing one of the greatest parks in baseball a very fond farewell.