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Last Roar at "The Corner"

An Essay by Chris Edwards

From the dirt and cobblestones
An origin so humble
Emerged the famous Corner
Michigan and Trumbull.

Ernie Harwell, the famed voice of the Tigers

tigers1.jpgIt's just a building.

From the outside, it looks more like a giant airport hangar than one of the most treasured landmarks in this area. But once through the gates, down the long corridors- a field of dreams. Do you remember the first time?

"I'll never forget the first time I saw it," says Al Kaline. "I had to convince the guards that I was a player- I was only 19 years old. When I walked in, I saw the most beautiful place I have ever seen, before or since. It was all green- the grass and seats. I'll never forget it."

Green in the shades we never knew existed. The sound of the crowd and vendors. And the smell of the place- didn't the air seem fresher, cleaner?

Just a building˜

The corner of Michigan and Trumbull Avenues in Detroit has hosted baseball since the first game at the old Bennett park on 1896, making it the oldest continuing home to professional baseball in the world. Until now.

In the winter of 1912, the wooden Bennett Park was torn down, home plate was moved from right field, and a renamed concrete and steel Navin Field was built. Navin Field was expanded three times, the last coming in 1938 when it was renamed Briggs Stadium and the ballpark assumed the current structure that we know today.

A place that has served as a connection to life during turn-of-the-century America.  Where we could visit the past. For over five generations, a place to forget one's troubles. A healing place during depressions and riots, where spirits could be raised, hungry for something that could provide hope for tomorrow. A place to come together as a community. Common ground.

The Tigers played 6,873 regular season games at Tigers Stadium, where they had a won-lost record of 3,764-3,090 and 19 ties. In that time, there were only four World Series Champions; this was not a place of baseball dynasties. Maybe that's why the ones we remember seem so special- 1984's "Bless You Boys", the 1968 miracle team, or for the oldtimers, the 1945 post-war victory or the 1935 team, when the city partied through the night, a collective amnesia from the grips of the Great Depression. This event propelled baseball into the status of a civic religion, with the ballpark as its cathedral.

tigers3.jpgJust a building˜

For those of us on this side of the river, perhaps a trip across the ferry to the Jos. Campeau or Walkerville docks, in times that have been softened by memory. On a streetcar through downtown Detroit to the old ballpark. Years later, we'd travel by car or bus to a park that was always closer in proximity for us than for most Detroiters.

The Lions played football here, boxing matches were contested, opera and rock concerts performed, Mandella dropped in on his Freedom tour. For a people who had been through personal struggle, Mandella's visit to the corner joined Detroiters in celebration. Another moment that proved this was much more than a baseball park- it was a place that defined the city.

Still, this has always been a place for baseball, a mythical game that so succinctly defines the American spirit- a game of heroes- Cobb and Kaline, Kell and Crawford, Greenberg and Gibson. Tiger Stadium was one of the last bastions of an era that has almost completely disappeared- a time when it was a game, not a business, before the mass and crass commercialization of a sports machine that feels compelled to tell us when it is time to cheer.

tigers4.jpgOnly two of these parks will carry the old tradition into the next century- Wrigley Field in Chicago, probably the purest baseball park left on the planet and Boston's Fenway Park- on the endangered species list. The Cubs are famously stubborn in their traditions- the team bans advertising signs on the field and features ivy against its outfield wall. Wrigley has less than 40 sky boxes in an age when many clubs claim 100 luxury boxes are essential to help financially support a team; it is a huge tourist draw. But Boston's Fenway Park will probably be toast in the next five years.

tigers5.jpgHey, they're just buildings˜

Why are these places so important? And why do we feel a pang when they are taken away? Notably, the crowds on the final day at Tigers Stadium booed whenever the new "Comerica" Park was mentioned (shamefully, the new park won't even be called Tigers!)..

In the end, it is important to note that baseball is now a huge business. Players' salaries have changed the entire game, resulting in the need for owners to generate staggering sums of money every year. New parks serve that purpose, with their corporate boxes and sponsorships. And in 100 years, maybe they'll be saying: "Isn't it a shame they're tearing down that old building- Comerica Park."


tigers2.jpgPeople find their nostalgia in the wierdest ways. For some it's the Bleachers, the hard benches in centrefield where you could a get seat for $3.50 during the magical summer of 1984. I spent 25 games as a "Bleacher Creature" that year, in a place we lovingly called "The Beach".  Who can forget the notorious men's trough-like urinals? When it's crowded it feels like a cattle call. Surprisingly, for many men this experience remains a vivid memory of their trip to Tigers Stadium!

Ghosts, Thrills and Voices Heard

The ghosts of the great players who ever played here- I felt they were pushing you. You could almost hear Ty cussing you at. It was a thrill just to stand out there- I tried to continue what they started. Those ghosts will be moving to the new place because baseball is a continuing legacy of their spirit.
Darrell Evans, member, 1984 world champion team

tigers6.jpgFor that one particular year (1984) it was like a dream come true˜ they don't make them like this place anymore.
Alan Trammell, member, 1984 world champion team

To play in the next century you need a different outlook on the sport of baseball. You need a financially viable franchise to compete.
Bill Freehan, member, 1968 world champion team

Today was as close to a perfect day as you can get.
Lance Parrish, member, 1984 world champion team

When fans think about Tigers Stadium they think about the people they were here with.
Jack Morris, member, 1984 world champion team

The greatest thrill was to be on that team that won in 1945- this place will always be special for me.
Billy Pierce, member, 1945 world champion team

One of the nice things about getting old is you forget a lot of things.
Dick Tracewski, member, 1968 world champion team

Walking into Comerica Park I hope some of those old memories don't die.
Dan Petry, member, 1984 world champion team

In those days, the crowd didn't need to be prompted- they knew enough about the sport.
Gates Brown, member, 1968 world champion team

All I've been thinking about are the ones in my baseball family that aren't here today. 
Willie Horton, member, 1968 world champion team

They told me: watch this kid in leftfield (Al Kaline) - he is going to be the best you ever saw.
Gordie Howe, hockey legend

The stadium is coming to an end but there are great memories here. Even though they are moving to a new facilities it will always be the Tigers.
Cecil "Big Daddy" Fielder

So long to all that was here but good things must come to an end.
The Tiger Room Staff

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