Sometimes in life, you experience something unexpected that really causes you to stop and think. I recently experienced a rather emotional “unexpected moment” in Detroit, Michigan. Let me explain.
Although I have lived in North Dakota for many decades, I actually grew up in Michigan and graduated from high school there. As a boy, I was a big sports fan, and I loved the Detroit Tigers baseball team. They were my heroes, and I loved everything about them. I followed their statistics, read everything I could about each player, and of course, I listened to every game I could on the radio. My family lived about 65 miles north of Tiger Stadium, and it was a big event when I got to go to Tiger Stadium to watch a Tigers game. All-in-all, I got to go to 20 Tigers’ baseball games before I graduated and left Michigan. In those games, the Tigers won/loss record was 17-3. I got to see many great players, like Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Harmon Killebrew, Whitey Ford, Jim Palmer, and Yogi Berra. One time, I even caught a foul ball hit by future Hall-of-Famer, Al Kaline. I still have that ball today.
Well, last week, my business meeting got finished early one day, so I thought I’d try to find the spot where the beautiful old Tiger Stadium used to be. It was built in 1912 and torn down 6-7 years ago. When I drove to the corner of Michigan Avenue and Trumball, I was awestruck to discover that although the stadium was gone, the playing field remained intact and completely surrounded by a security fence. It was rather amazing to peek through the fence and see the infield, pitcher’s mound, the outfield grass, and even the old flag pole in center field still standing. My mind was flooded with memories as I stood there and remembered games from my boyhood. I remembered a brilliant 2-hit shutout Whitey Ford pitched on opening day and a monster home run that Mickey Mantle hit that went completely out of the stadium. I also remembered a home run my favorite player, Rocky Colavito, hit that bounced off that flag pole in deep center field.
I decided to walk around the entire fenced-in area so I could view the playing field from every angle. As I walked, I though that this must be the only place in America where the remains of an old major league playing field are still intact, even after the stadium was torn down. I have no idea how long this historic property will remain, but seeing how Detroit is struggling so badly economically, it might be here for a while. Commercial property in the city isn’t exactly in high demand.
As I was walking the perimeter of the playing field, I began to look for someplace where I might be able to squeeze through the fence to get inside. It seemed impossible until I came to the only remaining part of Tiger Stadium that still stands — the 1930s art deco iron gates that protected the players’ parking lot. OK, I probably shouldn’t be saying this, but the old locking gate looked rusty enough that I thought it might open if I gave it a good kick. I did, and guess what? It opened up… and I was suddenly inside. At the very moment I walked through the gate, my head started spinning. I know this will sound a little sappy, but my knees got weak, and I actually felt a little lightheaded. I’m not kidding. Could it be that I was actually going to get to walk onto the playing field where I’d watched so many of my heroes perform? It was truly a life-changing moment for me as I walked toward home plate.
As I stood at home plate, in the batter’s box where players like Babe Ruth, Lou Gerhig, Joe Dimaggio, Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, and Hank Aaron once stood, I felt humbled. I walked to the pitcher’s mound where Bob Feller, Warren Spahn, Nolan Ryan, and Christy Mattewson once pitched. It was about the coolest thing I’d ever done. The spooky thing was I was there all alone. It was a beautiful day in Detroit, and there was not another person in sight. Nowhere. I was able to enjoy the experience all to myself. It was glorious. And, yes, as silly as it may seem to some, I ran the bases and imagined I was beating the throw to home plate to win the game for the Tigers in the bottom of the ninth. I was sure I could hear the fans cheering…
My name is Mike Stevens, and I am a Tiger.