Tigers Stadium

Last weekend was one of those memorable weekends in sports that reminds us of what athletes and competition can do to America.
There were the mind-boggling events Sunday afternoon in Brookline, Mass., between the Yanks and the Euros. The Ryder Cup was climaxed by Justin Leonard at No. 17 and there were unsportsmanlike conduct that followed (unless you’re an American fan).
Baseball’s pennant races are actual races for the first time in a long while, with one week left in the season. This year there is the remarkable double feat of having a contender (Boston) without a payroll over $50 million, and the Yankees are not clear favorites to repeat.
The NFL has played three weeks and there are already some tales from the crypt: the Vikings, Falcons, Broncos and Jets were the four teams to make it to conference championships a year ago. This year, they have divided up a 1-11 record amongst them.
But the trials and tribulations of last Saturday and Sunday have overshadowed the much-needed, yet mournful, end to one of sports most endured and historic structures: Tigers Stadium.
For 100-plus years, baseball has been played on the corner of Michigan and Trumball avenues. Along with Fenway and Wrigley, Tigers Stadium is a monument that stood the test of time even after time has forced change on the game of baseball.
I was fortunate enough to see a game in Tigers Stadium in May while covering the Big Ten softball tournament in Ann Arbor. Little argument can be made that she was passed her prime. The concession stands were old, the bathrooms were a mess, the walkways were cramped and she looked like she was going to collapse at any minute.
But baseball isn’t about appearances — looks are only skin deep. There was something about watching baseball outside on a night in late May with a historic grass field. The Indians beat the Tigers after a leaping catch over the left field wall robbed Detroit of a game-tying home run.
And it’s there, inside, where memories of joy could be found for almost four generations.
“You ask why people cry when baseball stadiums close?” wrote Mitch Albom, the award-winning columnist for the Detroit Free Press. “This is why. Because some of us found our childhoods inside them.
“And some of us left them there.”
The memories are everywhere. The Tigers were no-hit in their first American League game. Only 404 fans showed up for one game, and Babe Ruth hit a 626-foot home run there. Ty Cobb got his 4,000th hit inside those walls, and Lou Gehrig ended his iron-man streak on her field.
She was there for Joe Louis in the ’60s, for the 1968 Tigers when they won the World Series and celebrations in the streets overshadowed the race riots. She sat there for another celebration in 1984, and when Frank Tanana and his bubble gum threw a shutout to put the Tigers in the playoffs in 1987.
The great Al Kaline said one last time that he was again “humbled by this place.”
“And this is how a city intertwines with a stadium,” wrote Albom. “And that is why closing a stadium is not the same as closing a bank. Those echoes will be in there.”
Even here, the Metrodome, once “home sweet dome,” is now a giant roadblock. But it, too, has a piece of us. There was the first Timberwolves game and shattered NBA season-attendance records. Four innings after getting picked off at second, Hrbek hit the grand slam in game six of ’87 to lead the comeback. Puckett in Game 6 of ’91, Jack Morris in Game 7.
She greeted the Final Four in ’92, took off Herschel Walker’s shoe, helped Cris Carter push-off near the goal line, heard John Randle and his never-ending choice words as he motored toward Brett Favre and brought the state to its knees at the ’99 NFC championship game.
Fenway and Wrigley remain for now, but Boston is looking to tear down its historic backyard and build a new stadium. I was at Wrigley on a most miserable night in April 1992, acquiring frostbite and numbness throughout my body.
But it was also a most memorable night.
Just like many at the Metrodome.
When Fenway comes down, so will one of the very last remaining historic monuments in baseball that remind us of past memories and experiences at the ballpark. They are towering structures of nostalgia that don’t care what company paid obscene amounts of money to put their name on the outside, how many tens of millions of dollars someone makes, how many times someone has been suspended or how being an athlete is given perks in court.
I am going to break my neck to get out to Fenway before it is also put to rest, because no matter what happens outside the lines, inside it’s still the national pastime. America lost some of its past this week, and the future may destroy more.
But we won’t lose our past if we keep its memories alive.
Albom said it best: “There was your father, and there was your mother, holding your hand as you walked through the tunnel and saw the dazzling green grass for the very first time. Baseball in Detroit is done for the century. And so is the house in which it was played. We take a new walk now, a mile down the street (to the new stadium), and as we glance one more time over our shoulders, at the corner of Michigan and Trumball, with a lump in our throats, we say goodbye.”

Mark Heller covers soccer and welcomes comments at [email protected]