Tiger Stadium Demolished…But Not the Memories

August 26, 2008 by Tom Ferda 

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Published in Baseball Digest May 29, 2008

DETROIT – Witnessing the demolition of Detroit’s historic ballpark, Tiger Stadium, is like attending the burial of a loved one. While we cannot stop death from consuming one’s final breath and beat of a heart, we can never allow it to pilfer the memories.

At the corner of Michigan and Trumbull, demolition experts and heavy machinery continue to flatten Tiger Stadium, one beam and support at a time. Those bulldozers may rip the concrete and riveted steel girders out of that structure and bury it in a nearby landfill, but it will never purge the heart and soul out of that ballpark.

Tiger Stadium has done more than was ever asked of it. It provided the hard-working, blue-collar fans of Detroit a place to escape from the stresses of their physically-demanding jobs at the steel mills and auto assembly lines.

Though ancient, rusting and long-outdated, it withstood decades of punishing winters and the wear and tear of millions of fans stomping in it’s aisles over the years.

While preservation groups and a few politicians continue their efforts to stop the complete demolition of the stadium and convert a portion of it into a museum, the wrecking ball continues to dismantle the historic landmark. Before the stadium is reduced to a final shovel of dust, it is a great time to reminisce about our experiences there.

The first game I ever attended at Tiger Stadium was on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Donning my full baseball uniform with ball glove in hand and chomping on an oversized wad of baseball card bubble gum, I accompanied my Little League baseball team to a game against the Minnesota Twins.

The area near the ticket windows felt like a disaster scene to a scrawny eight-year-old, like me. People scurried around like ants, bumping into each other, trying to gain position and make their way to the ticket windows and into the stadium. I felt like a human pinball but somehow managed to stay connected to my group.

Once inside, I bee-lined straight to the hotdog vendor where I quickly learned Mom did not make the best hotdogs. There was something about those Ballpark Franks at Tiger Stadium. They seemed to plump more when they cooked ‘em.

The journey through the short tunnel to our right field seats was almost surreal. Hustling through that corridor seeing only the blue sky, I couldn’t wait to get a full view of the park.

As I made my way to the end of that tunnel I saw the most extraordinary image I had ever seen; like Dorothy stepping out of a black & white world into one full of vibrant colors in her Land of Oz. The blue skies, vast field of vibrant green and borders of perfectly manicured dirt has left a lifelong impression etched in my mind.

Tiger Stadium provided many memories for Detroiters over the years; most notably the 1968 dramatic comeback World Series win over the St. Louis Cardinals and the record-setting Tiger team of 1984 led by World Series MVP Alan Trammell and Kirk Gibson.

It’s amazing how some of these images remain as clear as if they happened yesterday . . . Norm Cash crushing the leather off the ball, sending another one over the right-field roof and onto Trumbull Street . . . Mark “The Bird” Fidrych pacing the mound like a maniac, having full-on conversations with the ball triggering a roar of approval from 53,000 screaming fans.

Many hard-working blue-collar families in the Motor City took advantage of “Family Night” games at Tiger Stadium. On Family Night, the head of the household would pay $3.50 for a reserved upper deck seat down the third baseline then only .50 cents apiece for the remaining tickets.

That’s $6.00 to take a family of six to a MLB game and the product was outstanding with baseball icons Al Kaline, Norm Cash, Willie Horton and Denny McClain in the lineup. Family Nights were the only time I remember my father refusing overtime on the docks.

Many of us remember Tiger Stadium being the home of the Detroit Lions back when the team and fans endured the weather conditions, playing outdoors on natural grass, like the game is meant to be played.

Three layers of clothing many times was no match for the frigid Canadian winds that blew off the Detroit River on some of those December Sundays. The only heat provided during those games was the body heat of the thousands of devoted Lions fans packed shoulder-to-shoulder in their seats.

Peering through a steady cloud of cold breath, hot chocolates in hand, the fans survived those frigid afternoons and many of us learned at an early age what being a loyal, die-hard Lion fan was all about.

While the crews rip apart and haul away the remaining twisted steel and concrete we should reflect on the treasured memories provided by Tiger Stadium. Like loved ones who have passed on, Tiger Stadium has been a huge part of many of our lives . . . and like loved ones, the memories will survive forever.

Originally from Detroit, Tom is a Los Angeles based sportswriter. His material has been published in The New York Daily News, Detroit Free Press, Washington Times, The Hockey News (Canada), USA Hockey Magazine and more.

Contact Tom via email: tom@tomferda.com