This Friday media outlets across the country will carry the news of Boston’s Celebration of the 100th Anniversary of Fenway Park.
And rightly so.
It is a wonderful story of how a franchise, a city, and its’ people embraced its history and renovated a classic ballpark.
But for those in Detroit and throughout Michigan who appreciate baseball history, it is hard not to feel bitter about the missed opportunity to renovate and preserve the ballpark that had had once stood at Michigan and Trumbull and that opened as Navin Field the same day as Fenway Park. (The Tigers had in fact had played at the site since 1896 when it was originally a wood structure called Bennett Park.)
Nine World Series, three major league All Star games and two NFL world championship games were played on what is now an empty diamond surrounded by an ugly chain link fence. 204 Hall of Fame baseball players performed on the site that evolved from Bennett Park to Navin Field to Briggs Stadium and then to Tiger Stadium.
Thousands continue to make a pilgrimage to that movie set farm field in Iowa where Kevin Costner lured Shoeless Joe Jackson in the movie Field of Dreams, but the genuine field of dreams is right here in Detroit where the real Shoeless Joe, then playing for Cleveland, scored the very first run at Navin Field on that cool April day in Detroit.
Yet the only remnant left is the famous flag pole that still flies Old Glory thanks to an anonymous donor. And thanks to the generosity of Brooks Lumber Company across the street, the flag is illuminated at night from a light on top of their building.
Bitterness can turn quickly to anger when one starts thinking about the role of George Jackson of the Detroit Economic Development Corporation, who based upon his words and actions, has seemed hell bent from the get go to strike down any proposal that would preserve the famous diamond at Michigan and Trumbull. Is he carrying the water for someone else behind the scenes? Who knows?
At every turn, despite legitimate proposals to renovate and preserve the site for the past twelve years, (including a $3 million federal subsidy and an offer from Chevrolet), Jackson, city officials, and the Mayor have ignored the efforts of U.S. Senator Carl Levin, the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy, and private developers that wanted to preserve a portion of the old structure and the diamond as part of a development.
(It is my understanding that Jackson’s role will be further looked at in the upcoming documentary Force- Out, the sequel by filmmaker Gary Glaser whose documentary Stranded at the Corner won a local Emmy.)
But the bitterness also emanates from the apparent indifference given to the site by the Detroit Tigers and the “powers that be”, including leaders in business, government, foundations and even historic preservation organizations that have seemingly turned their heads away from that little green space in Corktown.
For God’s sake, one third of the land in Detroit is reportedly vacant!
And you can’t tell me that this historic little acre in Corktown cannot be preserved and celebrated.
If not for the dedicated efforts of volunteer Tom Derry whose ad hoc “Navin Field Grounds Crew” has religiously groomed the diamond for the past two years, this historic site would be a trash strewn field full of giant weeds, rocks, and pigeon shit.
Frankly, despite the laudable effort behind closed doors, the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy has not been especially public or otherwise outspoken about their vision and the roadblocks they have faced. On the eve of the 100th Anniversary of the field they are seeking to preserve, it will be interesting to see if the group is even doing anything that day.
I, for one would love to see the Conservancy or someone make an offer to purchase the property and proceed with preservation of the diamond.
Last time I checked, it seemed the city could use the money.