Inside Perspective: Safe at Home at Tiger Stadium

It seems most everybody wants to be in showbiz these days; and about the quickest route there is via the many television channels and shows that glut the market and destroy the national attention span.

The final game at Tiger Stadium, September 27, 1999.

Back in the 1970s I went to the coast so as to do my part in undermining Western culture, and DID work in the vast wasteland that is American TV. One of my first bosses was a producer/writer who found great success in Los Angeles. He had gone from disc jockeying on radio into TV writing, and he absolutely lived for the day he would see his name on the credits of a national show. I well recall him telling me about the night that his dream came true. He DID write a show, and he DID see his name in the credits at the end. I recall that he was living at the time in a lousy desert outpost near L.A. called El Centro, California. And he told me how he wandered outside his trailer after his show aired, after seeing his name in the credits … and he looked up into the deep sky, and realized that nothing in the world had changed … nothing in THE world or HIS world … just that his name had flashed by quickly on a TV screen. A complete letdown.

Which brings me to Tiger Stadium and Al Kaline (don’t ask how I could make such a preposterous jump, just jump with me.) I ended up working in TV, nationally and locally in Detroit, for many years, about 30 I guess. And there was only one show I ever did that gave me a sense of any real satisfaction. And that was Channel 50’s telecast of the final game at Tiger Stadium in September of 1999, and a special 90-minute tribute to the Stadium and our local sports history there that followed.

Ray Lane, truly a prince of a fellow, hosted that show, and the whole shebang was produced by Toby Cunningham, he of Red Wings TV fame. I wrote the closing tribute show, and had the incredible buzz of finishing it by having Al Kaline emerge from the Tiger dugout, and walk to home plate for one last time. Mind you, this was in a completely empty stadium, with the night lights blazing, and his walk shot from directly behind him AND from the top of the centerfield bleachers. I had written a poem, a tribute to the old ballpark, that Ray recited as Al made his last trip to the plate, looked slowly around the entire stadium, and then made his way up the nearest walkway, into a dark tunnel and out of our sight.

It was the great goosebump experience of my TV life. And the thrill had been multiplied earlier that week, as I — armed with an All Areas TV pass — wandered the old ballpark at will. I strolled the grass on off-days, and explored every section, up and down. I recalled every seat I had ever sat in there, and every game — Lions, Tigers, World Series, Goodfellow’s high school football — that I had attended. It all came back. Especially on that walkway outside the stadium, that ascended on the Michigan Avenue side. Remember it? Walking outside before ducking into the magic that WAS Navin, Briggs, Tiger Stadium. And what came back to me, on my last lone ascent up that walkway, was how my Dad used to guide me as a kid through the crowds that always surged there. He would place his thumb and forefinger on my collar, and steer me through the crowd of cigar-smoking men who pushed and surged against us as we made our way into that special Lions’ … or Goodfellow’s … or Tigers’ game.

And yup … unlike my friend in L.A. … when our Channel 50 show ended that final night, I finally felt some real pride and thankfulness at seeing my name on a TV screen … as the credits rolled for the last time over that now empty yet still gorgeous playing field. The memory and that good feeling linger to this day.

And also, there is this: You can believe it or not, but it is swear-on-my-parent’s-grave true. That last afternoon when I walked up that Tiger Stadium outdoor walkway, after I looked down on Michigan Avenue and remembered so many days and nights entering the stadium there … I stopped just as I crossed into the darkness of the stadium, into the shadows cast by the upper deck. I paused because somebody grabbed me from behind; somebody placed their hand on the back of my neck and squeezed me quite hard, as if in greeting. So I turned quickly to see who it was … and there was nobody there. Nobody at all. I was completely alone.

But of course, I wasn’t. And that’s what I’ll always remember about the closing of Tiger Stadium, and Al Kaline’s last walk home, and my last walk with my Dad. Me and Al and my father, Charles A. DeLisle. All … one final time … safe at home.

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