Jason Roche had never been to Tiger Stadium. Nor had he known much about the Detroit Tigers.
“I’ve never seen a game in Tiger Stadium, I have never even seen the stadium intact,” said Roche, an Assistant Professor of Communication Studies and Director of the Honors Program at the University of Detroit Mercy. “The only time I saw part of the building was in 2009 when I came here for my job interview with UDM.”
Roche, who got the job in 2009, didn’t put much thought into the visit right away.
“I really didn’t think much about it at the time,” said Roche. “I was just like ‘Aww that’s too bad. It wasn’t until about the winter of 2011 when someone told me about this bunch of guys, [who] for the love of the place … go out there and take care of the field.”
Hearing about this group, called the “Navin Field Grounds Crew,” inspired Roche to pursue more about them and what they’re all about.
“I thought it was so cool,” said Roche. “That sounds like a documentary right there. I gotta meet these guys.”
Starting that winter and ever since, Roche has been discovering exactly what the Navin Field Grounds Crew is all about.
“Stealing Home” the title of Roche’s documentary, will be finished near the conclusion of this summer.
“I think I am very close to the end,” said Roche. “I am making some final changes to the story based off of some suggestions people have given me. I just have to add some music, add some graphics, and then begin the process of marketing the film.”
In the process of making the documentary, Roche learned a lot of Tiger history and got to talk to a few big name Tigers of the past, including Kirk Gibson and Alan Trammell.
“Both Gibson and Trammell have some tremendous memories of the old stadium,” said Roche. “They both said they were impressed with the Navin Field Grounds Crew, and they want to stop and take a look when they come back to town.”
Roche is hoping for “Stealing Home” to hit it big in the local media market, shooting for Detroit Public Television and Fox Sports Detroit as possible channels for his film.
“I am sure I’ll have some good opportunities for screening it in the Metro Detroit area, and we’ll see where else it can go.”
“Stealing Home” is a story about the Navin Field Grounds Crew and what they are doing to preserve the site of old Tiger Stadium. Their biggest obstacle is the city of Detroit, which claims they are trespassing on city property and shouldn’t be doing what they are doing.
Over the last three years, the Grounds Crew has picked up trash, mowed the lawn, and turned the corner of Michigan and Trumbull into a place where every baseball fan should visit.
The Navin Field Grounds Crew consists of everyday people who loved going to the old ballpark and want to make a difference in the city. At the same time, the Grounds Crew wants to also preserve the historical significance of “The Corner.”
Tom Derry, who is the leader of the Grounds Crew, says the idea of getting a group together started back in 2010.
“I went down there on Mother’s Day 2010, I went on to the field with a few friends to hit the ball around and play some catch,” said Derry, who lives in Redford. “I wasn’t really all that thrilled about playing out there because I couldn’t believe how bad it looked.”
Derry described the horrific condition of the field, saying “the weeds had taken over the dirt infield” and “garbage was scattered all around.”
“I couldn’t believe it,” Derry said. “I just didn’t understand why no one was doing anything about it.”
After that day, Derry (who is currently on the disabled list due to a work related incident) decided to take matters into his own hands, by calling some friends to help out. On Wednesday May 12th, the first cleanup by the Grounds Crew took place. The Detroit police stopped by on the first cleanup day but in the years since, Derry says it hasn’t been all too bad.
“The first year was very difficult physically, and mentally exhausting. Each year has gotten a little better and a little easier.”
Since then, the Navin Field Grounds Crew has been doing cleanups on Sundays, which include cutting the grass and doing basic baseball field maintenance. The group consists of about 10 to 12 regular members, with about a couple dozen people who help out when they get a chance.
Because of the Grounds Crew efforts, the spot has been used for all sorts of different events, such as ‘vintage’ baseball games and weddings. The ballpark has also become a place where people sprinkle their family member’s ashes.
“The field means so much to so many people,” Derry said. “Besides from just the historical perspective, it’s important to have a nice park where people who live in that community can gather and play.”
As for Roche, the story behind the film is not a political one, but rather a chance to something positive and selfless that’s going on within the Detroit city limits.
“I’m just trying to make it a feel-good story, [so that] people can have something that inspires them.”