Column: Line Drives — Hallowed ground just another field

[This is my column in the June 19 issue of The Commercial Review.]

To me, it was just another field.

An abandoned block in Detroit’s city limits, the fenced-in patch of overgrown grass is easy to miss.

Passersby and commuters in and out of the city may glance at the nine-acre plot and not think twice about it.

That’s what I did.

It was just a field — another remnant from when Michigan’s largest city was booming and thriving with life and culture.

To others, the field had more significance.

It’s where they took their children to see a ball game.

It is where tales were told of the great Babe Ruth hitting his 700th home run, or Roger Maris hitting homer No. 1 in what would be a record-breaking 1961 season.

It is where, on Sept. 14, 1968, Denny McLain became the last pitcher to win 30 games in a season.

It’s where Reggie Jackson hit a pinch-hit home run off the transformer on the roof in right field during the 1971 All Star Game.

It’s Michigan and Trumbull.

It’s “The Corner.”

It’s Tiger Stadium.

But to me, it’s just another field.

I nearly missed it. In fact, I had, probably a dozen times in the past.

I had never gone to see a game there as a child.

The last game at Tiger Stadium was Sept., 27, 1999, and 10 years later it was demolished.

I would never get the chance to see a game there.

When I was in Detroit on Sunday, I made it a point to stop by the grounds that was host to so much history.

On May 2, 1939, before a game against Detroit, New York Yankees legend Lou Gehrig asked to be taken out of the lineup because of a headache. It ended his streak of 2,130 consecutive games played.

Gehrig would never play another game.

That site — then named Navin Field — was where the Chicago Cubs beat the Tigers 2-0 in Game 5 on Oct. 14, 1908, to win the World Series.

The Cubs would never win another title.

In 1953 and 1957, the Detroit Lions claimed their third and fourth NFL Championships at Tiger Stadium.

The Lions haven’t won a title — or a Super Bowl — since.

Sunday on my way back from a friend’s wedding, I stopped in Detroit to catch a Tigers game against the Cleveland Indians. In the fifth inning, the rain began to fall and the game was delayed.

I was unsure of how long the delay would last, and knowing I still had a three-hour drive back to Portland ahead of me, I left the game.

I headed west down Michigan Avenue toward Trumbull. I parked along the street and got out of my car in a light rain.

I walked through the gate to see a number of people already on the field. A handful of guys were sitting at a picnic table and a child was on the pitcher’s mound playing catch with his dad while his mother watched from the backstop.

Thanks to the downpour earlier, I had to trudge through some puddles to get to home plate. As I approached the dirt around home, the guys at the table paid no mind to me. The family didn’t either.

I looked down the third baseline, then scanned the field to the first base side.

The infield dirt is still there, as are the rubber and the plate. The infield grass is groomed, and the outfield grass is in good shape, but on this day it needed to be cut.

The flagpole, which was in play when the stadium was open, also remains, but the sight of the Motor City Casino in the background drowns it out.

I snapped a photo to send to my cousin to relay to his dad, showing him what remains from where my uncle spent many days as a child. My mom’s brother is the biggest Detroit Tigers fan I know.

Then I stood there by myself and took it all in, thinking of those who played on that dirt before me.

Ruth. Jackson. Maris. Gehrig.

And those aren’t even the Tiger greats.

Hank Greenberg. Al Kaline. Ty Cobb. Mark Fidrych. Alan Trammell. Lou Whitaker. Kirk Gibson.

The list goes on.

They helped bring the city of Detroit four World Series titles — two of which were clinched at The Corner.

They became the subjects of tales fathers would tell their children after hearing stories of past legends.

And it all happened at the intersection of Michigan and Trumbull.

To some, it’s hallowed ground.

To me, it’s a picture next to my desk at work. It’s a painting hanging above my couch at my apartment.

To me, it’s just another field.


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