by | Feb 25, 2009 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

I took a drive last week to say good-bye to an old friend. I came off the highway, turned down a familiar street and there she was, right in front of me.

She did not look good. She was pale and broken down. Even the work she’d had done a few years ago now had decayed. She was spilling out, peeling, her fabrics were torn, and she looked none too steady on her feet. The summer sky was gray and she seemed to have a cloud affixed permanently over her head – along with cranes, tractors and trucks by her sides.

There was a small hole in her body. But she will break and crumble much more in the weeks to come. She was born in 1912. Death is inevitable now.

Her name is Tiger Stadium.

They are knocking her down.

For the love of the game

I parked beyond some orange cones by a fence that had been constructed to keep scavengers from getting too close. A security man wearing a wool cap jogged over and said no one was allowed in, but when I told him I only wanted a last look at a place where I’d spent so many years, he relented. He looked to be in his 20s. I asked if he’d seen the Tigers play here. His face lit up. “Oh, yeah,” he said, “my dad took me back in the day.”

Of course, back in the day we didn’t say “back in the day.” But at that moment, smiling widely, the guy was not a security guard, he was an excited kid with a glove, certain the next foul ball would be his.

Somewhere inside us, aren’t we all?

There are few romances like the ones with a ballpark. Unlike lovers, you don’t mind sharing them. Unlike boyfriends or girlfriends, they do not fade with the crush. And unlike most summer flings, you get to renew your love every year.

It is Fourth of July weekend, a time when fireworks flew over this ballpark.

There are no fireworks left.

Her name is Tiger Stadium.

They are knocking her down.

The legends of Motown

I glanced at the fading logo on her wall, a tiger crawling out through an Old English D. I remembered how her hallways smelled of sausage grease and her dim tunnel lighting was out of a Bela Lugosi movie. But this was a place where you could walk with the players on the way to their cars, a place where you crawled up into a hanging pinecone of a broadcast booth to say hi to Ernie Harwell and Paul Carey, a place where sitting behind a pole was part of the charm, because if you leaned to the side of that pole, you might see Ty Cobb getting his 4,000th hit, or Hank Greenberg, just back from the Army, hitting a home run. You might see Mark Fidrych chatting with a baseball, or Jack Morris glaring down a hitter before striking him out.

My first assignment for this newspaper was here. I interviewed Lou Whitaker. We talked for a few minutes, and it would be my longest interview with him ever. I saw Frank Tanana here nearly lose his chewing gum in celebrating a final, playoff-clinching out. I saw Cecil Fielder clock monster home runs into the night sky. I saw a tireless, elderly, über-fan called The Brow charge up and down the aisles, urging people to cheer even when there was nothing to cheer about.

Tiger Stadium was mine and it was yours and it was anyone’s who lived in this area over the last century. It belonged to your grandfather and your barber and your neighbor’s aunt. It belonged to Cobb and Greenberg and Al Kaline and Kirk Gibson and Sparky Anderson and Frank Navin and the Briggs family and Tom Monaghan and Mike Ilitch.

It belonged to the earth it sat upon.

And soon, that is where it will return.

You don’t save a building for the building’s sake. Tiger Stadium has been empty for nine years, rotting and crumbling while people wrangled over plans. In the end, as with certain medicines, the plans could not save the patient.

She deserves a dignified end.

I rarely have taken a photograph of a workplace. But I raised my camera and snapped one before I left. It is not her best look, but with old friends, you gotta take the whole picture.

That Sinatra song goes, “And the air was such a wonder, from the hot dogs and the beer. Yes, there used to be a ballpark, right here.”

Her name is Tiger Stadium. They are knocking her down.

Say good-bye if you get the chance.

She’d like that.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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