The field remains on the ground of the former Tiger Stadium at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull. (John T. Greilick/Detroit News)
Detroit —I was an usher upstairs in old section 29 at Tiger Stadium one bright summer evening in 1976 when the late Mark Fidrych pitched.
The Tigers stank then, but not The Bird.
Nearly all of the 53,000-plus fans were in their seats when, turning to my right, I saw the president of the City Council presenting his tickets to another usher in deeper right field, out in Section 33.
Carl Levin was with two of his school-age daughters.
I thought, “Good honest guy, Carl Levin, huh? Most of the big shots are downstairs, near home plate. He could have twisted the arm of any city contractor who holds season tickets down there, and here he is, with the girls, way the heck out here in right field.”
The usher directed the Levins high up to their seats, a few rows from the top of the stadium.
I recalled that scene this week when George Jackson, the city’s longtime redevelopment czar, got into a bit of a dust-up with the senator and other folks trying to preserve memories of the old ballpark.
We all have recollections of Tiger Stadium. But too many of us still cannot reconcile them with reality, or we pretend that what other people think about the ghost does not matter because our memories are ours.
Far be it from me to get between Levin and Jackson. If anybody toils in the dysfunctional U.S. Senate or on the redevelopment of Detroit, an effort with far too little effect for several decades, they already have their fair share of trouble.
But there are ways of redeveloping the site and preserving a whole state full of memories, even despite the failure to preserve the structure.
The old stadium, rehabilitated, would have been the perfect site for a national African-American baseball academy, modeled after academies in the Caribbean and Central and South America that teams like the Tigers have constructed and operate, that would encourage the major-league dreams and abilities of young black Americans.
But Major League Baseball showed up here only recently touting such an academy, and the old ballpark was long gone. Meanwhile, Jackson said they came with their hand held out, instead of putting cash where their intentions may be.
Of course, that plan or whatever is going to happen to the site now would require an engaged conversation among people with various, sometimes contradictory, interests. And my 57 years in my hometown suggest that one of the most recent times that happened was in 1701, when Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, some French Jesuits and native folks decided where to park their canoes.
Come together, but how?
Not to be overly sarcastic. But our track record in identifying singular, unifying purposes is fairly spotty.
And so it is with the site of the old ballpark.
By demanding the maintenance of the 440-foot greensward from home plate to what once was the deepest dead-center field in Major League Baseball, my sense is the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy well understands nothing could then be done with the property. That path bisects the site diagonally.
We all are left to conclude they do not want anything developed there, save perhaps some fields and stands for youth and sandlot baseball.
The city wants to redevelop the parcel and has chosen an eminently appropriate developer, The Parade Company, which presents all of us with the Thanksgiving Day parade, the fireworks and occasionally other cool stuff.
A staging place for future public extravaganzas seems ideally suited for part of a significant parcel that was a venue for so much of it in the past.
So, what to do?
The future awaits
Whatever The Parade Company builds would include a sizable warehouse with big walls. They are ideal for large outdoor murals and billboard-size photographs depicting the baseball once played there — including the likes of Al Kaline, Willie Horton, Hank Greenberg, Charlie Gehringer, Mickey Cochrane and “Schoolboy” Rowe.
If The Parade Company can build parade floats and mount a vast display of fireworks, how hard can it be to construct something that spectacularly memorializes the great past?
The city and the conservancy should work with the company to assure something like that happens, especially with some of the $3.8 million in federal financing secured by Levin and controlled by the conservancy.
It was fine the future senator did not trade the public trust for better seats to see The Bird back in the day.
It would be good, too, if those with a continuing public role in this controversy would begin to behave with a similar degree of responsibility and focus on the common good.
A city that filed for bankruptcy waits.