The very first time quarterback Greg Landry took to the field as a Detroit Lion at the old Tiger Stadium, he actually had baseball on his mind.
“I grew up in New Hampshire well before there were the New England Patriots, so the games I went to see were the Boston Red Sox. I just kept thinking of all the famous baseball players who had been on the field, not the football players,” said Landry, who played in the NFL for 16 years. “About all they did for football games was take out the pitcher’s mound, and I remember coming out of the dugout at an exhibition game in 1968 and looking over the stadium. All I could think about was how honored I was to play on this field where Mickey Mantle and Al Kaline played.”
Landry, who was a Lion for 10 years (and a Lions assistant coach from 1995-1996), said the annual Thanksgiving Day games were among the most memorable. “It was unique because we were the only game on TV, and we had a real streak going. We beat Joe Namath with the Jets, beat the Oakland Raiders, and beat a lot of other good teams on Thanksgiving Day,” he said. “It was a nice day to play.”
Now 70 and living in Troy, Landry said he’s happy to see others get the chance to play at The Corner as part of Detroit PAL’s plans to redevelop it into a playing field for local young athletes. The storied site at Michigan and Trumbull will also be the permanent headquarters for the Police Athletic League, one of Detroit’s most successful youth mentorship and sports programs for more than 40 years. Some 14,000 boys and girls participate in 11 PAL athletic programs each year, and another 1,700 community members volunteer their time and services to make it all happen. PAL plans to grow the program to reach 20,000 kids citywide, and will celebrate the new facility’s grand opening this spring.
“We are committed to honoring the history of the site where Tiger Stadium once stood, while looking forward to having more kids play at all corners of Detroit,” said Detroit PAL CEO Tim Richey, who pointed out that the non-profit organization will continue to offer programs in all areas of the city. “The redevelopment of this site is the perfect marriage of the old and the new. We’re embracing the history and heroes who once played here and also setting a stage for a new generation of athletes.”
Field of Dreams
The $20-million PAL project will include a 2,500-seat stadium called The Corner Ballpark presented by Adient and an artificial turf field called the Willie Horton Field of Dreams presented by Meijer in honor of the well-loved Detroit Tigers slugger.
Landry is an active PAL supporter. “When I heard about the way they get the youngsters of the Detroit area involved in sports, I said, ‘what a great situation!’ Playing sports helps develop skills and self-confidence, and teaches you how to work with people. That is what some of the young people in Detroit need,” he said.
The project is being financed by a host of sources, including a $3 million federal grant secured by U.S. Senator Carl Levin and at least $1 million each the Skillman Foundation, William Davidson Foundation, Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, Kresge Foundation and the Dresner Foundation. The largest sponsorship has come from Adient for $2.8 million. Ordinary folks can show their support by purchasing a personalized brick that will be located at the stadium’s front plaza.
Just in time for the holiday gift-giving season, bricks are available in three sizes and range in price from $150 to $500. They can be personalized with several lines of text along with clip art featuring the Lions logo, a pair of baseball bats or other sports symbols. Also available is a 4-inch by 4-inch keepsake replica tile ($25) with the same engraving as your brick.
Landry and his wife Jeannine, a former All-American gymnast, encouraged each of their five children to play sports. “We told them, we don’t care what sport, but you have to experience being on a team, raising your mind and your body together,” he said, adding that he hopes to see all of his 12 grandchildren also play athletics.
Sports help children develop positive character traits, help improve cognitive skills and academic performance, and teach basic life lessons like playing by the rules and having a positive attitude. Kids who play sports are eight times as likely to remain active in adulthood, PAL says, and young athletes are three times more likely to graduate high school and go on to college.
And sports can help unite a community. Landry said he and his teammates always appreciated the devotion of Detroit fans, even during the roughest of seasons.
“All those years that the Lions lost in the Silver Dome and Ford Field, we still had 60,000 or 70,000 fans at each game. These are tremendous fans with real loyalty. I ended up staying here because this is such a great city,” he said. “Our children are our greatest asset in the city of Detroit and the way PAL is investing in these kids will come back in a very positive way.”
To purchase a brick or learn more about PAL, visit detroitpal.org.
Members of the editorial and news staff of The Detroit News were not involved in the creation of this content.