One last game played at old Tiger Stadium

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News


— Volunteers, players and die-hard baseball fans braved the rain and cold Sunday for what may be the last baseball game played on real grass at the former home field of the Detroit Tigers.

A project is set to break ground Wednesday that will turn the former stadium site at Michigan and Trumbull into a youth athletic complex.

In honor of the field’s final days, the Nevin Field Grounds Crew called on families and fans to join a weekend of festivities on the sacred grounds. The weekend concluded with a pickup game that included the Men’s Senior Baseball League of Detroit.

“The field means so much to so many people,” said Tom Derry, who founded the volunteer crew in 2010 to maintain the diamond and grass. “When we took over that field the weeds were 6 and 8 feet tall and there was trash everywhere. We turned a trash dump into a field of dreams.”

Derry, along with 30 others of the unofficial maintenance crew, have tended to the 91/2-acre field on weekends for years. The site, he said, has been an attraction for visitors from across the nation. It’s also been home to little and adult leagues and pickup games of all kinds as well as a destination for wedding ceremonies and for scattering the ashes of loved ones.

“We’ve had a great run here,” said Derry, 52, of Redford Township. “We knew it wouldn’t last forever. We’ve been honored to be the temporary caretakers of that field.”

The long-expected construction project is expected to include an athletic turf field to hold soccer, football and baseball games as well as day camps.

The artificial turf will extend the life of the field and can be used in varying weather conditions, officials have said. It’s expected to be completed by spring 2017.

The land is being developed through a partnership between the Police Athletic League, a nonprofit devoted to athletic leadership and development, and the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy.

The project plan was approved in December 2014 by the Detroit Economic Growth Corp. Last fall, Detroit’s City Council agreed to transfer ownership of the public land for $1 to the economic development agency.

The fate of the vacant land had been the focus of debate ever since the Detroit Tigers moved to Comerica Park for the 2000 season.

Preservationists have fought to keep the stadium, but city officials have said it didn’t make financial sense.

Demolition on the stadium began in 2008.

The project is part of a $33 million plan called The Corner, which will also feature retail and residential development.

Former Detroit Tiger John Wockenfuss joined about 50 others on the field Sunday, taking part in a quick game in the rain and mud. The 67-year-old played on the team from 1973-83.

Wockenfuss, who now lives in Florida, said he’s kept ties to Detroit and periodically returns to the old ball field.

“For me, that place was like church. It was a great place to play baseball, and it was hard to see it go,” he said.

“There’s a lot of good memories.”

As for the grounds crew, Derry said the volunteer work likely won’t end there. The members, he said, soon may tackle another restoration project.

“We have a passion for baseball, but all have a passion for the city of Detroit,” he said. “We will continue to do something to help improve the city.”