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Hamtramck Stadium, and those who played in it, celebrated in rededication

Richard Silva
The Detroit News

Hamtramck — Hamtramck Stadium is the second-oldest Negro League ballpark still standing in 2022.

Legends such as Cool Papa Bell, Satchel Paige and Detroit native Norman "Turkey" Stearnes played in the venue. It's a relic of the past, and one of importance to many.

From left, Butch Ford and Willis Mason, who played for Ron Teasley at Northwestern High School, present Ron Teasley with a cap and shirt at the rededication ceremony for Hamtramck Stadium on Monday in Hamtramck.

But it was closed in 1997 and there were talks to demolish the structure thereafter. It never happened, though, because The Friends of Historic Hamtramck Stadium stepped in and fought to keep it upright.

And on Monday, one day after Juneteenth, a ceremony was held to celebrate the stadium being rededicated and having the field and grandstand restored. It was a project that cost nearly $3 million in total, but a worthwhile venture because of the historical impact, according to Stephen Grady Muhammad, deputy chief of staff for Wayne County.

"If you would just pause for a moment," he said during the ceremony. "Let's think about this. ... You had Negro Leagues baseball players Turkey Stearnes, Cool Papa Bell, my personal favorite Satchel Paige and others who literally ran these bases in this field. It doesn't get any better than that, folks.

"So, on behalf of the 1.8 million residents of Wayne County and the Wayne County executive and his team, I'm so proud and humbled to say, play ball."

Gary Gillette, the founder and chairman of FHHS, began doing research on the park in 2008 after hearing of the demolition rumors and later approached city council to describe the historical significance of the stadium. Gillette said the council has been supportive ever since.

Gillette also teamed up with local preservationists in 2012 to get the park listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which was a success. He was also able to obtain a state of Michigan Historic Marker in 2014 and an African American civil rights grant in 2017 for the planning of the project.

The funding for the project was collected through a few different avenues, with Wayne County being the major driving force, supplying $1.3 million. Other pieces of funding were obtained through National Park Service African American Civil Rights Grants, the Detroit Tigers Foundation, the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation and the Kresge Foundation.

Securing that funding wasn't easy, however, as Gillette had to jump through a lot of hoops to reach his goal.

"So, first you have to show the history (and) document the history (of the stadium)," he said. "Then you have to persuade the State Historic Preservation Office and (prove) it's worthy of being on the National Register of Historic Places. Then you've got to mobilize people and say, 'Hey, this is worth saving. Let's get behind this.'

"Then you have to apply for grants. Then you have to plan it out because a historic structure has to be rehabilitated to strict standards. Then you have to raise the money to actually do it, then you have to actually do it. Because every time you do construction, especially when you're trying to do it to historic standards, there are problems. So, it's a very long process."

Following the ceremony, a tribute game featuring two teams of high schoolers was played on Norman "Turkey" Stearnes Field to honor Ron Teasley Sr., a Detroit native who was in attendance and is one of four remaining players of the Major Negro Leagues era (1920-1948) still alive.

The other three players include Bill Greason, Clyde Golden and Willie Mays.

Sebastian Casillas-Lopez of Ann Arbor bats as people sit in the rebuilt grandstands as the Detroit Stars take on the Chicago Giants in the Juneteenth Negro Leagues tribute game after the rededication ceremony for Hamtramck Stadium on Monday in Hamtramck.

Teasley, 95, has a long list of accomplishments both on and off the field in his life. He played for the New York Cubans in the Negro National League and was also part of the Brooklyn Dodgers' farm system in 1948.

He graduated from Wayne State, where he played baseball, and has both bachelor's and master's degrees. He's a part of the Wayne State Athletic Hall of Fame, as well as the Northwestern High School Hall of Fame, the Afro-American Sports Hall of Fame and the Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

He also taught and coached at Northwestern for 20-plus years, and is a veteran of the United States Navy.

"Ron Teasley is a great guy," Gillette said. "He truly is an underrated and unknown in many places as a pioneer and coach. He was one of the first Black players on the Northwestern basketball team and baseball team, and Northwestern High School in Detroit was a powerhouse for decades.

"He coached at Northwestern for more than 20 years, baseball, basketball (and) golf. All (of) his players graduated. Many of them signed pro contracts. ... I mean, the guy has been everywhere. He's been a photojournalist, he worked with the Michigan Chronicle. ... Great guy."

It's clear Teasley has left his mark on the community, evident by those who spoke and attended Monday's ceremony. Some of the participants included Hamtramck Mayor Amer Ghalib; Greg Kowalski, Hamtramck Historical Museum director; Michigan State Reps. Helena Scott and Abraham Aiyash; as well as members of Teasley's family and church.

And although Teasley's achievements are impressive, his grandson, Anthony, said his grandfather doesn't like to focus on them.

"One of the things that he never really talks about are his personal accomplishments," Anthony said. "We all talk about it, like his family, you hear all the speakers talk about the great things he's done, but he doesn't really talk about that.

"What he likes to talk about is how his personal accomplishments have affected everybody else. That's one of the biggest things that I've learned from him. It means a lot to be out here and seeing the fruits of his labor."

Anthony was one of two people who tossed the ceremonial first pitch before the start of the tribute game.

Ghalib finished his speech by crediting those who put in the work to get to Monday's ceremony. From Teasley's accomplishments so many years ago, to Gillette's hustle, it took a lot of effort to save and restore Hamtramck Stadium, but it got done.

"Today, we see how the years of vision by a few, the years of planning by many and the years of both struggle and cooperation between government organizations and community can have a measurable impact. ... As mayor of this great city, I want to thank everyone who has been, and will be involved in making this place so wonderful in our community and for those who visit here.

"Thank you so much."

Twitter: Rich_Silva18