Sunday, July 20, 2014

Baseball's sacred ground

Front row: Left to right- Kaitlyn and Tyler Fuchs. Back row: Jon and Michele Fuchs, Philip and Diane Langford, Leah, Linda, and Matthew Guarnieri. The Guarnieris reside in Shelby Township, Michigan. The Fuchs traveled from Schenectady, New York. The Langfords live in Columbus, Mississippi.


In Detroit, the corner of Michigan and Trumbull is a holy site for baseball fans.  

Paul Guarnieri loved his Detroit Tigers. And he loved Tiger Stadium. 

Paul passed away recently at the age of 78. And although he's no longer with us, his spirit lives on. Paul's final wish was to have his ashes scattered at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull. 

Last week, Paul's family traveled to Detroit and honored that request.

RIP, Mr. Guarnieri. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Rising from the rubble

Volunteers helping shape the future of Detroit's historic Navin Field.

With an assist from the Men's Senior Baseball League, Navin Field Grounds Crew members erect a Little League
backstop last week on the site of old Tiger Stadium, near Cochrane and the I-75 service drive in Corktown.

By Tom Derry

The Navin Field Grounds Crew has realized for years how important youth baseball is to the future of The Corner. Since 2010, we've been voluntarily maintaining Detroit's historic field of dreams. It's a labor of love for us, and although the stadium is gone, we believe we've helped preserve the field for posterity.

We also firmly believe that the dimensions of this historic field, home to Ty Cobb and Hank Greenberg, to Willie Horton and Willie Hernandez, must be preserved in its entirety.

Fortunately for us, much like they have in New York on the site of old Yankee Stadium, we have room here in Detroit for both the historic playing field, as well as a new diamond for Little League baseball. That's why the NFGC has started building a youth baseball field in the northwest corner of Navin Field, near Cochrane Street and the Fisher service drive.

Far from the hustle and bustle of Michigan Avenue, our Little League diamond is in the perfect spot. And with so many people now interested in scheduling games at the site of old Tiger Stadium, we should soon be able to accommodate everyone who wants to play on this hallowed ground.

While the location for a second diamond was a no-brainer, building it was no small task. Parts of the land in that corner were filled with giant hunks of concrete, rebar, and other building material, all left behind from the demolition of Tiger Stadium.

The Navin Field Grounds Crew has spent more than four years removing the rubble.

Some of the work was too tough for our crew because we didn't have the necessary tools to remove the larger pieces of concrete. So we turned to our friend Aaron Smith and the good folks of the Motor City Grounds Crew.

The MCGC quickly answered the call and came to the rescue with jackhammers, air compressors, and other heavy-duty machinery. They were able to remove the debris from the ground so that we could move forward with our new field.

But we had another problem: The lay of the land was uneven, and we had giant holes that needed filling.

That's where NFGC member John Bushta stepped in.

Last week, thanks to John and the generous folks at Jackie's Transport, we received nearly 50 tons of dirt to help level the playing field.

We've made tremendous progress over the last four years, but we're not done yet. We'll probably need more dirt, and we still have to map out our Little League infield and baselines. But we're determined to finish what we've started.

The Detroit Tigers left The Corner after the 1999 season. But the game of baseball lives on at Michigan and Trumbull. And the NFGC will do its best to make sure that tradition continues for years to come.

So whether you're a seasoned vintage ballplayer or an up-and-coming Little Leaguer, bring your bat and ball, and come on down to Navin Field. We've got a diamond just for you.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Sweet Lou returns to Navin Field

Former Tigers second baseman Lou Whitaker reunites with 1984 teammate Dave Rozema at the site of old Tiger Stadium.

By Tom Derry

On Monday morning, the members of the Navin Field Grounds Crew were busy fixing up the historic baseball diamond at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull. The crew always prepares the field for baseball games and tourists throughout the summer. 

But on this day, they were also grooming the field in anticipation of a visit from some of the 1984 Tigers, Detroit's last World Series champions.

Around 10:30 a.m., two familiar-looking figures walked through an open gate on Michigan Avenue and headed out toward the playing field. 

"Looks like Lou Whitaker and Dave Rozema are here," somebody said.
And sure enough, there they were.

We met up with Lou and Dave near the first baseline, and welcomed them back home.

Everyone introduced themselves to Whitaker. Rozema was already familiar with us, as he recently pitched on Navin Field's historic mound a month earlier, as part of a wedding event.

I asked Lou if he wanted to go out to second base. He started to walk toward first base, deliberately stepping on the grass, to avoid our freshly swept and chalked baseline.

"It's O.K.," I told him. "You can walk on the base path."

When Lou got to first base, he turned toward second base and picked up steam. 

"Do you want to see me slide into second?" he asked. 

Lou didn't slide, but he stood atop the base that he anchored for 19 seasons in Detroit. Sweet Lou was back home, where he played for years alongside his longtime double-play partner, shortstop Alan Trammell.

Lou was happy to pose for pictures with everyone, signed autographs, and reminisced about Tiger Stadium. He said this wasn't his first time visiting the field since the historic structure was demolished in 2009. 

Lou occasionally visits the old grounds when he's in town. Then he likes to get a bite to eat at Nemo's Bar or O'Blivions Cafe on Michigan Avenue.

As Lou stood in the infield Monday morning, he gazed out onto Trumbull Avenue, where he launched most of his 146 home runs at Tiger Stadium. Only Al Kaline, Norm Cash, and Hank Greenberg hit more.

Lou was amazed by the vast expanse of grass on the lot. 

"It must take you guys three days to cut all this," he said.

He was impressed with the efforts of our grounds crew, as was his old teammate Rozema.

We hope Lou and Dave will come back and visit our field again one day. Perhaps next time, they'll bring more of the 1984 team with them.

"If You Restore It, They Will Come."

Tom Derry is the founder of the Navin Field Grounds Crew, as well as Detroit's original Babe Ruth Birthday Party.