Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The end of an era comes to the site of Detroit's historic Tiger Stadium


Acclaimed architect and Michigan native John Davids said, "Any fool can maintain a current Major League baseball field. But it takes real talent to bring a ball field back from the dead."
That's what the NFGC did in 2010.
Despite being threatened with arrest from the City of Detroit, we took a weed- and garbage-infested lot and turned it into a field of dreams. We created a tourist destination, drawing visitors from around the world.
We never asked The Skillman FoundationThe Kresge Foundation, the Ralph Wilson Foundation, or the Detroit Tigers for a penny. We paid for everything ourselves.
We're the group that brought youth baseball to Michigan and Trumbull. We also brought back adult fast-pitch baseball, and vintage "base ball," as it was played in the 1860s.
We provided a much-needed green space in the heart of Detroit's historic Corktown neighborhood. For the past six years, this has been an open park where residents could play sports, walk their dogs, have picnics and parties, and fly kites.
It's also been a site where people have come to get married, and to scatter the ashes of their loved ones. This is a story that is uniquely Detroit.
We don't believe there has ever been another time when a Major League Baseball stadium was torn down, and a group of volunteers decided to rescue the field and preserve a public park.
Our six-year run at the field is over. We're pleased that baseball will continue to be played at The Corner. We hope that Detroit PAL will decide to at least save the grass and dirt infield. We also hope the field will remain accessible to the public.
While we've been around for more than six years, I believe the NFGC is still in its infancy. Our group is not only passionate about baseball, we also want to work to improve parks in Detroit and the surrounding area.
We might go to historic Hamtramck Stadium, Northwestern High School, or any number of parks in Detroit.
We will continue to host cool events, like our recent screening of Mark Fidrych's Monday night victory over the Yankees in 1976.
Some members of the NFGC live in Detroit, and some don't. But Detroit lives in every member of our crew.
We are excited as we move on to our next project. We'll be sure to keep you posted.
As for me, I didn't take any sod from the field as a souvenir. Instead, I'll take all the friends I've made at Navin Field over the past six years. They mean more to me than anything.
Thank you for all your kind words since May of 2010. We couldn't have restored this field without your support.

Sincerely,
Tom Derry
Founder
Navin Field Grounds Crew

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Celebrate the Year of the Bird Tuesday, June 28 at Cinema Detroit




TUESDAY, JUNE 28, 2016
Doors at 6 p.m. ​ 
Showtime at 7 p.m.

CINEMA DETROIT
4126 Third St., Detroit


Join Cinema Detroit and the Navin Field Grounds Crew as we celebrate the 40th anniversary of Mark "The Bird" Fidrych's signature game with the Detroit Tigers.

On June 28, 1976, before a live TV audience on ABC's Monday Night Baseball, Detroit's tongue-tied 21-year-old rookie phenom Mark Fidrych goes the distance, mowing down Billy Martin's New York Yankees, 5-1, and electrifying the Tiger Stadium crowd with his wacky antics and childlike exuberance.

This was the night America discovered The Bird.

After the game, with 48,000 fans chanting "We want the Bird!" the reluctant rookie emerges from the Tigers' dugout to a standing ovation, covering his head in his hands and grinning from ear to ear.

Teenage girls shriek with glee. 
Old ladies shout for joy. 
Policemen scramble to shake his hand.

This was The Bird's finest hour.

Join us, 40 years to the day, as we screen the game in its entirety and celebrate the spirit of '76, the spirit of Tiger Stadium, and the spirit of the late, great Mark "The Bird" Fidrych.


(The game originally aired June 28, 1976, but was blacked out in the Detroit area.)

Now see the game in its entirety for the first time on the big screen in Detroit, and see Mark "The Bird" Fidrych in his prime.
No tickets needed for this very special event.
Seating is limited, so please arrive early.


Doors open at 6 p.m.
Showtime is at 7 p.m. 

Suggested $7 donation at the door.

For those of you on Facebook, click here to RSVP to the event.
A​ portion of the proceeds will benefit the Mark Fidrych Foundation.

Also, while supplies last, guests of Cinema Detroit will receive a commemorative Mark "The Bird" Fidrych rookie card:













Cinema Detroit is located at 4126 Third Street in Midtown Detroit.
For directions, click here.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Safe at home

The author and his daughter, Katherine Brown, at Detroit's historic Navin Field. 

After living in California for nearly 40 years, longtime Tigers fan and Navin Field Grounds Crew member Robert Howe proves you can go home again.


BY ROBERT HOWE


Home. 

A single word that conjures up so many things. It could be the home where we grew up or that special place where we felt our most comfortable, our home away from home. 

From the late 1950s through the late 1970's, I grew up in the suburbs of Detroit. 

In 1965 when I was just 7, my dad, Ernie Howe, introduced me to the game of baseball — Detroit Tigers baseball at Tiger Stadium. I knew that very day that I'd discovered my home away from home. 

Holding my dad's hand, we walked through the tunnels behind the stands, passing the concession stands, walking up the ramp, and it at was this moment that my world changed forever! Up until then, my only view of the ballpark had been in black-and-white, on TV in our living room.

Now, here I was in this cathedral of baseball. I couldn't get over how green everything was. From the wooden seats, to the facade, but most of all the emerald green of the grass. It started in front of home plate, then seemed to go on forever! I watched in amazement as a group of men ran out onto the field, each of them carrying the biggest brooms I had ever seen. Then in unison, they began to sweep the infield dirt in what can only be described as a baseball ballet. It became a goal of mine to one day groom that very infield.

Little did I know.

Built in 1895 at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull, the first baseball structure on the site was called Bennett Park, named after former Tigers catcher Charlie Bennett. The initial structure was built out of wood, and the first professional game was played there on April 28, 1896 (My dad's birthday was April 28, 1919).

In 1911, because of the concern of fire, Detroit Tigers owner Frank Navin demolished the original
ballpark and erected a new concrete-and-steel structure. After Navin died in 1935, new owner Walter Briggs remodeled and expanded the ballpark into what most of us remember today. 

The stadium was completely enclosed, with the flagpole located in left-center field, the only flagpole in Major League Baseball in play. In 1961, broadcasting magnate John Fetzer bought the team from the Briggs family and changed the name to Tiger Stadium, the name it would remain until its demolition in 2009.

After that first game in 1965, my dad and I (and sometimes my mom) spent many summer days at
"The Corner." 1968 was a magical year! After losing the pennant by one game in 1967, the year Detroit was devastated by the riots, the Tigers helped to heal the city in 1968, winning their first pennant in 23 years, going on to beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series coming back from a three games to one deficit! 




It would be another 16 years before the Tigers would win another world championship. The 1984 Tigers roared out of the gate with a 35-5 start, eventually beating the San Diego Padres in the World Series four games to one.

The Tigers won the American League East in 1987, but were eliminated in the first round of playoffs. It would be the last time Tiger Stadium would host a postseason series. 




There's a line in the movie A League of Their Own when the manager played by Tom Hanks says, "There's no crying in baseball!"


The Tigers played their final game at The Corner to a sellout crowd on September 27, 1999. That day, there was crying in baseball. 


In 2009, after the stadium sat abandoned for nearly 10 years, the City of Detroit tore it down, tearing out the hearts of Tigers fans everywhere. 2010 saw the passing of Hall of Fame and longtime Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell. 

Ernie was the voice of the baseball in Detroit, beginning in 1960, up until his retirement in 2002.

A week after Ernie's passing, a Detroit mailman named Tom Derry drove to the vacant lot where Tiger Stadium once stood to play a game of catch in Ernie's memory. What Tom found, instead of that beautiful emerald green diamond, was a neglected patch of weeds and nine acres of garbage. 

But instead of crying, Tom decided to take it upon himself, along with the help of his fiancee, Sarah, and his new friends Dave Mesrey and Joe Michnuk, to cut the weeds, mow the grass, and pick up the trash.

The Navin Field Grounds Crew was born that day. 

For the next six years, Tom and his merry band of volunteers showed up every Sunday at the site of historic Tiger Stadium, mowing, weeding, and picking up the pesky trash, bringing a diamond back from the rough.

My wife, Sheilagh, and I first heard about this dedicated group of volunteers while living in Northern
California in 2011. The memories came flooding back. 

Even though I moved from Michigan in 1978 when my dad retired after 30 years with a local building contractor, my allegiance for the Tigers never wavered. I never became a Dodgers, Angels, Athletics, or Padres fan the entire time. 

In 2009 I started to get homesick for the place where I grew up. In 2012, our youngest daughter, Katherine (born in 1984, the year of the Tigers' last world championship, she didn't stand a chance; the Tigers are in her DNA), treated her dad to a wonderful trip to Detroit, attending our first Tigers game together at Comerica Park.

We watched the Tigers sweep a four-game series against the Cleveland Indians. We both wanted to
visit Navin Field, site of historic Tiger Stadium, so I could show her where I watched games growing up. We walked from our hotel to "The Corner" bringing our gloves, a couple of balls, and my Al Kaline bat. One of the best days of my life. (Katherine would later gift me with an amazing book of memories from our trip.) I knew then, standing on that field, that I needed to come home.

My wife, (the best in the world) didn't hesitate when I asked her if she would move to Michigan.
July 27, 2013, two moving trucks, three dogs, a house we had purchased sight unseen (albeit for a
few online photos and an inspection by my childhood friend Fred Makowski), we came home!

After a month of working on the house, my honey and I took the weekend off because I wanted to
take Sheilagh down to the old ballpark. Several members of NFGC were there. We introduced
ourselves, and we were immediately welcomed by Tom Derry himself as if we'd known each other for years. (That's the way Tom is with everyone he meets.)

I asked Tom if I could grab a broom and help out, fulfilling that almost 50-year-old memory, to sweep the infield at Tiger Stadium. Tom said, "Of course!" 

I don't know who had the biggest smile that day, myself or my sweet wife, who knows how much I love baseball. My wife had become a Tigers fan (how could she not?), amazing me every day with her growing knowledge of not only the game but the history of the Detroit Tigers. We both knew that day that coming home was the right decision. 

This field was our "refuge" from the rest of the world, to quote Ernie Harwell. It was not only the energy of the field, fueled by the memories of all of the baseball heroes who had played on her, it was combined with the energy of this magnificent group of unselfish people, who took care of her on their own dime, never asking for donations.

To paraphrase the James Earl Jones speech in Field of Dreams, "People will come, Tom. They'll come to Michigan for reasons they can't even fathom. They'll turn up your driveway, not knowing for sure why they're doing it. They'll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past."

"Of course, we won't mind if you have a look around," you'll say. "It's only twenty dollars per person." They'll pass over the money without even thinking about it; for it is money they have and peace they lack."



But unlike the movie, Tom has never asked for a dime. The crew's budget has largely come out of Tom's pocket, expecting nothing in return. Yet, people have offered money to pay for gas or a broom or a rake, because this very special place means so much to them. 


2013 saw the premiere of Stealing Home the award-winning documentary about the NFGC.

Director Jason Roche spent over two years, nearly every weekend, shooting footage of not only the grounds crew, but also filming memories of the hundreds of visitors who make the weekly trek to a very special place in their hearts and minds. 

Jason's film brought so much attention to the field and the Grounds Crew, that the hundreds of weekly visitors turned into thousands from all over the world! 

Jason, we cannot thank you enough for your huge contribution of love.

In 2014, Sheilagh and I were honored to attend the wedding of Tom and Sarah Derry on the very field Tom brought back to life. Vintage baseball returned to the corner, playing by the original rules laid out for the game, and officiated by Michael “Preacher” Copado. 

So very fitting for a place with its rich history of the game. Then there were all the pickup games that occurred at a moment's notice when groups of people arrived at the field. Total strangers with a common bond, getting together to "have a catch" because of their love of this wonderful, magical place. People taking pictures on the mound, or at home plate, or from their baseball hero's position. 

Others have brought their loved ones' ashes, scattering them on the field because it was either the request of that loved one, or the field meant so much to the person who was scattering the ashes, because this was where they and their loved one spent so much time together, at their home away from home.

For the last two and a half years (which has seemed like mere minutes), my honey and I have made
the one-hour trip south to the Motor City, bringing our love and affection to not only that beautiful
nine acres of hallowed ground, but to that wonderful family called the Navin Field Grounds Crew, and that love and affection has been returned to us a thousand fold. 

To Tom and Sarah Derry, words cannot express how much your friendship means to us. 

To Joe, Andorra, Rick, Mickey, John, Adam, Angemala, Bill, Baseline Bob, Bart, Dave, Laura, Donald, and Erik ... thank you for accepting us into the family. 

We don't know what the future holds for us at "The Corner," but no matter where we go and what we do to preserve and save another baseball legend in the Detroit area, we'll always have our memories of this wonderful place and, most importantly, we'll always be the Navin Field Ground Crew.

Thanks to Tom Derry, the people have come. 
They've all come home.


Left to right: NFGC's Rick DeLorme, Sheilagh Howe, and Robert Howe.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Volunteers brave snow and cold to help keep Navin Field clean, even in the dead of winter

Laura Tas (left) and Adam Millikin pick up trash Sunday morning at Detroit's Navin Field, site of historic Tiger Stadium.

CORKTOWN — With temperatures in the teens and the wind chill hovering around zero Sunday, it was a perfect day for bundling up and staying indoors.  

But not for Adam Millikin.

Millikin, a hardy soul and self-styled Detroit sports superfan, suffers from chronic back and leg pain. But that didn't stop him from doing his part Sunday morning to help keep Navin Field clean.

Along with fellow Navin Field Grounds Crew member Laura Tas, Millikin braved the cold Sunday morning to pick up trash in the snow at his beloved Navin Field.

Despite the frigid temperatures Sunday, Millikin and Tas were still hard at work on the frozen tundra. 

"This is nothing to old Lions fans," Millikin said, recalling the days when Detroit's beleaguered NFL franchise played at Tiger Stadium.


Adam Millkin, right, started many a wave in the bleachers at old Tiger Stadium.


















A longtime Detroiter and former Tiger Stadium "bleacher creature," Millikin is cut from the same cloth as Dancin' Gus Sinaris and Joe "The Brow" Diroff, superfans from a bygone era who embodied the spirit of Tiger Stadium. 

And like most of the men and women on the Navin Field Grounds Crew, Millikin finds inspiration in their patron saint, Herbie Redmond.

But "Dancin' Herbie," the beloved old Tiger Stadium groundskeeper, never braved these kinds of temperatures

"I felt the spirit of Tiger Stadium here today," Millikin said. "I just want to help keep that spirit alive."

Laura Tas, a native of Detroit's east side, was clearly in the spirit Sunday morning, even though Opening Day is still more than a month away. 

"My grandfather brought me to Tiger Stadium as far back as 1965," Tas said. "One of my fondest memories of my father is him making a thermos of hot chocolate for me and coffee for him and whisking me to a game in late September or early October of 1968." 

In the 1920s, Tas's grandmother lived on Trumbull Avenue when wooden sidewalks still surrounded the old ballpark. 

"She would roller skate around and around, and often spoke with the ballplayers," Tas said. "She met Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb.  They must have been charmed,  as she was a beautiful little girl with black hair and blue eyes and always a huge bow on her head."  

To Tas, even if it's blanketed in snow, Navin Field is still a field of dreams. 

"This city and this field are a part of me," she said. "They're in my heart."

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Detroit PAL loses key supporter over its handling of Tiger Stadium situation

Lear Corporation withdraws annual $50,000 contribution to Police Athletic League, cites concerns over player safety and historic preservation.


As readers of this site know, Detroit City Council recently gave the green light to the Detroit Police Athletic League and its proposal for a new artificial-turf development on the site of historic Tiger Stadium.


While there's good reason to celebrate this new era and the fact that Detroit's schoolchildren will continue to use this historic site for baseball, football, and other sports, it's also a critical time to carefully consider the safety of Detroit's student-athletes.


With more and more high-school turf-related football deaths in the news (Chicago) (Seattle) (New York), it's imperative that we protect our student-athletes, as well as our history and our environment


Detroit PAL's mission is an honorable mission, and we should all support their efforts to enrich the lives of Detroit's student-athletes. But we should also hold their leadership accountable not only for the players' safety, but also for preserving the historic stadium site they stand to inherit.


"Our kids deserve this new facility," goes the old argument. But when that facility's artificial turf factors into a player's death, it puts high-school football and its shiny new athletic complexes in perspective.

The Tiger Stadium site hasn't hosted a football game since 1974. If it is to be used for football again, it's critical that we take precautions to avoid this kind of tragedy in Detroit. 


Despite a $3 million federal earmark from U.S. Senator Carl Levin that calls for the preservation of the site, Detroit PAL insists it is instead moving forward with its controversial plan to tear out the grass at old Tiger Stadium so that it can install artificial turf on the historic site.

This does not sit well with at least one prominent supporter of PAL. 


With an annual contribution of $50,000 to Detroit PAL's programs, the Lear Corporation has been a major benefactor of the nonprofit for years. But in light of PAL's controversial plan to redevelop the Tiger Stadium site with artificial turf, Lear's CEO is speaking out.


Matthew Simoncini says that Lear is withdrawing its financial support of PAL for its mishandling of this delicate issue.


"I believe the [PAL] plan is severely flawed [and] a terrible use of resources," Simoncini writes in a letter to Detroit City Council. "[It] does not preserve this site and provides [an] unsafe playing surface for the children," 


Matthew Simoncini


"I believe the [PAL] plan is severely flawed, is a terrible use of resources, does not preserve this site and provides [an] unsafe playing surface for the children." 

Lear CEO Matthew Simoncini




Under Simoncini's leadership, Lear has worked extensively with the city's Parks and Recreation department in recent years, spending more than $5 million rehabbing Detroit parks. Simoncini, a celebrated former football coach on the city's east side, understands better than most the importance of player safety on the gridiron.

Whether Lear's funding decision will affect PAL's redevelopment plans for the Tiger Stadium site remains to be seen, but it's clear that its CEO means business.


"This site is absolutely vital to Detroit," Simoncini says. "We can do better."


Scroll down for video of Detroit City Council's final meeting on the Tiger Stadium issue, including discussion of the Lear Corporation at 15:50.  


Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Un-Greening of Detroit: Artificial turf, limited public access on deck for site of historic Tiger Stadium (Part 2 of 3)


LONG GONE? This 9-acre green space and quasi-public park on the site of Detroit's historic Tiger Stadium could soon be replaced with artificial turf. (Tony Leja) 

2015 was an eventful year in the debate over the future of Navin Field, site of Detroit's historic Tiger Stadium. In Part 1 of our three-part series, we explored the recent land transfer of Navin Field to the Detroit Economic Development Corporation.


With the Detroit Police Athletic League set to take over Navin Field later this year, the NFGC is thrilled to see children get the chance to continue playing baseball on this historic site. But the debate continues over the definition of "public access" and the controversial plan to tear out Navin Field's natural grass and replace it with artificial turf.

As we've noted here before, that is not exactly a popular move.


While some in the mainstream media are finally paying attention to this critical moment in Detroit's resurgence, too many others are simply skimming the surface. 

In the second installment of our three-part series, we take a closer look at the controversy surrounding public access to Navin Field and the prospect of plastic grass replacing a venerable and viable green space in the heart of Detroit's historic Corktown district.


Feb. 4, 2016

Federal money earmarked for preservation could instead fund demolition of Detroit's historic Navin Field 

Artificial turf set to replace green space at site of old Tiger Stadium


When Detroit PAL CEO Tim Richey appeared before the city's Planning & Development committee, he pledged to retain the authenticity of the site.

"We're very excited about this opportunity to redevelop what we know is an iconic location in the city of Detroit," he said. 

And it is indeed exciting that children will continue to play ball there. But Detroit PAL's proposal, in fact, retains very little authenticity of the site. Today, the only remnants of historic Tiger Stadium are the flagpole in center field and the natural grass that has graced the corner of Michigan and Trumbull since 1896. 

That grass, voluntarily maintained since 2010 by a local mailman named Tom Derry and the volunteers of the Navin Field Grounds Crew, has hosted dozens of youth baseball games for six magical summers. 


And it is magic because it is authentic.  

But soon the grass could be torn out and replaced with artificial turf. 

Since 2010, Navin Field has been widely hailed as a natural, national treasureBut if PAL proceeds to tear out the grass, it effectively obliterates a viable and venerable green space in the heart of historic Corktown — and it ruins its reputation as a bonafide tourist attraction

A misuse of federal funds?


Senator Carl Levin's 2009 $3.8 million federal earmark, which is set to expire on October 1, calls for the preservation and redevelopment of a public park on the site of Tiger Stadium.  

But in fact there is little preservation in Detroit PAL's proposal to redevelop the site.

In response to pleas from Corktown residents and other local activists, Detroit PAL CEO Tim Richey has agreed to allow some public access to Navin Field.

"We will offer at least 15 hours per week of free access to the public," he told City Council. 

But how appealing will that access be if Navin Field becomes a sea of plastic?

"I think there's a huge case to be made to keep this natural grass," said City Councilman Gabe Leland"You can't put a value on that field."

City Councilman Gabe Leland

"I think there's a huge case to be made to keep this natural grass." 
—Detroit City Councilman Gabe Leland







Despite those concerns, however, the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy voted this week, 7-2, to transfer the remainder of Senator Levin's federal earmark (approximately $3 million) to Detroit PAL. 


'We have decided to choose a synthetic turf surface' 


PAL's insistence on artificial turf for historic Navin Field stems from its plan to heavily program the site, with 10-14 hours of daily activity, including football, soccer, lacrosse, and baseball.

"Our intention has always been to program this site heavily," Richey says. "We want to maximize the usage of the site." 


And with such heavy usage of the historic field, Richey contends that natural grass simply can't withstand that amount of activity, that grass simply isn't as durable as artificial turf.

But to support his claim, Richey cited a typo-riddled 2010 Cal-Berkeley study that focuses mainly on the safety of crumb rubber infill. 

"These fields result in little, if any, exposure to toxic substances," the report reads.


But with the more recent reports of soccer players battling cancer, 
Congress is calling for an independent study on the safety of crumb rubber. 

To its credit, Detroit PAL has pledged not to use the controversial infill. 


So why even cite the Cal-Berkeley study? It contains little primary research and was sponsored by a consulting group that represents artificial turf manufacturers

Detroit PAL CEO Tim Richey

"We've done diligent research on this subject."

—Detroit PAL CEO Tim Richey











"Programming more than 20 hours a week is going to cause damage to the [grass]." Richey told City Council, "I think the studies will show that the safety of the turf, as it relates to injuries, is equal if not better [than] the natural grass."

But according to a study published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, injury rates for ACL sprains and ankle sprains for NFL games played on FieldTurf were higher than rates for those injuries in games played on real grass — and the differences were statistically significant.

Richey says the long-term maintenance and cost will be reduced with the use of synthetic turf.


"Over the course of 10 years," he says, "it's much more expensive to manage."

But plenty of well-known, reputable studies effectively debunk that myth.


According to Texas Multi-Chem, a prominent national sports field contractor, maintenance costs over a 10-year period (a generous estimate for an artificial turf lifespan) come to 
$558,909 for natural grass, and nearly $1.4 million for artificial turf.



10-YEAR MAINTENANCE PERIOD: 
GRASS                                ARTIFICIAL TURF 
$558,909                              $1.4 million


And that doesn't take into account the very real possibility of buyer's remorse.

On top of all that, PAL CEO Tim Richey has repeatedly cited Michigan State University turf expert Dr. John Rogers to support PAL's position that artificial turf is what's best for the Tiger Stadium site.

But Rogers, no fan of artificial turf, has expressed serious reservations about PAL's plan for the field.

As for the historic flagpole, the only actual remnant left of Tiger Stadium, Richey says that PAL intends to keep it.

"We're gonna [shine] up that flagpole," he told City Council. "We're gonna make it a beacon for those of us who remember Tiger Stadium."

City Councilman Scott Benson



Councilman Scott Benson then raised an intriguing question:

"Is there an opportunity," he asked, "to remove that sod and place it at another baseball field in the city of Detroit?"


"I think that's a very creative idea," said Matt Walters, of Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan's office. "We will certainly work with PAL and the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy to explore that option."


Benson further suggested reaching out to the Detroit Tigers to see if they'd be willing to preserve some of the old Tiger Stadium sod at Comerica Park


"I'm happy to look at how the field can be reused," said PAL CEO Tim Richey. "The only concern I would have is the expense of lifting the field and moving it." 

And so the debate continues over the future of historic Navin Field.
For now, at least, the grass remains the same.