WITHIN days, it seems, Tiger Stadium, the cavernous ballpark that Ty Cobb and Al Kaline and Mark "The Bird" Fidrych once called home, will be rubble and history. Attempts to raise money to save the stadium, or a part of it, never really came close to taking off, despite vigorous attempts by Detroit's ultimate baseball icon, Ernie Harwell.
Last week, the place was surrounded by a construction fence, and a bulldozer punched a hole through the north wall. Soon, one of the most storied sites in the history of baseball will be another vacant lot in a battered city which has less than half the population it did when this park hosted the 1951 All-Star game.
In a way, however, the stadium's final destruction may be a blessing. For nine years it has existed only as a faded, crumbling hulk along northbound I-75, a target for vandals, vagrants, and souvenir hunters. Yes, it would have been nice, perhaps, to have preserved the dugouts and maybe the playing field and front office as some form of recreation area and baseball museum.
But maybe it is better that the stadium, like Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds, goes on existing in newsreel and memory, back through the days when it was Briggs Stadium and Navin Field and the originally rickety wood stadium called Bennett Park.
Tiger Stadium hosted three All-Star games. Nine World Series were played here, and the Tigers won the last three of them. There are old men still alive who were here when Babe Ruth hit his 700th home run on this spot and when, a few years later, an ailing Lou Gehrig finally took himself out of the lineup after 2,130 consecutive games.
Tiger Stadium opened the week the Titanic went down, grew up and expanded with the city that loved her, withered when Detroit did. Today, the Tigers play in Comerica Park, a new stadium a mile away that has borrowed from the best of both old and new ballparks.
Yet, as exhibits throughout the new park indicate, the legacy of the old ballpark lives on and is celebrated by the new. It would be nice if that were someday true for her troubled city as well.
Detroit's official motto is Speramus meliora; resurget cineribus, which means, "We hope for better things; it will rise from the ashes."
Or as they say in baseball, "Wait 'til next year."
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