Long-time Tigers fans on both sides of the border know where the iconic field is at “the corner” of Michigan and Trumbull on the city’s near west side.
But anyone who wasn’t familiar with this professional field of dreams would be hard pressed to pick it out form any other block-size abandoned field in the middle of a city that has hundreds of them.
There isn’t even any type of historic marker designating the site.
Yes, the grass outfield and infield are still intact and even the original diamond is there.
Otherwise there are some picnic tables and, in the outfield, one man operates a sit down lawn mower, cutting the grass.
That person turns out to be a member of the Navin Field (Tiger Stadium’s former name) Grounds Crew.
“It was most likely our founder, Tom Derry,” says Crew spokesman Dave Mesrey.
The old ballpark saw its last game played in 1999 and ten years later the stadium itself was torn down.
Still, for people who have not been to the site in years, it’s stunning to see no remnant of the stadium.
That’s what the people who formed the Grounds Crew also thought after the demolition job.
“On Mother's Day of 2010, a local mailman named Tom Derry visited the old ball field with a few of his friends,” the Grounds Crew blog said in a May 12 post.
“Much like (sportscaster) Jack Buck he could not believe what he saw. The field looked terrible. Giant weeds had overtaken the infield, the pitcher's mound, and the baselines. There was tall grass and trash scattered everywhere. It was an awful sight.”
Derry got his riding mower, called his friends, and the first clean-up was scheduled May 12 2010.
At first Derry and his group were subject to harassment by the City of Detroit, which told them they were trespassing.
Eventually the city gave up and let the crew do their thing.
Asked why the city was so protective of the forlorn site, Crew spokesman Mesrey said it was best to ask the city.
“I can only speculate,” he said. “Those days are gone, though, and we prefer to focus on the positive.”
While the field might seem abandoned it looks in much better shape than it did soon after demolition.
At that time there were waist-high - or higher - weeds.
“The only reason that all 8.5 acres are not completely overgrown with weeds is that Tom Derry and the Navin Field Grounds Crew have tirelessly fought City Hall in order to restore and maintain the field,” Frank Rashid, a founder of the Tiger Stadium Fan Club, said.
“The Kilpatrick administration and DEGC (Detroit Economic Growth Corp. which oversaw the demolition) rejected all attempts to preserve any remnant of the stands or the field. These attempts included proposals from groups composed of established developers, architects, and business people. Once city, county, and state officials collaborated on generous public subsidies for Mike Ilitch's new stadium (Comerica Park), they showed little interest in preserving or even commemorating the ballpark that was in many important respects superior to its replacement.”
There has been news of a proposed revitalization of the site.
The Detroit Police Athletic League (PAL) has until June 30 to come up with $2 million or 25 per cent financing for a new headquarters.
It would be at the site of the former stands behind home plate.
In addition a developer has put forward plans for a mixed use residential and retail development along the Michigan and Trumbull borders, keeping the outfield intact, and allowing the public to continue to walk, run and play ball on it.
“I don't have a good gauge on how their (PAL’s) fundraising is going, but we certainly wish them well,” Mesrey said.
“We just hope to persuade them to keep the natural grass.”
Photo: Navin Field Grounds Crew