Willie Horton to be honored at old Tiger Stadium site

Lou brockThe most storied defensive play in Tigers history came during Game 5 of the 1968 World Series when Willie Horton threw out Lou Brock at the plate in what would turn out to be the turning point in a series in which Detroit was down 3-1.

At 4 p.m. Wednesday, the volunteer Navin Field Grounds Crew is staging a re-creation of the historic event, complete with high school players and coaches on the site of old Tiger Stadium in the city’s historic Corktown neighborhood. The event, which is to honor Horton’s 71st birthday, is free and open to the public.

“Willie Horton is a legend in this town and rightly so,” said Dave Mesrey, a Navin Fields Grounds Crew volunteer and editor of of Horton’s 2006 autobiography, “The People’s Champion.” “His throw to nail Lou Brock in Game 5 changed the course of that game and the course of the Series. For my money, it’s the greatest moment in Detroit sports history.”

Tigers StadiumThis is just the latest event organized by the all-volunteer grounds crew, which has bravely ignored city orders to stay off the field since 2010 – a year after it was demolished. These are die-hard baseball fans who chopped down 7-foot-tall weeds that had accumulated because the city had neglected the park, which also became a dumping ground for trash. The crew now meticulously maintains Navin Field, which later was named Tiger Stadium.

Navin Field opened on April 20, 1912, the same day that Fenway Park opened in Boston. (The Tigers played at Fenway during the first two NLCS games over the weekend.)

While city officials have all but written off preserving Navin Field, baseball fans across country admire it. Yogi Berra’s granddaughter is coming from New Jersey to witness Wednesday’s re-creation. And Jason Roche will be shooting the event as a DVD extra for his documentary, “Stealing Home.”

The field on Michigan Avenue is where Babe Ruth hit his 700th home run, where Kirk Gibson’s homer capped the 1984 World Series and where Denny McLain won his 30th game in 1968.

That history hasn’t been a priority of George Jackson’s, president and CEO of the Detroit Economic Growth Corp., the city agency that controls the site. Jackson has insisted on landing a major development, which has proved to be a pipe dream in a city with an enormous inventory of vacant property.

That hasn’t stopped baseball fans from enjoying the field – for now.

“With Willie Horton Day coming up on Friday, I wanted to try to re-create this historic play,” Mesrey said. “And what better place to do it than on the same hallowed ground where Tiger Stadium once stood?”

Parking is available around the park.

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.