By Steve Neavling
Motor City Muckraker
For the past six years, thousands of fans have flocked to the site of former Tiger Stadium, where the historic baseball field was preserved and maintained by a diehard group of volunteers.
That era came to a sad ending this weekend as the Detroit Police Athletic League (PAL) prepares to take over the site for youth sports. PAL also plans to carpet Navin field with artificial turf, despite increasing pressure to preserve the grass.
The Navin Field Grounds Crew, a small, but spirited group of volunteers, maintained the park, even amid threats of arrest for trespassing on the city-owned property. The crew was honored at home plate Saturday with the “Spirt of Detroit” award, one of the highest recognitions in Detroit.
“We turned a trash dump into a field of dreams,” said Tom Derry, founder of the Navin Field Grounds Crew, who married crew member Sarah Aittama at home plate in August 2014.
As part of the farewell festivities over the weekend, fans donned vintage uniforms for a 19th-century form of baseball. On hand was former Tigers player and fan favorite John Wockenfuss.
It’s the same field where Babe Ruth hit his 700th home run, where Kirk Gibson’s home run capped the 1984 World Series and where Denny McLain won his 30th game in 1968. Among the baseball legends who played at the field were Ty Cobb, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Goose Goslin, Hank Greenberg, Jackie Robinson and Yogi Berra.
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.