New Willie Horton Field of Dreams is nightmare for Corktown residents

Grass is growing high on the ballpark at the Tiger Stadium site after a nonprofit bought the property for $1. Photos by Steve Neavling.

Grass is growing high on the ballpark at the Tiger Stadium site after a nonprofit bought the property for $1. Photos by Steve Neavling.

By Michael Betzold
Motor City Muckraker

For the first six weeks after its groundbreaking, the Willie Horton Field of Dreams was a nightmare for Corktown residents.

Tall weeds and trash surrounded the historic field at Michigan and Trumbull on Wednesday night. Neglected by its new owners, the Detroit Police Athletic League, it became a real eyesore in Corktown, quickly turning the immediate neighborhood into a breeding ground for crime, residents said.

Erin Gavle and Chris Miele, who live above a store they run at Michigan and Cochrane, had their van stolen. From their windows, they could see drug deals going down and public urination.

Long grass grew around the perimeter of the field.

Long grass grew around the perimeter of the field.

In early April, the Detroit Police Athletic League had enclosed the old site of Tiger Stadium with fences draped with construction banners and posted a security guard there. But the guard didn’t patrol the perimeter, and no one mowed the grass outside the fence.

“Before it was a very open space,” says Gavle. “There was no place for people to hide and get into mischief.”

But after the PAL takeover, the historic site became an abandoned lot where sketchy activity was shielded from view.

Gavle says PAL wouldn’t respond to her repeated efforts to secure and clean up the site. Instead, they referred her to the project contractors, and at one point she heard the response: “Well, it’s Detroit.”

Similarly, PAL CEO Tim Richey has not responded to inquiries from Motor City Muckraker asking why it hasn’t been maintaining the property the city sold it for $1 and whether there are financial, legal, or other reasons delaying the start of construction on its new artificial turf youth stadium named after former Tigers star Horton.

With no public input, city sells historic Tiger Stadium field for just $1

There remains one entrance to the field at Cochrane and the former Kaline Dr. Remarkably, Tom Derry, who started the Navin Field Grounds Crew that cleaned up and maintained the field for the past six summers, continued to mow it.

“People are still showing up to play,” Derry explained. “That’s why I’m cutting the grass. I’m not cutting outside the fence, though. Don’t know what kind of trash is inside those tall weeds. I don’t want to destroy my new mower.”

But Derry now says, “I’m ready to move on to something new.”

With excellent timing, just as this story was being prepared on Thursday morning, city workers finally showed up to mow the chest-high weeds on the perimeter of the famous Corner.

Gavle says that, despite the poor start, she’s hopeful PAL will be a better steward in the future.

“What I need is for you to be a good neighbor. You got an important and valuable piece of property for a dollar. At least you could hire someone to cut the grass.”

Michael Betzold

Michael Betzold is a former Free Press reporter and longtime area freelance journalist. He wrote Queen of Diamonds, a history of Tiger Stadium. He lives on Detroit’s east side.

  • SirCoffeeaLot

    With how PAL has behaved in this entire Tiger Stadium saga up until now, it’s clear that they will be perpetually shltty neighbors.

  • Dean Henry

    Oh come on! I Just drove past there and there is a HUGE American flag flying over the fenced off/hidden field with a wonderful white and black PAL flag fluttering underneath it, what more could you want?

    • Dor

      That huge flag was actually purchased by volunteers and new ones have been donated and flown there for the last 6 years.

  • Trexinmichigan

    Tim Richey is obviously a punk who should be no example to children. I wonder how much he will steal from the youth of Detroit before he’s found out. How many others are on the take in PAL?
    This whole thing stinks to high hell already.

  • CommonSenseInTheD

    Why would “City Workers” show up & cut the grass? PAL’s property, PAL should be cutting the grass, NOT City Workers!?

    • javierjuanmanuel

      True but city workers should be writing tickets, lots of places that are not high brow burbs, they will write you a couple hundred dollar ticket if you take a week off mowing the lawn and have one weed that is 10 inches tall. Same with not shoveling the sidewalk.

      If you do not mow the lawn at your rental home that is vacant, they will ticket you, and even charge 250-400 to mow your lawn that has not been mowed in a month and a half. Thats for a 1/8 acre.

      You could charge 4,000-5,000 for mowing tiger stadium. Thats not what a lawn company charges, thats the not mowing it, punishment price.

      • Dor

        YES.

      • Thomas Amnesia

        City workers showed up on Thursday and cut along Cochran (where the complaints were coming from) but just left the cut weeds piled up. Friday, a local Corktown contractor on Rosa Parks went over and cleaned up the mess, then cut and cleaned the remainder along the freeway access drive and up Trumbull. Nobody asked them to do it and they aren’t billing anyone. They’re just good neighbors.

      • Thomas Amnesia

        City workers showed up on Thursday and cut along Cochran (where the complaints were coming from) but just left the cut weeds piled up. Friday, a local Corktown contractor on Rosa Parks went over and cleaned up the mess, then cut and cleaned the remainder along the freeway access drive and up Trumbull. Nobody asked them to do it and they aren’t billing anyone. They’re just good neighbors.

    • Trexinmichigan

      Send them the bill.

  • javierjuanmanuel

    Sounds like they do not want to cut grass they are going to rip up. Cheap skates.

    But it begs the question, i have been told constantly since about 2011, that nothing bad happens in corktown, woodbridge, or mid town. Its almost perfect.

    How does a 6 ft fence pop up and drug dealers, and junkies come out of no where? That part is kinda funny.

    • Donald E. Hodge

      Remember Javier, The guy on the phone said ” Well it`s Detroit” LOL can you believe that garbage! That’s just the kind of shit we are trying to get away from.

      • javierjuanmanuel

        I believe it, I think he meant the drug stuff, in all fairness they would sell even if the lawn was mowed

      • javierjuanmanuel

        hopefully the new influx of white people can demand law and order, and refuse to put up with stuff like busted lights for 12 years, trash cans that are never emptied, litter, double parking, dogs shitting on sidewalks, and all the stuff that is not tolerated in the burbs, in ten years hopefully large parts of detroit, the second time you are busted not picking up dog crap, it is a 250-500 dollar fine.

        Then …. then you will know detroit is turning around.

        • Donald E. Hodge

          do you know if there are any stats on who is moving in down town? I really don`t want to guess. that doesn`t make it fact.

          • javierjuanmanuel

            No. But it seems comfortably more than half white by the looks of it, ad another 10-15% for mixed race white Hispanics, and european middle eastern mixed people, who driving by you cannot tell fir sure their ethnic background

          • javierjuanmanuel

            No. But it seems comfortably more than half white by the looks of it, ad another 10-15% for mixed race white Hispanics, and european middle eastern mixed people, who driving by you cannot tell fir sure their ethnic background