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.
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.
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 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.