Thursday, July 10, 2008

Tiger Stadium's Last Stand Closes Chapter On Prep Football, Baseball History At The Corner

A considerable piece of Detroit's prep sports history is dying today -- Tiger Stadium is falling at the hands of de-construction crews and an army's worth of earth movers and bulldozers.

I thought I was over it. I told myself I was ready to move on after nine years of seeing the ole' ballpark shuttered. Then I heard the word yesterday on countless news bulletins and it took my breath away. I'm proud to consider Ernie Harwell a friend. He was extremely helpful in pointing me in the right direction to getting published, and he put me in touch with Paul Carey to write my book's foreword. Therefore, I pray I'm wrong when I say I don't think Ernie's best efforts will save the portion of the stadium he dearly wants to spare. Today is probably the beginning of the end of Tiger Stadium's days at 2121 Trumbull Avenue.

Tiger fans are buzzing nationwide via e-mail threads and Internet chat rooms about the stadium's demise. Both Detroit dailies began publishing online photos yesterday of the first, substantial walls to crumble from the weight of the wrecking ball. Even longtime Red Wing fans feel the sting. Those of us, myself included, who remember watching the old Olympia Stadium on Grand River Avenue at Graw fall from grace in 1986 are watching with the same, pained expression we displayed 22 summers ago.

But something more than the hallowed halls that once housed Hank Greenberg, Ty Cobb, Bobby Layne and Joe Louis is being lost. Detroit's considerable prep sports history is waving goodbye to an address that has hosted some of the most memorable prep football games, championship baseball games and a statewide All-Star baseball game.

The Goodfellows Game was a classic that was played at Tiger Stadium after the Lions and Packers battled on Thanksgiving day. The champions of the Catholic League and the Detroit Public School League, then better known as the Metropolitan League, battled for bragging rights, Top 10 rankings and potential state championships on Tiger Stadium's floor. In the spring, both the Catholic League and PSL hosted their respective league championship games in baseball. In the early summer after the state championship games, the state's best baseball players were seeded in the annual East-West All-Star Game.

The Denby Tars, Pershing Doughboys or University of Detroit High Cubs often locked horns with De LaSalle's Pilots, Catholic Central's Shamrocks, the Rustics of Redford St. Mary's or St. Ambrose in the Goodfellows Game. Many times the winner of that game was voted to a high ranking in the season-ending Associated Press poll, and sometimes the winner was declared the state champion by one of the three Detroit dailies from the 1940s and 50s.

In baseball, Birmingham Brother Rice, the Fighting Irish of Harper Woods Notre Dame or Dearborn Divine Child have been regulars in the CHSL title tilts. Detroit Western's Cowboys or the Mustangs of Detroit Mumford have been multiple-time participants from the PSL side. Frank Tanana, Frank Clouser and Frank Sumbera have been among the many ball park franks to have seen games in the first person at Tiger Stadium.

Tiger Stadium belongs to the Tigers and their faithful fans. The Lions and their long-suffering legions have a considerable stake in the stadium's last days, too. But playing a game at Tiger Stadium for your high school was the goal of many a prep football or baseball player. Wearing a school letter jacket to a Lions game or a Tiger opener was oft-seen as well.

Here's to hoping the stories, memories and traditions will outlive our historic park's fall from grace. Sadly, the dreams we all shared, long shuttered for all of us, officially died forever yesterday.

(1952 Goodfellows Game program courtesy of Detroit Catholic High School League)

~ T.C. Cameron is the author of Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries, due August 25th, 2008 from Arcadia Publishing

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