Monday, March 1, 2010

Tiger Stadium

Everytime I drive by the corner of Michigan and Trumbell, the nostaligic kid in me is a little upset for the lost of Detroit's baseball Mecca.  I remember it best as Tiger Stadium, which was the last and longest held name for the field.  Navin Field, Briggs Stadium and Bennett Park were all names attached to that piece of real estate.  The Detroit Tigers won four baseball World Series championships there and the Lions won four National Football League championships at the corner well before the Super Bowl became a national holiday.

My memories of Gumpy and Tiger Stadium are limited, mostly because we started going to more games together after the Tigers moved to Comerica Park after the 1999 season.  He had a number of great memories at Tiger Stadium though and he loved to share his stories.  

Perhaps his favorite and the one I remember most is about the first game he ever saw at Briggs Stadium (as it was known then).  He was a big baseball fan, playing ball with his cousin Harold "Tink" Farnham and listening to the occasional game on the radio.  His first experience walking into Briggs was quite impressive.

He attended the game with his father Frank and his brother Vernal.  Vernal was several years older than Gumpy and was a pretty decent hitter in his own right.  From their seats, they had a pretty good view of the left field fence.  It was 340 feet from home plate to the fence and Vernal thought it looked pretty short.  Short enought that he was convinced he could belt the ball right over the fence.  That is until Vic Wertz came to bat. 

Wertz was a scrappy ballplayer, fighting is way back to the majors after a bout with polio.  He was a tremendous hitter with great power, finishing in the top 10 in home runs most years.  He might be best known for hitting the ball that Willie Mays made his famous catch on in the 1945 World Series.  Most importantly, he was one of Gumpy's favorite players.  

Just as Wertz came to bat, Vernal leaned over to Gumpy to declare that he thought he could pop the ball over left field.  That is when Wertz hit the ball harder than any ball Gumpy had ever witnessed and the left fielder caught it on the warning track.  So much for his brother's bragging.  And so solidified a young man's undying love for Detroit Tigers baseball.