Sharing with you things that are on my mind...Maybe yours too. Come back to Wrights Lane for a visit anytime!

15 April, 2009

REMEMBERING THE DETROIT TIGERS







Boyhood heroes
...then and now

I write this post for a couple of my friends who are die-hard baseball fans and grew up with me in Dresden listening to the unforgettable radio voice of Harry Heilmann broadcasting Detroit Tigers baseball games from Briggs Stadium in the 1940s.
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I also have a new acquaintance in mind, Larry S. Balkwill of Chatham, who bleeds Tigers orange and blue. Larry grew up in Leamington where everybody is a Detroit Tigers fan. I have been teasing Larry on Facebook about the early-season success of my Toronto Blue Jays this spring and I don't think that he understands that I was once a Tigers fan.
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Truth be known I had a love affair with the historic Briggs Stadium in Detroit, virtually from the time I was old enough to listen to those memorable broadcasts by Heilmann, himself one of the greatest players to ever wear a Tigers uniform. In fact my grandparents and my mother as a young girl once lived a block away from the stadium (then known as Navin Field) on Karmel Avenue in the 1920s. My grandfather allowed cars to be parked on his front lawn for .25 cents on game days.
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The "Baseball At The Corner" poster (above), given to me by one of my daughters, has a special place on a den wall.
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My father and I were frequent visitors to "Detroit's Field of Dreams" in the mid and late 1940s. I remember seeing "The Splendid Splinter" Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox; "Rapid" Bob Feller, the great Cleveland Indians pitcher; Ed Lopat, the Chicago White Sox mound ace; Mickey Mantle in his second season with the New York Yankees, Ralph Kiner in his last season with the Indians and Larry Doby of Cleveland, the second black player in the Majors after Jackie Robinson's breakthrough season (to name a few Hall of Fame standouts), all play in Detroit. A rare triple play cleverly initiated by Detroit third baseman George Kell is still fresh in my mind.
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My all-time favorite Detroit players as a kid were first baseman/outfielder Hank Greenberg, lefthanded pitcher Hal Newhouser and the talented Al Kaline (right) who became known as "Mr. Tiger". My dad used to tell me stories about his favorite player, Lynwood Thomas "Schoolboy" Rowe, an outstanding Detroit pitcher who retired from the game in 1942 before I got to see him play.
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The Steve O'Neill-managed teams of 1945-'46 were my favorite edition of the Tigers, not because they won the World Series but just because. The aforementioned Hal Newhouser, Art Houtteman, Dizzy Trout, Virgil Trucks and Stubby Overmire were pitching stalwarts on those teams. Bob Swift, Paul Richards and Birdie Tebbetts handled the catching chores. Hank Greenberg, Rudy York, Bob Maier, Skeeter Webb, Eddie Mayo and George Kell were infield regulars while Doc Cramer, Jimmy Outlaw and Roy Cullenbine patrolled the outfield. Outfielders Hoot Evers, Pat Mullin, Johnny Groth and Dick Wakefield came along a few years later as did shortstop Harvey Kuenn, another favorite of mine.
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Boy, those were the days! A great time for boyhood fantasies. I lived vicariously through Reno Bertoia of Windsor who signed with the Tigers as an 18-year-old "bonus baby" in 1953 and played in his first major league game that season.
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A highlight of my own baseball career came in 1957 when I was invited by player-turned-scout Pat Mullin to take pre-game batting practice with the Tigers at Briggs Stadium and was subsequently selected to take part in a prospects game on the hallowed field. In the late 1960s I developed a working relationship with Tigers public relations man Ernie Harwell and attended several media day events hosted by the team. By then the ball park had been re-named Tigers Stadium. Memorable on-field interviews were conducted with manager Billy Martin, pitcher Mickey Lolich, first baseman Norman Cash, outfielder Willie Horton and rookie pitcher Mike Kilkenny of Bradford, Ont.
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The last time I visited a very tired Tigers Stadium was in 1971 and I didn't even have the foresight to pick up a handful of infield dirt or a patch of outfield grass as a keepsake. The Tigers played their last game at the old Corktown neighborhood location on September 27, 1999 and moved to their new home at newly constructed Comerica Park the next season.
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While most of the old stadium has been demolished, the dugout and backstop area is reportedly still standing and may be salvaged as a historic site if and when the city irons out the red tape.
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So there you go guys. A little trip down baseball's memory lane, or should I say to the "The Corner" of Michigan Avenue and Trumbell Boulevard.
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IN MEMORIUM:
Mark "The Bird" Fidrych (14/8/54 - 13/4/09). One of a kind. God threw away the mould.

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