A few weeks ago, on Memorial Day, I went with my family to our first Detroit Tigers game of the year. The Tigers were playing the Pittsburgh Pirates and although it was a close game, we won 6-5. Unfortunately, it ended up being a rather cold and rainy day and as a result I spent a fair amount of time out of my seat and walking around the park (trying to stay dry and searching for hot chocolate). I certainly didn’t mind walking around though – what I love about Comerica Park, where the Tigers play, is that it is more than a ballpark. It’s also somewhat of a museum. It showcases the history of the Tigers through statues and other displays that emphasize the long history of the team and the deep appreciation Detroiters have always had for them.
Although Comerica Park features a lot of history, it isn’t a historical ballpark. It replaced Tiger Stadium in 2000, a move that wasn’t initially popular in Detroit. Since 1895, the Tigers had played ball at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull, first at Bennett Park and then at a new stadium called Navin Field, after the owner Frank Navin, in 1912. Navin Field was renamed Briggs Stadium in 1938 and renamed again, to Tiger Stadium, in 1961. “The Corner,” as it was called, had a lot of history. It saw greats such as Ty Cobb and Al Kaline play ball, it witnessed the World Series championships in 1935, 1945, 1968 and 1984, and created treasured memories in generations of Detroiters who would spend their summers at the ballpark. Additionally, at the time it closed in 1999, it was tied with Fenway Park in Boston for the title of oldest park in professional baseball – both fields opened on April 20, 1912. It was an institution, and many were sad to see it go.
I’m not sure if the historical displays and statues were purposefully added to Comerica Park to mitigate the loss of that long history, but if so, I think they are successful. Walking around the park it is clear that this team, and this city, takes pride in its baseball history. Here are just some of the historical touches:
The Wall of Fame on the left field wall features statues of the greatest players in Tigers history. The wall has statues of Al Kaline, Hal Newhouser, Charlie Gehringer, Hank Greenberg, Ty Cobb, and Willie Horton. Below the statues, on the outfield wall, are the players last names and numbers, all of which are retired (with the exception of Ty Cobb, who played before numbers were worn). In another area of the outfield wall are more names of famous Tigers and other people honored by the team, such as local broadcaster Ernie Harwell and baseball legend Jackie Robinson.
On the main concourse there are a number of tall “decades monuments” that display Tigers history two decades at a time. These displays include labels recounting the history of the team during those decades as well as artifacts and documents from the era. Boy, what I would have given to help design those exhibits!
Finally, there are a number of smaller display cases throughout the park that show little snippets of history, both of the Tigers and of other local baseball topics. Two that I saw on my recent trip were a display on the history of the old English D used by the Tigers and a showcase honoring the Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
Much as I loved Tiger Stadium growing up, I really do think Comerica Park is an excellent example of a modern ballpark with a historical feel. So next time you are at a Tigers game, make sure to spend at least a little time walking around and appreciating all that the park has to offer!