Freep snubs Navin Field Grounds Crew
The Detroit Free Press published an interesting article today about a plan awaiting approval by the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation to have the Detroit Police Athletic League use the field at the site of Old Tiger Stadium for youth sports, building a headquarters on the Cochrane Street side of the site and overseeing development that could eventually surround the field.
It’s a good article, one that even preservationists might be encouraged to read — with one complaint: The lay reader of this write-up probably doesn’t realize youth baseball is already taking place at the old ball field.
The Navin Field Grounds Crew (Navin Field being the original name of the site) has been maintaining the field and hosting baseball games there for some time. In fact, their efforts were the subject of the award-winning documentary Stealing Home, which, in fact, won this year’s Freep Film Festival.
Why so mum on the project? Perhaps it’s because the DEGC has generally worked at cross purposes with fans who regard the field as a sacred site, wanting to turn it into everything from a big-box store to a warehouse, with several premature pronouncements from bulldozer-happy DEGC head George Jackson over the years. (One wag has joked that DEGC stands for “Destroying Everything George Chooses.”) In any event, a seasoned journalist like John Gallagher, author of this article, probably realizes that mentioning the grounds crew in a piece about DEGC plans might displease the very people he needs access to at that organization.
But, being curious types, we couldn’t help but place a call to Tom Derry, founder of the Navin Field Grounds Crew. In truth, hasn’t there been baseball at the field for years under his organization’s auspices?
“It’s not like the Police Athletic League is going to bring back baseball to the field,” he told us. “It’s already being played, both youth baseball and adult baseball. We’ve had Little League teams come in from Mount Clemens, Bloomfield Hills, Sterling Heights. There’s adults that come out and play, we’ve hosted several vintage base-ball games like they play at Greenfield Village, there’s a men’s senior baseball league that comes out to play, teams from Cass Tech.
“The field is being used right now. And it’s not costing anybody anything.”
Beyond that, Derry elaborated on the plan, which he supports — with some qualifications.
“It sounds like a great idea. I just hope they don’t destroy the dimensions of the original field. They say they’re not going to, but I’m not so sure about that. When accepting proposals for the site, they said they wanted offices and retail and housing and wanted to develop up Trumbull Avenue. There’s only 59 feet from sidewalk on Trumbull to the historic playing field, so there really isn’t room to develop along Trumbull Avenue because whatever kind of building they put there is going to encroach onto right field.”
Also, today’s article didn’t mention anything about artificial turf. I’ve been hearing [DEGC’s plans called for] artificial turf. We’d like to see real grass stay there.”
But, being the upbeat guy he is, Tom Derry ended on a hopeful note.
“Actually, this is a lot of progress,” he said. “A year ago, the city was talking about putting up a giant warehouse for the Parade Company. Three years ago, they said it was just a vacant field not zoned for baseball. I guess they’ve finally realized that that big retail store they were hoping for isn’t going to happen. So it’s great to see them at least talking about having baseball at the field.”