Down At the Corner

 Author’s Note: Since the writing of this piece, the field has been destroyed to make way for a commercial facility with artificial grass. The games there in which I played were among the last it ever saw.

 

There used to be a stadium, the grandest of them all,

Where the Tigers played their baseball from the spring through to the fall;

Whereupon the motor workers every Sunday would descend

To enjoy a doubleheader and would stay until the end;

Where the rich man and the poor man sat together, side by side,

Root-root-rooting for the home team to express their civic pride;

Where the Knights of the Diamond won honor and fame,

As the men in the bleachers exalted their names.

They wore their Lady’s colors, dressed in navy blue and white;

And her honor they defended in a fair and friendly fight.

Skill and steel were both demanded, and thus were heroes made;

As chivalry and courage were abundantly displayed;

In that Stadium at the Corner, the grandest of them all,

At Michigan and Trumbull, where the Tigers played their ball.

 

Here Tyrus Cobb the pitchers of the Junior Circuit flayed:

The harshest and the sharpest man who ever baseball played.

The game was tough. He said that it was “something like a war.”

He gave back everything he got, and then gave back some more.

He terrorized the basemen with ferocity and speed.

When they saw his spikes approaching, prudent fielders took heed.

The smartest brain in baseball lay beneath his Tigers cap.

He second-guessed the pitcher, and could find the smallest gap.

Even Ivy League opponents, the Georgia Peach outthought;

And he with single-mindedness far stronger men outfought.

It was here in nineteen thirty-five, the Tigers won the flag;

And they came home from Chicago with the Series in the bag.

They had Mickey Cochrane catching; Rowe and Auker took the mound.

Rogell and Gehringer took care of balls along the ground.

And as Father Coughlin, from the pulpit, preached his words of hate;

It was here the Hebrew Hammer, back in nineteen thirty-eight,

Representing his religion, seeing Hitler on the mound,

Hammered line drives through the summer: eight and fifty left the ground.

Though he didn’t break the record, he had shown what he could do.

He had brought Detroit together, the Christian and the Jew.

He went off to fight the Fascists when his country went to war.

Although the Tigers needed him, his people did so more.

And when the war was over, and the Jews of Europe saved;

He returned to win the pennant, as the stars and stripes were waved.

He drove one to the bleachers in his first game back in town.

His home run won the pennant, and Prince Harold wore the Crown.

The Tigers won the Series as they beat the Cubs again;

But then they’d have to wait a while, more years by far than ten.

George Kell beat out Ted Williams to win a batting crown;

And likewise Kaline, Kuenn, and Cash gave hope to Tiger Town.

Kuenn could hit them anywhere; and Albert Kaline played

Right field as if that patch of grass for him alone were made.

But not for twenty-three more years could anybody bring

The thing Detroit desired most: a third World Series ring.

But finally, in sixty-eight, while politics did rend

A city; baseball healed it, as the wait came to an end.

Denny McLain won thirty-one games, the team five score and three;

But St. Louis had a fine old team, as anyone could see.

The first two games were split, and then the Cards won three and four.

With three games left to play, St. Louis needed just one more.

They took a three-run lead, and had the Tigers on the run.

But it ain’t over ’til it’s over, and Detroit is never done.

Mickey Stanley hit a triple; on a sacrifice he scored.

And Northrup sent home Horton, putting one more on the board.

Then in the fifth the great Lou Brock took off and should have scored,

But Willie Horton paralyzed Brünnhilde’s vocal chords.

On Javier’s hit to left field, did the runner hesitate?

Or was it Horton’s pinpoint throw that nailed him at the plate?

Brock ran into Freehan, but he held on to the ball;

And a nation watched the Umpire raise his fist to make the call.

Whatever was the cause, the fifth remained a virgin inning;

And the Tigers’ greatest comeback was only just beginning.

Albert Kaline drove in two to put Detroit ahead,

And Cash sent Kaline home himself to put the game to bed.

The following two battles would be fought on foreign fields,

But the Tigers won them both, and forced the Cardinals to yield.

The crown they’d won the year before belonged now to Detroit,

Who held a Triumph in absentia for her champions’ exploits.

A city that was frightened it may be consumed in flames

Was brought together for a time by this – the perfect game.

Eight years later, at The Corner, on the television screen,

A fair-haired Supernova came upon the baseball scene.

He talked to himself, he talked to the ball, and threw it like dart.

He brushed the mound and cursed on air and won a nation’s heart.

Alas, he burned out quickly, and he faded from the sky.

The stars that burn the brightest are the quickest stars to die.

However, in the next year, two more stars would arrive.

And, unlike supernovae, pre-main-sequence stars survive.

They shone together eighteen years, as only stars can glow.

They fielded with harmony, as if designed to show

By practical example, the true and perfect way

That God intended men to turn a perfect double play.

No other two turned more, and no Tigers fan shall say

That any couple ever turned it better than did they.

This keystone combination, with Dave Bergman manning first;

And the Big Wheel calling pitches as he crouched down in the dirt;

As they were led by Captain Hook, in the year of eighty-four,

Took the Tigers to the Series; and they won it all once more.

In Center Field Chet Lemon, swift and graceful in his flight;

Had Kirk Gibson to his left, and Larry Herndon to his right.

Kirk hit twenty-seven homers, and another twenty-seven

Times did Chet or Larry send the sphere sailing to the heavens.

Lance Parrish hit the heaviest – he clobbered thirty-three,

While Hernandez and his screwball won the AL MVP.

In five games beat the Padres, and the hero of the hour

Was the Gold Glove Shortstop, Trammell, who jacked up his home run power.

The only man to crack .300 on a homer-heavy team

In the Series slugged .800 and made true a city’s dreams.

The Tigers three years later reached the playoffs once again.

Alan Trammell led the batting; Frank Tanana pitched a gem

They led the League in runs scored, and they led the League in wins;

But in a five-game series they were no match for the Twins.

That team grew old, and Sparky left, and things got even worse.

Buddy Bell took up the reins, but what he drove was now a hearse.

Detroit had followed its Tigers; and now the team followed the town.

The motor firms had bailed out; Detroit was going down.

But certain business people, as they saw the devastation,

Espied an opportunity for easy exploitation.

They saw the city suffer and they watched the Tigers bleed.

And advised the city council, “A new ballpark’s what you need.

If you build it, they will come,” they said. “The money that they spend

Will save the team and save the town – on that you may depend.”

Plans were made to build a new park, and to get rid of the old.

The fans were disappointed, but the city needed gold.

And on September’s twenty-seventh day, in nineteen ninety-nine

The crowds came to the Stadium, and left the final time.

Lance Parrish was the manager, and Robert Fick’s home run

Made it one-one-one-one-one; 8-2 the Tigers won.

A parade of Tigers past came through the center field gate,

And man to man they passed the flag to Ausmus at the plate.

A ceremony honored Crawford, Cochrane, Cobb and Kell,

And Hal and Hank and Heinie; Ernie Harwell bade farewell.

The Tigers left the old park, and they moved into a new.

A thread that ran a hundred years was broken into two.

The new park, though it seats far fewer than The Corner could,

Possesses the advantages a modern ballpark should.

Your view won’t be obstructed by a girder made of steel;

And if you have the mind and money, you can always make a deal

In the ballpark’s luxury boxes, which, along with a bailed-out bank

Provide the funds for which the fans Detroit’s rich men must thank.

Although the bounty that was said would come, Detroit has yet to see;

The money has attracted stars to wear the Gothic “D.”

Polanco joined the Tigers; and he played at second base,

Scooping up the grounders with the German’s easy grace.

Carlos Guillen was his partner, not the Trammell of his time;

But nonetheless a useful batter, playing in his prime.

Magglio Ordonez came, the outfield to roam;

And the Tigers won the pennant, six years after moving home.

They lost the Series; but they won another pennant six years thence,

As Cabrera hit for average, drove in runs and cleared the fence.

He won the MVP award, and won the Triple Crown;

And when opponents came to bat, Verlander blew them down.

But they couldn’t beat the Giants, and they went into decline.

The backdrop to their sufferings, since nineteen ninety-nine,

Has offered fans no solace, with no charms to ease the pain;

For although a pretty ballpark, it will never be the same

As that Stadium at the Corner, the grandest of them all,

At Michigan and Trumbull, where the Tigers played their ball.

 

The soul of Tiger Stadium, however, still survives;

For the Navin Field Grounds Crew members kept the park alive.

You can go down to the corner; you can play ball on the field

Where the Knights of the Diamond with chivalric grace their maple swords would wield.

You can swing the bat where they did, run the basepaths where they went,

Or chase fly balls in the outfield, depending on your bent.

You can trace the steps of Greenberg, or of Gehringer or Kell;

Taking grounders on the infield; and should you do it well,

You shall feel the old ghosts rising, as you field the ball and throw;

And through your every sinew shall you feel their spirits flow.

And if you no longer play because your youth has passed you by,

You can sit upon a bench; and if you just half-close your eyes,

You’ll be back at Tiger Stadium, in simpler, better days;

Watching Whitaker and Trammell turn their textbook double plays.

The stands will rise before you, and the upper deck reach out

To swallow yet another one of Hyman Greenberg’s clouts.

Heilmann will drive the ball, and Harvey Kuenn will slap.

Ty Cobb and Charlie Gehringer will hit into the gaps.

You’ll see Kaline shoot down baserunners; George Kell will flash his glove.

You’ll see the men who first inspired you to play the game you love,

In that Stadium at the Corner, the grandest of them all,

At Michigan and Trumbull, where the Tigers played their ball.

 

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