The hospital room was bursting with folks – family members of all different ages. Some hugged, others held hands. The daughters were bedside, comforting the man who would, we all knew, soon be gone. Some quiet sobs. Some soft hymns sung.
It was just a matter of moments, and my wife knew when it would be official – her having gone through it with her own father, some 19 years earlier. My grandfather, 96 years old and finally about to fade, would be passing – with me right there, in the room. It was April 30, 2005.
Then, the final breath – that snore-like thing you hear people talk about. I heard it.
“He’s gone,” my wife said.
I nodded, knowingly.
I never looked up. Never looked at him, in those final moments. What you don’t see won’t hurt you – as much. I was a coward that way, and I’m not afraid to admit it. Why look at someone die if you have the option NOT to? Seems like an easy enough decision to me.
And I have just given you an admittedly heavy-handed analogy to what I feel about the destruction of Tiger Stadium – going on now, all sentiment be damned.
I won’t look. Why should I?
My grandfather pre-dates the stadium by three years, so they’re about the same age at their passing. And with the same inevitability of their fate as their demise approached. Grandpa’s lungs, thickly coated with pneumonia, finally would be his downfall, after some game efforts to the contrary. And Tiger Stadium ran out of chances, too – eventually landing on life support thanks to the stubbornness and cold calculations emanating from Mike Ilitch’s camp, for one. This was one time when Ilitch’s normal benevolence when it comes to all matters Detroit was nowhere to be found.
Well, that life support’s plug finally fell out of its socket, and here we are – Tiger Stadium being pounded into rubble by the unbiased wrecking ball.
Not that I’m watching, or paying much attention. That cowardice again.
So there won’t be any pilgrimages to Michigan and Trumbull, to watch the destruction. No wistful, long looks from across the street. I’m not that kind of a guy. My own father passed away in 1996, way up near Charlevoix, and I’ve still never even visited his gravesite. If that makes me a bad person, so be it. Certainly I would have done so, if he was interred closer to home. But why journey five hours to stand there, when I can talk to him and remember him wherever I’m at?
So you’ll pardon me if I don’t peel off I-75 at Rosa Parks Boulevard and pay my respects. I have my memories, and that’s enough. I don’t need to rehash them as I see the object of my affection destroyed. That just seems too…masochistic. And totally unnecessary.
We all have our views of what should be done with the old ballparks when they’re not servicing us anymore. When their turnstiles are stilled. When their grass turns to weeds.
I don’t know what side of the construction fence you stand on, but knock ‘em down, I say. I know others disagree. Perhaps you do, too. Some would keep the old lady standing, but nobody did much for the upkeep of Tiger Stadium after its final game in 1999, so whenever I drove by it during the past nine years, all I saw was a decaying building whose time had passed. Detroit has a few more of those lying around, you know. So it seemed kind of odd to me to want to keep such a structure standing, when nothing was being done to preserve it. The stadium earned a state historical marker years ago, but I wonder if any other such designated building was allowed to rot like Tiger Stadium.
No, if better use can be made of the parcel of land, then by all means, go for it. They turned the Polo Grounds into apartments. An armory ended up being built on the site of Olympia Stadium, at Grand River and McGraw.
I’m not with those folks who seem to think that a wrecking ball can simultaneously destroy memories while it pulverizes an old ballpark.
Yet I admit to flinching a bit as the first images hit the wire of Tiger Stadium’s normally enclosed walls showing a hole blown open in them the size of a crater. It wasn’t something I regaled in, just because I agree with its doing. I have no joy in knowing that Tiger Stadium is going down – absolutely not. But I refuse to look, which is my right.
Tiger Stadium will soon be no more. Yes, it’s on a much smaller scale, but this is similar to those final moments of grandpa’s life at U-M hospital. It was going to happen, whether I wanted it to or not. And I never expended so much energy NOT looking at something so hard in my life. It was bad enough I had to hear it.
So I won’t subject myself to the heavy machinery and construction – no, DEstruction equipment – carrying on with its brazenly uncaring efficiency as it obliterates Tiger Stadium. I won’t watch. And this time, I don’t even have to listen.
I have my memories of the old ballpark at The Corner. Like those I have of my dad, and grandpa. That’s good enough. No wrecking ball is going to take those away.
People still talk about the Polo Grounds, by the way. And Olympia Stadium. And countless others, who now rest in peace. Tearing those sports palaces down didn’t seem to cause memory erasure. And my watching Tiger Stadium perish isn’t going to amplify those memories one bit, so why bother?
I’ll just try to avoid the area for a while.