John O’Neill’s “Letter From Detroit: Field of Schemes (Correspondence, April)” caught my eve, as I have visited some 30 different Major League Baseball parks in my 50-plus years of existence. When I found out that 1999 was the final year for Tiger Stadium, I decided to spend a week in Detroit and catch a few games. It is difficult to account for nostalgic sentiments about a place I had only visited via television. I can’t begin to imagine the sorrows of the local faithful.
In 2000, my travels took me close to Michigan, so I made a side trip to see Comeriea Park. In addition to the Ferris wheel and carousel mentioned by O’Neill, there are not one, not two, bitt six statues of Tiger greats at the main entrance and on top of the scoreboard, and the main concourse has exhibits of Tiger history. The tiger gargoyles with baseballs in their mouths are a clever touch.
Sucker that I am for old ballparks (I have every one of those coffee-table books on the deconstructed fields of yore), I have to admit that I enjoyed the amenities and architectural detail of Comeriea Park. It was a bit Disneylandish for a nuts-and-bolts town like Detroit, but impressive nonetheless. My most lasting impression, however, was one the architects never intended.
Comeriea Park is designed so that fans sitting behind home plate will have a panoramic view of the city skyline. Arriving early for a night game, I couldn’t help but notice the transformation that takes place as the sky darkens. As the lights on the downtown buildings come on, it gradually becomes apparent that about half the office towers are unlit—in other words, abandoned. A downtown walking tour in the daylight reveals a number of venerable old buildings that would be at home in the Chicago Loop. But there is no demand for office space in downtown Detroit, so there is no money to renovate the old buildings and no need to tear them down to make way for new buildings. What can you expect of a town that peaked at close to two million people in the 1950’s and now has less than half that many? And abandoned buildings are not limited to downtown.
Tiger owner Michael Illich, who also renovated the Fox Theater (a block away from Comeriea Park), is doubtless hoping that the ballpark and the new football stadium under construction (the Detroit Lions currently have a domed stadium in nearby Pontiac) will bring people back to downtown Detroit. Illich, who also owns Little Caesar’s Pizza, is a smart businessman, but I think he has overestimated his local market’s taste for bread and circuses . . . or is it pizza and sports? Throughout Comeriea Park’s inaugural year, there were plenty of empty seats. This year, the Tigers have taken the almost unheard-of step of lowering ticket prices. Frankly, I think it will take a lot more than that to bring people to downtown Detroit.
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