DETROIT (AP) — Volunteers and baseball fans gathered over the weekend at the site of the old Tiger Stadium for a farewell of sorts to the grass field.
The volunteer group Navin Field Grounds Crew, which maintained the field, organized the events ahead of a groundbreaking scheduled for Wednesday on a project to redevelop the site into a youth sports facility and new Detroit Police Athletic League headquarters.
"The field means so much to so many people," said Tom Derry, who founded the volunteer group to maintain the diamond and grass. "When we took over that field the weeds were 6 and 8 feet tall and there was trash everywhere. We turned a trash dump into a field of dreams."
Plans call for the field's grass to be replaced by artificial turf within the next year or so. The Detroit Police Athletic League has said the turf will extend the life of the field and allow it to be used in varying weather conditions.
Tiger Stadium opened in 1912 as Navin Field. The Tigers left for Comerica Park after the 1999 season. The last portion of the stadium was demolished in 2009, but the site has been an attraction for visitors from around the country — from baseball games to wedding ceremonies and services to scatter cremated remains of loved ones, The Detroit News (http://detne.ws/1VMp7Dw ) reported.
Farewell events concluded on Sunday with a pickup game that included the Men's Senior Baseball League of Detroit. Former Detroit Tigers player John Wockenfuss joined about 50 others on the field, taking part in a quick, rainy and muddy game.
"For me, that place was like church. It was a great place to play baseball, and it was hard to see it go," Wockenfuss, 67, told the newspaper.
The nonprofit Detroit Police Athletic League's new headquarters will partially enclose the historic playing field, which will be used for baseball and other youth sports. On the opposite side of the field, another development is planned.
Derry, a 52-year-old from Redford Township, said the volunteer group "had a great run here."
"We knew it wouldn't last forever. We've been honored to be the temporary caretakers of that field," he said. The Navin Field Grounds Crew likely will take on another restoration project.
"We have a passion for baseball, but all have a passion for the city of Detroit," he said. "We will continue to do something to help improve the city."
Information from: The Detroit News, http://detnews.com/