"My parents were divorced when I was very young," says Mark Cunningham, a Tigers team photographer. "I lived with my mother, and she made it a point to take me to Tiger Stadium once or twice every season. It was a big adventure. We didn't have a car, so we'd take a bus to the Michigan State Fairgrounds and then the train, and then we'd still have to walk half a mile or so from the old station. Sometimes we'd bring a couple of my friends. They were kids whose parents had cars, but they liked coming with my mother and me better. It was more exciting.
"The first game I ever saw, the Tigers against the Seattle Pilots, I remember walking in here—it was a night game—and there was just a wonderful haze over the field. Everything was green. Denny McLain was standing in leftfield during batting practice, hitting baseballs into the stands with a fungo bat. We had good seats, but I remember wishing that our seats were in the second deck in left. I couldn't think of anything better in the world than catching one of those balls."
McLain, a righthanded pitcher, played from 1963 to 1970. He went 31-6 in 1968.
A former player—no names, please—made a sentimental visit to Tiger Stadium a year ago. Wearing his business suit, he wandered through the cramped and unchanged locker room, talked with the current occupant of his old locker, then traveled through the long tunnel toward the dugout and the playing field. As he approached the dugout, he stopped at a small sink in the tunnel. He unzipped his fly. "You'd always do this during a game," he said to a local sportswriter as he whizzed into the sink. "Saved you from going back to the clubhouse."
The modern player still walks where the long-ago player walked. The sink is still an option. The extra bats, balls and uniforms are still stored in the ceiling of the clubhouse, brought down by a clubhouse attendant on a ladder every day. The manager's office still has no bathroom. The lockers are still small and crowded together. The footsteps and voices of the past still provide the directions to be followed.
"I can strike out, go into the tunnel and bang on the same wall that Ty Cobb banged on," says Tigers third baseman Dean Palmer. "Except he didn't strike out as much as me."
"Guys will go to the batting cage under the stands, see the concrete falling apart, and they'll make comments," says first baseman Tony Clark. "They'll say that they heard a voice from a ghost, that Cobb told them to do this or that. Or maybe, hah, Jimmy Hoffa."
Clark, who is 6' 7", has to walk through the dugout in a half crouch, because if he stood he would hit his head. Everyone in the dugout, tall or short, sits at an awkward angle to the field. There is no way to see a ball that is hit to left, and it is hard to see a ball hit to right. A man of average height sitting in the dugout finds that his eyes are at the same level as the field.
The bullpen view is even worse. Relief pitchers sit in a pillbox along the leftfield line. They call the pillbox the Submarine. "You can't see much of the game," says closer Todd Jones. "It's a weird feeling. You're of the game, but not in the game."
The field might be the newest part of the stadium. Not one blade of grass is a descendant of the grass that was roamed by Wahoo Sam Crawford and Harry Heilmann and Hank Green-berg and Gates Brown and Willie Horton. Not according to Heather Nabozny, the head groundskeeper.