By Jeff Samoray
In Detroit, what’s old is often considered disposable — it’s the flashy new vehicle that counts, not last year’s model. We all know about the landmarks and historic structures the city has razed or left standing in ruin.
But within this context, Detroit has an extraordinary opportunity to resurrect a piece of its past at a historically significant site. If done right, the project could stand as a progressive model for urban revitalization. It would be an unprecedented example of historic reconstruction never before attempted by a major American city.
The northwest corner of Michigan and Trumbull stands empty — an eerie and bizarre sight for Detroiters accustomed to Tiger Stadium’s familiar confines. Ghostly traces of the infield and pitcher’s mound remain. So does the center field flagpole. Thick weeds grow where generations of fans once cheered the Tigers. A few enterprising locals continue to mow the infield so they can hit grounders and play a game of catch.
Tiger Stadium has been lost. But with the site cleared, an earlier version of an historic ballpark that once stood there could be rebuilt.
Bennett Park — a single-deck wooden structure that originally held about 5,000 fans — was the Tigers’ home from 1896-1911. Some of the game’s earliest stars shined their brightest on this field. Ty Cobb first flashed his spikes at Bennett Park in 1905. Other legends who threw strikes and scored runs include: Sam Crawford, Cy Young, Frank “Home Run” Baker, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and Honus Wagner, to name a few. Bennett Park hosted World Series games in 1907, 1908 and 1909. Make no mistake — baseball enthusiasts know that this patch of earth is sacred ground.
Plenty of photographs, illustrations, land surveys, fire insurance maps and contemporary accounts of Bennett Park exist. From these sources, developers could completely rebuild the park, from the exact configuration of its L-shaped stands to the vintage “Bull Durham”-style ads on its outfield walls.
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