Tiger Stadium field, foul poles to be saved

DETROIT -- Tiger Stadium may be coming down, but Detroit officials say the historic ballpark's field will be saved.

Fred Rottach, who oversees the stadium property for the city, says the playing field will remain intact after the park's demolition. He says the foul poles and flagpole also will be preserved.

Two Detroit-area contractors began demolition of the ballpark last week and spent Wednesday tearing into the outfield walls.

The ballpark opened in 1912 as Navin Field and hosted thousands of Tigers games, Babe Ruth's 700th career home run in 1934 and a speech by South African president Nelson Mandela in 1990. The final major league game was played there Sept. 27, 1999.

Outfield walls cleared by baseball legend Mickey Mantle as well as Detroit Tiger sluggers Norm Cash and Cecil Fielder began to come down as contractors intensified their efforts to bring down the venerable park.

Backhoes and excavators, sometimes hard to see through dust and spraying water, whizzed around the site, picking up debris and dumping it in oversized bins. During one flurry Wednesday morning, an excavator smashed through the exterior wall beyond left field, throwing support girders to the side.

The scene was tough to take for longtime Tigers fan Chas Matreal and his 23-year-old son, Ryan.

"All beautiful memories," Chas Matreal said. "It is something beautiful that we're destroying, and it's history."

The 49-year-old bricklayer from Milford said he attended 400 to 500 games at Tiger Stadium, many with his own father, starting in 1966.

"Demolition means progress," declared signs on a construction vehicle at the site. But Matreal disagreed, saying priceless memories are being lost.

"It's a natural museum of a hundred years that they're destroying," he said.

Robert Neil, 42, also stopped to take a look at the demolition. The Detroit native worked at Tiger Stadium as a crowd manager from 1996 until it closed in 1999. The Tigers moved into Comerica Park in 2000.

"My microwave oven is still in there, for all I know," he said.

Neil said he used to show up to work early to watch batting practice, get a whiff of the meat on the grills starting up and walk around the historic park.

"You find all the little nooks and crannies, and you see where [Tigers star Hank] Greenberg scribbled his signature," he said.

Farrow Group owner Michael Farrow said crews planned to spend all day demolishing some of the stadium's massive concrete walls.

The Detroit contractor and MCM Management Corp. of suburban Bloomfield Hills started demolition of the ballpark last week. They expect to make an estimated $1 million by selling scrap from the park.