Tiger Stadium bid farewell to its home team in 1999 after 88 seasons. The next chapter at Michigan and Turnbull took another decade to decide. In the end, there’s still baseball at the corner.
Though the Tigers played their final game at the ballpark on Sept. 27, 1999, there were no set plans for what to do with the site after that. Unlike ballpark transitions in many other cities, the Tigers’ new park was built nowhere near their old one, nor was Tiger Stadium being used for other pro sports. Thus, while the Tigers went down the street to Comerica Park, their old home sat largely vacant for a decade.
There were occasional events at Tiger Stadium, like a summer college league game in 2001. The Billy Crystal-directed movie 61* — depicting the 1961 home run record chase between Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris — was filmed there in 2000, with Tiger Stadium serving as Yankee Stadium. The park held a Super Bowl party in ’06, when Ford Field hosted the big game. Otherwise, it pretty much sat in limbo, its field maintained, but its structure deteriorating. While the city of Detroit, which owned the stadium, looked for buyers to redevelop the land, preservationists looked for ways to save the stadium in some form. In some ways, the park became a microcosm of Detroit’s larger struggle between modernizing the city and preserving its rich history. Meanwhile, the neighborhood around the stadium, known as Corktown, began a renaissance as businesses and residents began to move in.
In 2007, the city sold off seats and other parts of the park for memorabilia as part of a plan to tear down the ballpark. The stadium began to be demolished in ’08, but a group known as the Old Tiger Stadium Conservancy submitted a plan to preserve the lower deck of the ballpark, keep the diamond as a youth field and build a museum. Though the project secured a federal earmark from U.S. Senator Carl Levin, the plan ultimately fell short on funding, and demolition resumed in ’09.
From there, another wait began, this time for redevelopment proposals. The stadium was gone, but the diamond and field remained. A team of volunteers known as the Navin Field Grounds Crew maintained the field and began playing vintage baseball there in the interim. The goal was to save the field for Detroit’s Police Athletic League for kids and build a retail-residential project around it, but the plan took time to come together.
With a $20 million fundraising effort, Detroit PAL finalized plans to preserve the field — albeit with artificial turf installed — and build a new headquarters for the league. A retail-residential project called The Corner went around it. Ground broke in 2016, and The Corner Ballpark opened in ’18. The playing field was renamed the Willie Horton Field of Dreams in honor of the Tigers’ great and hometown hero. Miguel Cabrera held a baseball clinic at the field that fall. The Players Alliance, led in part by former Tigers outfielder Cameron Maybin, brought its Pull-Up Neighbor to the stadium in December ’20, bringing food, personal protective gear and other vital equipment for people in need.
While Corktown has become one of the hottest neighborhoods in Detroit’s comeback, the Corner Ballpark is a reminder of the area’s glorious past.