The Detroit Tigers, and the city look to invest in the future, by renovating the past

Detroit Free Press

Ron Teasley stood at home plate in Historic Hamtramck Stadium, where the Negro League Detroit Stars used to play, and the memories came rushing back.

“It gave me quite a thrill to stand at home plate again,” said Teasley, 94, who lives in Detroit.

The stadium, one of five remaining Negro League home parks, has crumbled over the years. The grandstand is covered in rust and the brick is marked by graffiti. But Teasley was invited back to the stadium on Tuesday morning for the ground breaking of a $2.6 million renovation.

“It brought back memories of the days when there was segregation and inequality and the Negro League was able to start their own league and they were very successful,” Teasley said.

Teasley played in this stadium as a member of the Wayne State baseball team.

“I never did play for Stars but I started practicing with them when I was 14,” Teasley said. “I started playing in exhibition games with them. If a player failed to show up, they would put me in the lineup.”

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Education in renovation

The renovation is badly needed and important on several levels, offering a chance to honor the past while educating present-day ballplayers.

“The story of Hamtramck Stadium and Turkey Stearnes Field is, in many ways, the story of America,” Hamtramck Mayor Karen Majewski said. “We’re here to reaffirm our commitment to remember that past and to use it as the foundation on which to build a better future, not only for baseball, but for a world in which everyone is accepted, honored and valued.”

The renovation is being funded by a $850,000 grant from the Wayne County Commission, as well as contributions from the Detroit Tigers Foundation (an affiliate of Ilitch Charities), Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, Kresge Foundation, Friends of Historic Hamtramck Stadium, Michigan Municipal League Foundation, the Hamtramck Parks Conservancy and through an African American Civil Rights grant as administered by the National Park Service.

“We honor the men and women who played in this stadium and their incredible achievements,” Tigers owner Christopher Ilitch said. “Celebrating and preserving this important history is just one step toward creating a more inclusive sports community. This renovation is truly historic, as many as 18 future Baseball Hall of Fame players played in this stadium and it represents so much more than baseball.

“There’s a sense of resiliency and dedication here. And this is a venue to inspire young players in Hamtramck and Wayne County, and the surrounding neighborhoods for generations to come. Restoring this historic ballpark is about restoring hope. It’s a commitment we are making to the young players in this community, that this is a game that is accessible to all and a commitment to those who played before us that their history and contributions to the game of baseball matter and will never be forgotten.”

Ilitch announced that the Tigers will expand their recognition of the Negro Leagues and increase their support of youth clinics and camps at this field.

“I hope to see a young player, maybe one of these young players sitting with us today, make the jump from Turkey Stearnes Field at Historic Hamtramck Stadium over to Comerica Park and continue the legacy that started in this stadium more than 90 years ago,” Ilitch said.

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Let the kids play

After the politicians and business leaders spoke, something cool happened.

Seven members of the Tiny Tigers, a 6-and-under coach-pitch team based in Detroit, walked around the diamond and inserted the bases.

Those bases hold a special place in Tigers history. They were game-used bases from Comerica Park last summer when MLB celebrated the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Negro League.

Akil Baddoo and Derek Hill, two current Tigers, went around the infield with the Tiny Tigers, helping them put down the bases, which was just about the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.

“That was really beautiful,” Teasley said. “I love to see kids playing the game. It’s a great game. I hope they get great coaching and enjoy the play the game as much as I did.”

Actually, the team is coached by Leon McKissic. And he struck me as a great, dedicated coach.

“This brings tears to your eyes,” McKissic said. “I think that a lot of times our kids grow up and play sports, but they don’t understand the history behind sport. And when they can be exposed to the actual history behind the sport and know about the Negro League and their contribution to  baseball, now, we can teach it and make sure they understand it.”

That’s what bringing back this stadium represents.

A promise to honor and remember the past.

And hope about the future.

When it comes to race relations,  there is still a lot of work to be done

But if you remember the past and learn from it, even if it’s as simple as bringing an old baseball stadium back to life, you have a chance to make the future even better.

Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.

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