Woodmere on a Sunday morning in early autumn looks benign, like the
aftermath of a wedding the night before. Trash blows back and forth
lazily. Light slants across the street and bathes the scene in soft haze.
The air is clean and full. There is time to look around. We park at The
Fox and get out to stretch our legs. I saw Elvis Costello here last year,
walked out into the oily summer night and across the street to our car,
jockeyed for position to get out and get home. Now I have the place to
Across the street is the new stadium, Comerica Park, hard to see in the low sun. We snap a picture of the girders which stretch above the structure. Comerica Park. Not a name which rolls off the tongue.
For some reason we are almost late to Tiger Stadium. Game time is one o'clock, and at 12:45 I am driving up Michigan amongst throngs of spectators who are walking as fast as I am driving. I have missed the last best parking spot, a few blocks back, and I indicate right on Trumbull in order to backtrack. The traffic cop sees me, but there are so many pedestrians in the crosswalk that they take priority. Finally he lets me squeeze through, and I notice a tiny little space in a tiny little parking lot, right there. "Room for one," says the man, and I slam it in the middle of a horseshoe shaped configuration of other cars. "But you'll need to leave me the keys." This is where I remember Dad, because I can hear his voice in my head saying, "forget that." But he's not here, and I leave the keys.
My son and I walk around to the entrance and and I am blown away, once again, by the grandeur of the stadium. The beauty of the green grass framed by the blue seats, the sheer proximity of the players, the overwhelming sense of serenity inside the stadium - these, and the accumulated history of 88 years of baseball all take my breath away once again. It was here that the ailing Iron Horse, Lou Gehrig, walked out onto the field on a May day in 1939 and told the crowd that his days as a player were over, and his streak of 2,130 consecutive games had come to an end. "I'm the luckiest man alive," he said, and meant every word of it. The crowd stood and applauded.
Today's game is with the Orioles, and the great Cal Ripken. But as the game begins it becomes apparent that the new Iron Horse will not be in the lineup. This is the last time the Orioles will ever play in Tiger Stadium, and Cal Ripken will fade quietly away in the autumn light, just like the stadium. In the waning days of a waning season, Cal Ripken sits like an old lion on the beach, on a stool in the sun at the end of the bleachers, and passes popcorn to teammates. He seems content to watch.
We are snug in our seats behind third base with our knees pressed tightly to the seats in front. There are very few empty seats. In front of us is about three rows of an extended family who have traveled here to see the game. Beside me is an old lady who is very polite. When her grandson leaves to get in line for food I ask "Where are you folks from?" "Grand Rapids, Michigan," she says, and rearranges herself in the seat. Then she leans back toward me and says "This is my very first game. My grandson brought me here for my birthday present. And I am thoroughly enjoying it." To my right is the empty seat where my dad was supposed to be sitting, but I tell her nothing of this. Plans made in early summer....
Albert Bell rips 4 doubles, and gets booed every time. Juan Encarnacion makes an unbelievable catch to rob Jeff Reboulet of a home run. The voice of Ernie Harwell wafts intermittently across the tops of the seats, making everything even more real. By three o'clock the shadow of the light tower is already crossing the third base line, and a slight chill penetrates the seats. By the eighth inning it becomes apparent that Baltimore will win easily, with or without Cal Ripken. Oh, but I would have liked to be able to say I saw him play.
We decide to leave a little early. It's a long drive home, and the car.... well, it's been on my mind. At the bottom of the ramp I turn to leave, then turn back to soak in the last sight of a great stadium. I can hear Ernie on somebody's transistor, and as I look up I see him in the booth, crouched over the game like a modest Greek God. I know I'm in somebody's way, so turn reluctantly and, foolish as it sounds, feel a tear well up as I leave. So many of the best things fade gently away.
|Mark Smith is a teacher at Leland Public School. Among other things, he edits and webmasters a journal of student and teacher writing, The Beechnut Review.|