As new professional baseball stadiums continue to get larger and more dazzling in their opulence, featuring high-definition laser video boards the size of entire buildings, concourses that double as amusement parks and entire shopping centers, and luxury box seats that also serve as hotels, it’s easy for a 21st-century baseball fan to forget about the sport’s humble roots. Fans of the Detroit Tigers do not have this problem, however, as they are free to visit, and even play on the very field that such greats as Ty Cobb, Al Kaline, Hank Greenberg, and Alan Trammell were proud to call home.
Ernie Harwell Park, named for the Tigers’ beloved longtime announcer, is built on the former site of Tiger Stadium, which served as the team’s home field from 1912 to 1999, as well as that of the NFL’s Detroit Lions from 1938 to 1974.
Located in the heart of Detroit’s oldest neighborhood, Corktown, Tiger Stadium’s first incarnation was a simple construction of wood and rope called Bennett Park. Later, in 1911, a more solid construction of concrete and steel was built and the site and christened Navin Field. It was given a new name, Briggs Stadium, in 1938, before it was ultimately named Tiger Stadium in 1961. The Tigers won the World Series in 1935, 1945, 1968, and 1984, with the ‘45 and ‘84 victories occurring at home. The ‘84 win notoriously led to celebratory burning and rioting throughout Detroit.
Eventually, in 1999, construction was completed on Comerica Park in the city’s downtown area, and the Tigers relocated. By this time, Corktown had become run-down and lost much of its business, and this pattern only worsened immediately following the stadium’s abandonment. Debate and argument about the stadium’s future lasted for years, though the stadium was finally fully demolished in 2009, much to the disappointment of many local fans.
However, Corktown’s situation had begun to improve by this time, and today the neighborhood is one of Detroit’s most close-knit and thriving communities. At the center of it all, “the Corner,” as locals have always called it, no longer remains. Though it was bereft of any walls and structures save for one section of the original stadium gate, the field itself had changed little. Open to the public on most sunny days and rarely crowded, it was not uncommon to see groups of Detroiters playing pick-up games on the field of one of baseball’s most fabled ballparks.
In 2013, Detroit Police Athletic League acquired the property, with plans to rebuild it into a complex, including offices, a banquet hall and retain the field in its original orientation, aimed at providing a facility for local youth. In March 2018, “The Corner Ballpark” officially opened to the public. While little remains of the original stadium, save the field, or, much reference to Ernie Harwell, the baseball tradition continues at The Corner.