DETROIT (WWJ) – Have you ever loved a piece of land so much that you’d give up hours of your time every week to take care of it at your own expense?
That’s exactly what the members of the Navin Field Grounds Crew have been doing at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull since 2010. Tom Derry of Redford Township started the group after Tiger Stadium was razed. The weeds, he said, were taller than he was.
There are now about 20 members who come down every week to cut the grass and pick up the trash. They cleared away the weeds and found the old pitcher’s mound. The baselines on the diamond are measured out to the authentic length. “The stands are gone,” said Derry, “and that’s unfortunate. But the field remains: the same field from 1912.”
The trash is an ongoing effort. They find mostly fast food wrappers, and sometimes the needles left behind by addicts.
And something else.
“We see people scatter the ashes of loved ones,” said Grounds Crew member David Mesrey.”We’ve found bone fragments and ashes again and again, and it’s because so many people want to be a part of this field in this life and the next.”
With their efforts, the corner now looks like a city park, just what Derry intended. On a weekday afternoon, there were people running around with their dogs, having a picnic, and even playing baseball on the field.
“It’s amazing how people get excited,” said Derry. “People come on this field crying, they’re so excited to be here. They have so many memories of coming here.”
The baseball players are from Cass Tech High School. Assistant coach Julius Dubose said, “We bring them out here because this is the closest field to actually play at.”
The field is special to Dubose as well. As a student, he had an off-the-wall double at Tiger Stadium. “I’m a Cass Tech alum Class of ’94,” said Dubose. “We actually played at Tiger Stadium and won the city championship in 1993.”
He said the field is important to the kids as a big part of the neighborhood, even though they were just babies when the stadium closed in 1999. If the field is developed, where would the team practice?
Dubose said he isn’t sure, but he thanked the men who’ve cleaned up the field and made it possible for his practices.
“The field does mean a lot to us,” said Derry, “It’s a special place.” So special that in August he and his fiancée will marry at home plate.
For more information or to donate to the Navin Field Grounds Crew, visit their Facebook page.