Joe Falls: What I’ll Miss About Tiger Stadium (From 1999)

The thing I will miss most about Tiger Stadium are all the empty seats.

Not on game day. But when the game is over.

How many days, how many nights, did I sit in the press box when the game was over and our work was done and look out at the empty stadium. The ushers and guards had gone home and the groundscrew was finished with their work and all that remained were those empty seats. Those lovely empty seats.

So peaceful.

So quiet.

So serene.

When the game is on, you must share the Grand Lady with others. They may love her, too. But later, when the show is over and the lights are dimmed, it is just the two of us, sharing a precious moment or two, and there is a strange feeling of warmth, as if she understands me and I understand her.

Some nights, when the corridors are empty and I am walking out of the ballpark, I will turn into one of the exits and sit in one of the empty seats and take in the whole majestic scene.

The lights may be out but it doesn’t matter. I can still see her and touch her and the most remarkable thing of all is that I am not thinking anything, just floating along in a strange sort of reverie.

My mind is at rest. I’d asked it to work for the past few hours and now it is time to enjoy the still of the night.

No need to think.

No need to talk.

No need even to listen.

Sit back. Relax. Reflect on what is good about our world, since our world seems so far away.

What could happen in a quiet, empty ballpark?

Empty seats at Tiger Stadium, 2007
Empty seats at Tiger Stadium, 2007. Photo by zakzorah/Cris via Exposure Detroit on Flickr

Truth is, I did this a lot as the 1999 season was winding down. I chose to hold her hand as much as possible.

For years I would find myself gazing out to the upper deck in right. If there was any part of this ballpark which I liked the most, it was the upper deck in right.

Not so much the overhang, which everyone talks about, but those neat rows of seats and the way they embraced the balls hit up there.

I always felt the balls hit into the upper deck in right were so much more elegant than those hit to left. You have to pound the ball to get it upstairs in left, but in right, you can kind of loft it into the seats, gently, surely, with a touch of grace. The ball rises in the air, hangs for a moment and then settles softly into the seats.

Outfield and empty seats at Tiger Stadium, 2007
Outfield and empty seats at Tiger Stadium, 2007. Photo by zakzorah/Cris via Exposure Detroit on Flickr

I sat next to Tom Gage, our baseball writer at The Detroit News, in the press box, and I caught him looking around at the old place, trying to drink it all in. He, too, is a bit of a hambone. I asked him one day what he thought of Tiger Stadium and without hesitation, he said: “I love Tiger Stadium.”

Tom has covered the Tigers for our newspaper for the past 21 years. Few have done it longer in the American League. Just one, I think. Some guy out in Oakland.

He sat in the same spot for all 21 years and I asked him if he planned to take his seat with him.

“No,” he said. “But I plan to take a lot of pictures from right here so I can remember how everything looked.”

I was troubled walking through the corridors under the stands and seeing how dark and dingy it was in there. I never liked the Tiger Plaza (the sliders are a poor imitation of the real thing), and it was sad not seeing the old faces in the front office—Alice Sloan, Dan Ewald, Rick Ferrell, Bill Lajoie, Joe McDonald and, of course, the Big Buddha himself, Jim Campbell, the boss.

Truth is, I didn’t go up there very much when these people were moved out, except to see John McHale, Jr., the president, who truly reminds me of his father, who ran the club in the late 1950s.

But now another game is over and it is time to go. I must force myself to head for my car across the street and what fun is that because all that is out there is a thing called reality. That’s no fun at all.

This is an excerpt from So You Love Tiger Stadium Too: Give It A Hug, by Joe Falls and Irwin Cohen, published in 1999 by Connection Graphics. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

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