Blogs > From The Bleacher Seats

A roundup of news on sporting events, people and places in Southeast Michigan by columnist Jim Evans.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Checking in at Michigan and Trumbull

It's a ball diamond now.
Well-kept, thanks to the efforts of the all-volunteer Navin Field Grounds Crew, but still just a ball diamond.
Tiger Stadium used to sit the intersection of Michigan and Trumbull. It always seemed so massive, didn’t it?
Especially when you were a kid. Stadium walls rising from the sidewalk higher than a swatted fungo. Light towers perched above the upper deck. You swear you could see them shining during a night game from Bellville and Belle Isle.
Tiger Stadium was almost intimidating from the outside.
But once inside, nothing was more enthralling. Walking through the concourse and making your way to the seats. Almost magically, urban became rural; the typical city palette of hard scrabble grays turned incredibly green.
Green is the way the field remains, even though the stadium is no longer there.
It was Father’s Day when my wife and I and our youngest daughter, Breanna, made our way to Corktown. We were going to grab something to eat at the Mercury Burger Bar that’s just a handful of blocks west of Trumbull on Michigan.
As we drove by the site where Tiger Stadium formerly resided, a vintage baseball game was being played. People in garb more befitting the 1860s than 21st century were batting the ball and running the bases.
We immediately stopped, yanked some folding chairs from the trunk, and made our way to the game. We joined the hundred or so other people who were watching the game.
Hot dogs were offered by the Navin Field Grounds Crew. So, too, was Faygo soda pop.
A man came by selling peanuts and I couldn’t resist. Old habits are hard to break, and I used to grab a brown bag full of salted peanuts from a vendor on Trumbull before every Tiger game I attended.
None of the vintage players wore gloves. None had an agent, either. There were a few bleachers. Not a single suite to be found.
Some kids were playing catch behind the backstop. A mom was feeding her infant along the first base line. Some very pleasant people from the Navin Field Grounds Crew were spooning baked beans and potato salad onto plates to accompany the Ballpark Franks. Donations were appreciated but not required.
While I am sure that food is not always served, there seems to be a lot of baseball on the menu at Michigan and Trumbull these days. Youth games are played on a regular basis. Vintage baseball seems to have found a home for obvious reasons.
While it is no longer the site of Tiger Stadium, it remains a baseball diamond and somehow that seems exactly right.
Isn’t it the essence of the game? Strip away all the garnishments and baseball is all about grass and dirt and if you're lucky, some actual bases and a fence for a backstop.
That's the way we all got started playing. Running to the playground. Sprinting to the park. Jumping over the fence into your neighbor’s yard. Grabbing a baseball and a bat and depending upon your age, that bat was either fashioned from wood or metal.
I’m an old guy. Our bats were always wood. They'd crack and we'd tape them up. The crack would get worse and we'd drive a nail or two to keep them intact.
Tiger Stadium is gone, but the baseball field remains. Say thanks to the Navin Field Grounds Crew. Not just for the hot dog. Not just for the Faygo.
But for preserving the baseball field. For keeping the memories of Tiger Stadium alive. For providing for future memories, too.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Referees wear the Scarlet R

Most high school sports game officials know exactly how Hester Prynne felt.
For those who didn’t take – or pass – American Literature, Hester Prynne was the protagonist in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Scarlet Letter.”
An adulteress in Puritanical New England, Prynne was forced to wear an ‘A’ on her forehead and was hence scorned.
Scorned is something that high school referees know plenty about. It’s their shared plight in life.
Somebody with 20/100 vision perched on the top row of the bleachers during a basketball game somehow has a better vantage point than the ref who is three feet away from the play. The dad screams in outrage at the ref’s call.
A football coach patrols the sidelines adjacent to his team’s bench. One of his players is called for an illegal block 35 yards away on the poorly lit field. The coach’s stomping sets off a choreography of outrage. The fans and players get in on the act. It is mob mentality in school colors.
A soccer mom spots an alleged infraction from the passenger seat of her Dodge Caravan. She howls in anguish. A hockey dad drinking coffee, eating popcorn and texting screams that the puck went over the goal line.
And so it goes. Refs get abused. It is a nightly occurrence. Even when they get it completely right, they are absolutely wrong in the eyes of many.
So why not step to the plate – or behind it -- yourself? How about wearing the Scarlet R? Without game officials, games could not be played. The Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) is accepting registrations by mail and online for game officials for the 2014-15 school year.
Online registration can be accessed by clicking “Officials” at Forms also are available online that can be printed and submitted by traditional mail or hand delivery to the MHSAA office. More information about officials’ registration may be obtained by contacting the MHSAA at 1661 Ramblewood Drive, East Lansing, MI, 48823, by phone at 517-332-5046 or by e-mail at
There is an test for first-time officials and officials who were not registered during the past school year. The test consists of 45 questions derived from the MHSAA Officials Guidebook, which also is available on the Officials page of the MHSAA website. Additional 50-question exams must be taken by those registering for football or basketball for the first time or those who were not registered for those sports during the previous school year. Manuals for both sports also are available on the Officials page.
I have seen countless high school games over the years. I have heard a lot of whistles in my time. Sure I have witnessed some calls that I didn’t think were correct. But do you know what; I have seen a lot more blown plays than blown calls.
I have seen kids toss up jumpers that hit so much metal you’d swear they were members of the ironworkers union. I have seen so many kids fumble footballs and miss passes you’d swear part of the pre-game ritual included smearing Crisco on their mitts. I’ve seen baseball and softball players swing at pitches that weren’t even in the same time zone, let along the strike zone.
And sorry coaches, but I have also seen game strategies that resemble something written up by General George Armstrong Custer. What was the score of that game at the Little Big Horn anyway?
So maybe a questionable call does decide a game or two every decade or so. But do you know what; those games were usually decided a long time beforehand. By a kid who couldn’t hit a free throw even if the Spalding was attached to a drone. By a kid who ran the anchor leg of the 4-by-200 relay wearing more jewelry than Mr. T in his heyday.
You’ve probably done your share of yelling at the refs. Why not wear that Scarlet R yourself?