The Final Season: Fathers, Sons, and one last season in a classic American ballpark by Tom Stanton, (St Martin’s Press, 2001), 245 pages.
It is an uninspiring premise at first glance: a game-by-game account of the toothless Tigers’ 1999 season. Yet this year was about something far more important for the city of Detroit. Tigers Stadium, a constant in the lives of four generations of Detroiters, was embarking on one final eighty-one date fling before being replaced by Comerica Field. In an often touching tale, Tom Stanton reveals the place that baseball has had in the lives of his family and is moved by the impending fate of Tigers Stadium to consider the mortality of loved ones.
That Stanton would undertake to attend all eighty-one of the Tigers’ home games in a 69-92 season is proof that this was about far more than the events on the field. As such, while each game is taken in chronological order, the action on the field is often (some would say mercifully) overlooked, aside from the score and a short comment at the end of each entry. Game six for instance is summed up simply as “Detroit 5 – 1 New York – Tony Clark brings in four runs and the Tigers sweep the champs”. Stanton’s account of the day instead focuses on Art the hot-dog vendor, one of the numerous characters we encounter on the journey, a cast who drive home just what baseball and a baseball stadium means to so many varied people in different ways.
This cast includes several members of Stanton’s family and the passages involving them bring a very personal touch to the book. His grandfather fled Poland for America during the First World War and settled in Detroit where, as his sons, grandsons and great grandsons would follow, he watched the Tigers at Tigers Stadium. From houses to churches to baseball stadiums, we attach memories and special significance to sites that connect us to our past. Psychologically they help to create a feeling of belonging, an understanding of who we are and where we come from. It was no concern to the Tigers’ Front Office when extolling the virtues of the additional revenue and ‘state-of-the-art’ game experience that the new stadium would bring, but the fact that Stanton could walk the same aisles that his grandfather, father and uncles, and his sons had done was not a mere piece of trivia. It meant something, much more than extra leg room and a cup holder could ever hope to replace.
As Stanton confides: “My grandpa liked to sit in the bleachers – that I know – and this wood is old enough that he might have sat here. I like to believe it, anyway.”
Of course, all things come to an end; however hard that can be to accept. The antiquated restrooms and obstructed views may have held a certain charm for some, yet were an understandable inconvenience to many others. Even Stanton admits in his “A Year Later” postscript that Comerica Park is “not Tigers Stadium but has much to recommend it”. Reluctantly, it is accepted by many that things move on.
Not by all though. Some die-hards are still campaigning to save Tigers Stadium from the demolition ball and to retain it as a working historic monument. Meanwhile both Fenway Park and Wrigley Field stand defiantly as the final two grand old ballparks, perfect for all their imperfections. The coming season will see thousands of New Yorkers experiencing what Stanton and his fellow Detroiters went through in 1999, as both Yankees and Shea Stadium prepare to make way for brand new homes. Homes with more corporate boxes, comfy seats and smaller capacities: all designed to drive up ticket prices. Perhaps beyond the personal attachments, places like Tigers Stadium speak of a purer time, when doubleheaders were wondrous days out for an average working family and every facet of the ballpark, right up to its very name, wasn’t drowned in corporate branding?
Aimless sentimentalism? Probably, but few could argue that heading off to ‘Citizens Bank Ballpark’ doesn’t quite conjure up the same romantic, magical visions.
Baseball has long be hailed as America’s National Pastime and, as with most of these things, it has almost become a meaningless P.R. phrase through overuse. Any British baseball fan who wants to understand the true meaning of the phrase should read The Final Season.
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