Not Big Papi – My Poppy!

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     While the demolition of Tiger Stadium in Detroit continues, I’m more than ever reminded of my grandfather…

I called him Poppy.

Poppy lived with my grandma just a few streets away from Tiger Stadium on Perry, just off of Trumbull in Detroit. Back in the 1950’s the house next door to Poppy’s was torn down. He purchased the property. After getting the go ahead from the City Of Detroit, he had the property paved and began parking cars for the patrons of Tiger baseball games and, at least at that time, the Detroit Lions football games. For each Tiger’s home game, Poppy would park the cars. Then he would sit in his chair on the sidewalk. He kept a watchful eye on them, especially post riots and with a rising crime rate in the city. On those hot summer days, he occasionally enjoyed a bottle of Pabst. The most vivid memory I have, the picture in my head, is of Poppy listening to the home games being played on a small, battery operated radio.

He would wait until the last cars left before he himself called it a night. The folks who parked here expected their cars to be be safe. Poppy made sure they were! 

Poppy was thrilled when his beloved Tigers won the World Series in 1968.

In less than a year and a half, Poppy would be gone.

When I started going to ballgames on my own, I was always sure to drive down Perry Street. I told the stories of parking cars and helping Poppy. I remember standing in the the street and with a big, red flag in hand, my sister and I tried to persuade the folks to  “park here, 50 cents!”

Of course, as time rolled on, year after year, the neighborhood changed. The house was eventually torn down. The row of wooden houses that had made up the tightly knit neighborhood became a field of weeds and memories. And, today the parking structure for the Motor City Casino coldly stands there, unaware that the ground it now occupies was once quite special to me.

In the summer of ’06, I got hold of the broadcast when Tiger’s pitcher Denny McLain got his 30th win. That game was played at Tiger Stadium in Detroit on September 14, 1968.

I carefully planned a personal tribute to him.

You see, I knew that he would have listened to this game on THAT day. He heard this game. The words Ernie Harwell spoke reached his hears and they too, would reach mine. It was a way of connecting with a past that had faded away.

I bought a bottle of Pabst… one bottle. Just one! It would be for the toast. I grabbed a lawn chair, sat in my yard and put the CD in…

Well, this is the big day for the Maestro Denny McLain…” Harwell began.

I opened the beer.

“Saturday afternoon at Tiger Stadium,”  Harwell continued.  “…September the 14th 1968 and Denny will be going for win number 30!”

I took a sip from the bottle, hoisted it skyward. I felt him with me that afternoon.

Baseball connects people. I believe that. There is something about this game that brings people together in the here and now…  and in the hereafter. It’s why we blog. It’s why stories about Ty Cobb and other players thrill us and we become spellbound. It’s why we love the game. It’s why places like Tiger Stadium are special to us.  

Go to a baseball game and you’ll find people talking with people that they don’t know. I’ve met people from Seattle, Chicago, Cleveland and Minnesota. I’ve spoken, through a translator, to a guy from Japan who was at Comerica Park to see Ichiro play.

This game connects us and allows us to make connections. You won’t get that from any other!  Baseball is special!  

And now…I have a confession to make.

The reason I’m telling you about Poppy is my way of – again reaching out, connecting to my past. You see, one hundred and seven years ago – today – my grandfather took his first breath.

Happy Birthday, Poppy!

~Skip 

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