The definitive high-energymoment of my high school years took place at Tiger Stadium on Sept. 17, 1968.That was the night the Tigers clinched the pennant. I went to the game withfriends. We parked one of our fathers' cars on Perry St., next to Jimmy Hoffa'shome local, knowing no one would mess with it there. We were too wound up tosit, so we stood for much of the game, screaming ourselves hoarse with 46,000other fans. The Tigers were on the verge of their first American League championshipin a generation, and Detroiters were eager for good news. It was the secondyear of a civic psychosis brought on by the previous summer's devastating riot-orrebellion, depending on your point of view-and even though we were too young to notice, Detroit was dying a slow death. The opponents were the Yankees.They tied the game in their half of the ninth, but the Tigers rallied in thebottom of the inning. I shuddered as the stadium rocked with noise when theTigers' longtime star, Al Kaline, crossed the plate with the winning run. Withinseconds, thousands of people began to pour onto the field from every cornerof the stadium, and the sustained roar grew even louder. Several rows in front ofus, a mob had ripped down the left field fence before the game had ended, andphalanxes of young people, including us, were leaping onto the field, yellinglike banshees and chasing the Yankee outfielders toward their dugout. It wasa giant party. But it was also Detroit, so there was a weird edge. When I sawpeople ripping up the infield grass and digging ferociously with their handsat deeply anchored home plate, I grew a little nervous. Ballpark melees werea long tradition in Detroit. Moreover, two of the deadliest riots in the nationsince the Civil War had taken place in 1967 and 1943 within walking distanceof the pitcher's mound. The city had been on a losing streak since the autoplants started closing in the 1950s. People wore their bad attitudes on their sleeves. I wondered if this was going to get out of hand.
Time isrunning out for Tiger Stadium. At the end of this season, it will become anotherabandoned piece of Detroit, just like all those skyscrapers, bungalows, apartmentbuildings, fire stations, bowling alleys, factories, fish stores, tool and dieshops, libraries, churches and Dom Polski halls. Detroit also has beautifulold neighborhoods, a huge middle class and several promising beachheads of redevelopment.But with tens of thousands of shabby vacant buildings and weed-choked emptylots, the sense of abandonment is overwhelming.