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July 3, 2010 at 3:00 PM

Niehaus takes nostalgic journey to Tiger Stadium

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(Mariners announcer Dave Niehaus and producer/engineer Kevin Cremin stand on what used to be the mound at Tiger Stadium during a pilgrimmage today to the site of the old park. Photo courtesy of Seattle Mariners).

Three members of the Mariners’ traveling party — announcer Dave Niehaus, producer/engineer Kevin Cremin, and director of baseball information Tim Hevly — ate lunch today at Slow’s Barbecue in Detroit. They happened to drive by the historic site of old Tiger Stadium — “The Corner,” as it was known, at Michigan and Trumbull.

On a whim, after lunch, they stopped at the ballyard, which now is little more than a skeleton of its old self. The stands are long gone, of course, but it still looks like a playing field. The flag pole still stands (“in the deepest part of center — 451 feet, as I recall,” Niehaus said), and the pitching mound is still there, sans rubber. You can still see the base paths, though the grass is a little overgrown.

“It’s not much higher than when Sparky managed here,” joked Niehaus.

Niehaus said it was a highly sentimental journey, because Tiger Stadium was one of his favorite ballparks. It was replaced by Comerica Park in 2000 (with the Mariners playing the inaugural game, in fact).

The site is now surrounded by a fence, but as fate would have it, the gate was open, so the trio walked in.

“We came through left field and walked past Alan Trammell’s old spot at shortstop,” Niehaus said. “We went out to the mound, started down and went to home plate. I remember the press box — you (print media) were way up, and we (the radio booths) were way low. We were practically on top of the hitters. We got a lot of foul balls there.”

Niehaus said he thought about Nolan Ryan’s no-hitter that he called there when still working for the Angels. Late in the game, Tigers first baseman Norm Cash went up to t he plate with a table leg he had pulled out of the clubhouse, telling umpire Ron Luciano that “I can’t hit anything with a bat so thought I’d try a table leg,” Niehaus recalled. “They made him use a bat, and he popped out to shortstop Rudy Meoli.”

Niehaus said that inside the stadium he naturally gave remembrance to Ernie Harwell, the legendary Tigers’ announcer who died earlier this year of cancer.

“You know, I could still see that stadium. It was such a marvelous, marvelous stadium. Teams liked to take BP (batting practice) there so much that it ruined their swing, and I remember Lou (Piniella) threatened to stop it and not let them take BP when we came to Detroit because of that. He never did, but he threatened to.

“It was one of the favorite ballparks for any hitter who played there. It held a lot of pleasant memories. As we left, we looked around. Nostalgia was coursing through my veins, and we were getting into the car. The capper of the day, here comes three kids with gloves and a ball and they started running the bases. Perfect. It was a nostalgic, touching day.”

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