Fiction   Essays   Poetry  The Ten On Baseball Chapbooks In Memory

Tiger Stadium: October 1968

by Susannah Indigo

Strolling down Trumbull Avenue to the
high iron gates of Tiger Stadium
hand in hand between Daddy and Grandpa,
I began to recognize joy.
Joy was scarce in 1968
until the World Series began,
camouflaging the tension everywhere.
Life seemed safe when we entered the gates
to the oasis of green in the middle
of chaos. The Tigers belonged to
everyone, young and old, black and white,
and especially to me. Al Kaline's
smile rode safely on the card tucked deep
inside my little girl pocket, ready
for an autograph on the fly.

"You have to keep score or it's not baseball,"
my father said sternly, always in
control of everything except the times.
"It's just not safe down here anymore,"
said the men who joined white flight to the
suburbs in the early sixties, yet wondered
why things had changed.

My young heart understood their words, knew that
scared white men felt safer listening to
Ernie Harwell over tinny radios
across chain link fences in pretty
suburban backyards. But Grandpa lived
six blocks from the stadium and Daddy
grew up watching games over fences climbed
by little boys with hope.

Grandpa said he would never move, no matter
what "they" did. "Those coloreds are going to
burn down the neighborhood just like Watts,
you wait and see," Grandpa drawled, grasping
nothing beyond his fear for his grand old
home on Sycamore Street crumbling into
the ghetto. "This house won't sell for anything
more than what I paid for it in 1932,"
he said bitterly, which eventually
turned out to be true.

Fifty thousand came together to cheer
for our team. Freehan and Cash,
McLain and Lolich, Stanley and Brown --
those names mattered more than the angry words
shouted on the nightly news.
Everything seemed possible that day --
hot dogs, mustard only; scorecards kept
perfectly enough for a father
obsessed with ritual; a win to pull
the Tigers ahead; a joy that might stay.

But I heard the worry in the voices
at the stadium, felt the disgust at
boarded-up stores on the drive down old
Grand River Boulevard, closed my eyes and
sensed the smell in the air -- the beginning
of fear in Detroit.

Grandpa put extra bolts on doors, the only
thing he could think to do; I watched him store
his rifle not far from his favorite
chair, as though he could defend himself
against the winds of change shifting across
the country.

The Tigers were playing without fear
against the defending World Champions
and held a lead in the seventh that
autumn afternoon.
              "We have to go,"
my father said grimly, checking the light,
his watch, the crowd, checking everything but
little girl joy turning to held-back tears.

The city would burn all around the
stadium the following summer, but in
October 1968
there was still time to celebrate when
the Cardinals and the invincible
Bob Gibson were sent packing.

I left the oasis of green in the
middle of the chaos of my life
and knew it would be the last time we strolled
down Trumbull Avenue hand in hand to
the high iron gates of Tiger Stadium
as the fear in Detroit
also won.

©2002 by Susannah Indigo

Susannah Indigo is the editor of Slow Trains.

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