Sunday, July 23, 2006

CoPa Is Nice, But Nothing Beats An Original

I lost track of the sign. My father had it for years – kept it in his garage. It was procured illegally, but considering what else happened that night, a stolen street sign was small potatoes.

“Abbott” it said, the usual white lettering on green sign that populates poles all over this country. I cut my hand open grabbing that sign. But I’ll be darned if I know where it is today. Dad’s passed away, been gone ten years and some change. His second wife and I lost touch, and the sign wasn’t on a list of priorities when we were still communicating.

Long gone.

So too is the walk. Park the car on Abbott, between Rosa Parks Boulevard and Trumbull. Find a lot normally for employees of the industrial buildings that lined the street, and park for free. Worth it, despite the long walk. Correction. Worth it, because of the long walk.

Not sure how many vendors you’d pass on Trumbull as you hoofed it the five or six blocks to the ballpark. Ditto the ticket scalpers. Some of the city’s most colorful vagabonds sprinkled about – curled up near buildings or lilting along the sidewalks with a nip on their breath and a purpose in their eyes that only they understood. Or not.

Off to the right, Sultana’s garage. And where was the old Sultana’s? Up there – to the right even further, closer to Michigan Avenue. Hoot Robinson’s on the corner – always let’s meet on the deck outside. And the lovely, ambiguous sign, as pointed out by my friend Cory Bergen one evening: CAN BEER ONLY.

“Can beer only,” Cory said. “Is that the start of a question, like, ‘Can beer only…’?”

I still laugh at that line.

There’s the Firestone tire and car repair shop, along Michigan. Parked there often when a kid riding in the backseat with generous parents who’d take me to at least two games a year, sometimes more. Look further east down Michigan, on the south side, and you can see the old Lions offices, the annex they used when they shared the stadium with the Tigers.

Turn your head across from there and lay your eyes on Nemo’s, the pregame watering hole to end all pregame watering holes. Some folks never were able to drag themselves out to see the game. Wonder how many unused game tickets exist thanks to that joint.

Enter the ballpark grounds and buy a program – the pencil’s free, after all. Thanks to names on the jerseys, you really can tell the players without a program, but we won’t break it to the white-haired hawker. Besides, he always keeps the #2’s sharp for us, so it’s the least we can do.

Don’t forget to tip your usher.

When the hot dog guy comes, you don’t need to shout. Just simple eye contact and a head nod, and you can attract one easier than luring a mouse with cheese. Hold up your fingers, tell him how many you want. Watch him slather on the mustard. And why does he have two tubs of mustard, and no ketchup? Because the ketchup is sweet and attracts flies, and bees. You don’t know how happy I was to solve that mystery.

Maybe a batting helmet for a souvenir; remember when they were two dollars each? Be sure to check the out-of-town scoreboard to see if the Orioles are losing. Smile at the big catcher’s mitt above the clock that has “Stroh it home!” across it.

Game over, and there has to be enough time for a stroll over to Sportsland USA, a block or two east on Michigan, for at least a look-see at caps, jerseys, and other cool stuff. Memorabilia. Oh, and with the poorly-depicted logos of our teams on the side of the building, painted. Maybe if the wallet will allow, I’ll pop for a genuine New Era cap – the kind the big leaguers wear.

It’s a fifteen-minute walk back to the car, and tell Jimmy B. and the boys that we’re on our way to the Lindell A.C., so keep the grill open. When we get there, I’ll slug down a bottle of hops while you play “Raspberry Beret” on the jukebox. We’ll chuckle at Wayne Walker’s jockstrap, bronzed and hanging near the ceiling, and cackle at the channel 4 news set from the mid-1970s. One of hundreds of photographs adorning the wall. There’s Billy Martin, Mickey Mantle and Jimmy B., for example. Billy and Mickey are holding glasses with amber-colored liquid and ice in them. Surprise.

Then it’s onto I-75, but let’s get back to that sign.

My dad grew up on Abbott Street, near the stadium, when it was known as Briggs. Not sure exactly which block of Abbott, but that was irrelevant. I had known for awhile, back in 1984, that I wanted to get my hands on a genuine Abbott Street sign and present it to pops. The Tigers were on their way to something special in ’84, and I had plenty of ideas.

Chris Gerbasi swung tickets to Game 4 and 5. Alan Trammell hits a couple out in Game 4, and the Tigers are one win away from the championship. So on the way to the ballpark for Game 5, we make sure to buy several bottles of champagne and some ice. There they’ll rest, in a cooler, while we take in the clincher. No game plan if the Tigers had lost.

Still thinking about the sign, though. Probably even as I saw Kirk Gibson’s homer fly into the upper deck off Goose Gossage in the eighth inning. Larry Herndon catches the final out in left field, on the run, and a good thing too. The mob is on the field in a heartbeat. We’re in the upper deck, center field bleachers. Then a large patch of outfield turf appears, tossed from the field, popping over the facing of the upper deck. Then, in an instant, it’s gone. Darndest thing I ever saw, if you want to know.

So we’ve made it through the throngs, passed a police car engulfed in flames, and are now whooping it up at the car – trunk opened and bubbly flowing. We’re pouring it over our heads, like all those post-victory lockerroom scenes we’d seen on television. It stings the eyes but it’s worth it.

Then the moment of truth. With all of Detroit’s finest too busy, looking the other way, I’m hoisted up to the Abbott sign. I’m pretty sure strangers are involved in helping me up. Armed with nothing more than a screwdriver, I go to work. It’s a stubborn son-of-a-gun, but I manage to wrench it from its pole. There’s some cheering. I spirit it away into Gerbasi’s car. Finally I have it. Boy, will pops be surprised.

I’ve tried, and I can tell you that you just can’t get the same baseball experience at Comerica Park – before, during, and after the game – as you could at the ballpark at Michigan and

Abbott Street doesn’t run anywhere near CoPa, for starters.


Ozz said...

Good blog. That was a fun read.

I dig Nemo's! It's a must-stop when I'm in Detroit for a game, especially since they've got those shuttles to Comerica/the Joe/Ford Field going!

Hasn't the Lindell been closed for a number of years?

Greg Eno said...

Thanks, Ozz!

Yes, sadly, the Lindell is also "longggg gone."

Oh, the stories I could tell you about that place, including when Jimmy B. ranted about Susan Clark (Alex Karras' wife) to Gerbasi and me one night over some beers. Called her every name in the book. He was mad at her for taking Alex away from his Detroit homeys.

Ozz said...

Hey, Alex should look on the bright side. If she hadn't taken him away, he wouldn't have been able to do "Webster".

Um, on second thought...

Lindell stories might be another blog for another time?

Greg Eno said...

Actually, I did a Lindell column about a year and a half ago. If I dig it up, I'll e-mail it to you.

Ozz said...

Cool. Thanks.