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Group Opposes Plan For Turf, Seeks To Save Grass At Old Tiger Stadium Site

By Marisa Fusinski

DETROIT (CBS Detroit) - The Navin Field Grounds Crew is going to bat in hopes of saving the grass at the site of the former Tiger Stadium — and they're looking for support from the public.

The group doesn't want the Detroit Police Athletic League (PAL), which will inherit the field in 2017, to replace the grass with artificial turf.

"Baseball has been played on natural grass at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull since 1896. From Bennett Park to Navin Field, from Briggs Stadium to Tiger Stadium — and to this very day, Detroit's historic field of dreams has been an inspiration to men, women, and children all across America," a petition reads.

[PHOTO GALLERY: A Look Back In Time At Old Tiger Stadium]

"(The grass) is really the only thing we have left," petition author Dave Mesrey — one of the Navin Field Grounds Crew's founding members, told CBS Detroit. "I mean, the stadium's gone and it's not coming back, but we have all the grass that Tigers greats...Ty Cobb, Hank Greenberg, Willie Horton....played on over the years"

"To a lot of people that site is truly sacred ground,"he added, noting that people often scatter loved ones' ashes there, propose and get married on the mound.

Tiger Stadium opened in 1912 as Navin Field, and the team left for Comerica Park after the 1999 season. Much of the stadium was demolished in 2008, but a section was left standing for another year until a plan to re-purpose it was rejected.

Mesrey says, when the crew took over the field's care in 2010, it was an eyesore — with weeds in the footprint of the grandstand towering six to seven feet tall. "I'm not exaggerating," Mesrey said. "I have the pictures to prove it."

Navin Field before and after
Navin Field before and after. (credit: Dave Mesrey )

They cut it down, and vintage and youth ballgames are now played at the field which has been maintained by the all-volunteer crew for the past six years.

"This city does nothing, the Tigers do nothing," said Navin Field Grounds Crew founder Tom Derry, who also feels strongly the grass should be saved. "It seems like it would lose its charm if they tore up the field."

At PAL, Chief Advancement Officer Russ Russell, they're all about putting the kids first.

"Our goal is to provide a safe place for kids to play, and a place that's gonna enable all of our 12- to 15,000 kids to have a chance to play there," Russell said.

Russell said PAL is looking at ways to allow kids to play longer during the year (and sooner, in the case of rain) and installing artificial turf would allow for that, while helping to preserve the life of the field.

Mesrey said that while he likes PAL — which does great things for Detroit kids — they just don't see eye-to-eye on this issue.

"We would like them to preserve it... incorporate the natural grass," Mesrey said. "We're happy to work with them."

To get rid of the grass, Mesrey said, "would be one of the biggest errors in baseball."

More than 1,600 people had signed the petition as of Friday.

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