Location, Location, Location.
That’s what they always use as a selling point in real estate, right? I mean, let’s be honest, most people buy the house they like slightly less but is in the neighborhood that they most desire to be a part of(I watch a lot of HGTV but that’s not the point). So, what does that have to do with sports? Actually, I think it has a lot to do with it. I’m fairly certain that if you ask most die-hard sports fans about some of their earliest memories of going to a live event they would say they remember more about what the experience was. What were the smells, sounds, and atmosphere like? Actual details of the game probably took a backseat. (I’m talking regular season games here, playoffs are a whole different animal).
In 2014 the Illitch family broke ground on a massive new arena and sports-complex and announced they would move the storied Detroit Red Wings franchise from Joe Louis Arena, known affectionately as the Joe. Initially, fans were distraught that the Joe would close but much like the Detroit Tigers move from the beleaguered but beloved Tiger Stadium to Comerica Park in 1999, the Illitches knew how to weather the storms of public opinion.
Then, near the end of the 2016-17 basketball season, the Detroit Pistons also announced they would move to a new home. They were heading back Downtown after residing at The Palace in the northern suburb of Auburn Hills since the late 1980’s. This announcement would go down in history by making Detroit the first US city to have all 4 major sports playing Downtown. Not only are they all Downtown, but they are all within a reasonable walking distance of each other(at least from a now New Yorkers perspective). Or on just a short ride on the newly opened Q line, you could easily move between Ford Field, Comerica Park, and Little Caesars Arena within about 5 minutes.
For those of us who still respond that the 80’s were only 10-15 years ago not 30+, we watched the childhood homes of our teams reduced to rubble. With their destruction, we also lost the ability to bring along our kids or grandkids and have the shared experience of where our initial love and of sports and becoming a fan began. Surely, there are plenty of new great memories to be made in these new homes, but the closest thing I can relate it to is when your parents sell your childhood home. You may have long since moved out and while the new one is also great it will never hold the same appeal of where you initially made so many monumental discoveries. (How is this becoming a real estate article as well?).
My generation of fans lost two significant sports homes within a span of 2 days.
For the first 10 years or so of my life, my dad worked in sales for a company that was based out of Auburn Hills, MI and his office would often get chunks of tickets to games. This happened to coincide with the great era of Detroit Pistons basketball in the late 80’s that featured that Bad Boys. You could often hear my squeaky little 4-year-old voice chanting “Isiah” as I watched just enthralled from those weird purple cloth seats. I still have my Joe Dumars, Isiah Thomas and Dennis Rodman pennants.
Fast forward about 15 years, when I was in college just a mere few miles away from the Palace again, I was just as enraptured by “Deeeeetroiiiitt Baaaasketballlll” as they went on to dominate the early 2000’s championship circuit(weirdly enough still battling the Lakers ). There was also that time my soccer team was invited to play at halftime of a Detroit Rockers game. I’ll bet you never knew that Detroit had a professional indoor soccer team, did you?
Comerica Park has been open for 18 years now but just ask any Tigers fan….while we have definitely grown to love it, the sting of closing and then demolishing Tiger stadium still cuts deep. When they announced that one of the oldest franchises in baseball and the Old English D would be moving from the cozy corner of Michigan and Trumball to the shinier lights of Woodward Ave it was crushing, especially considering that we had been mediocre at best for the better part of a decade. This would only continue to be until the “Roar was Restored” during the unexpected and surprising World Series 2006 run.
There was nothing like walking up the series of ramps to sit in the nosebleeds, often in a cramped corner or behind a random pole all while having to literally peel your feet off of concrete that was had soaked up almost 100 years of spilled beer and pop, peanut shells, cracker jacks, and more. Or watching Cecil Fielder or any other great hitter crush a home run ball over the roof and into Trumball Ave. It just smelled and felt like the kind of place where you should be watching a baseball game. The only other place I’ve been that I can compare it to is Fenway Park which was built around the same time.
The same could be said for the Joe even though it was built almost 70 years later and only lasted about 40 years. It had an atmosphere made for watching both hockey pucks and Octopus fly.
I guess the only exception might be the Lions….but isn’t that the moral of the story of being a Lions fan? No one was sad to see the Silverdome go. Even the Silverdome itself didn’t want to go. Ford Field is HUGE step up! That’s probably one of the biggest wins the Lions have had since 1957.
Life has a funny way of throwing us curveballs when we least expect it. Lately, I’ve thought a lot about what it could mean to go home again. I think at some point in all of our lives our definitions of home changes. It might be due to an actual location change or even just a mental one, often times it’s a combination of both.
The physical confines of my childhood sports homes may be gone now, but the mental part will live on through me and others for a long time to come. Although we may miss the places that gave birth to our initial fandom it’s also exciting to know how many more memories will be made in these new homes for not only us but for generations to come. My Tiger Stadium will be their Comerica Park, Little Caesars will be their Joe or Palace, etc.
The structure may change, but the spirit lives on.
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