Tom Stanton, a New Baltimore journalist, gets a lot done in this slim volume, which is partly a diary of Tiger Stadium’s farewell year; Stanton attended all 81 games there in 1999. It’s also a memoir, tracing four generations of his family, separated by time, geography and emotion but tied together, however faintly, by the love of a kids’ game played by grown men. Grounded in memories of the home of the grandfather who died before Stanton was born, Stanton hatches a scheme to reunite his dad and his surviving uncles with a trip to the ballpark. It won’t be easy: One has only seen the family twice in 27 years, though he still lives in the Detroit area; another disappeared years ago and might be living in Asia; a third is too ill to travel from California.
In addition, the book is a character study of Stanton’s boyhood heroes. Some, like Ernie Harwell, turn out to be more than worthy of his admiration; others, including players and the journalist who inspired Stanton to become a writer, fall short of the mark.
Along the way, we meet a fan who may have the world’s largest collection of Norm Cash memorabilia. Another fan vows to hide out and spend a night in the stadium. Vendors, parking-lot attendants, elevator operators and others who drew subsistence from the stadium and its neighborhood also weigh in, all sharing their stories with grace and grit.
Grandpa’s house is now (in fine Motor City tradition) a vacant lot. The stadium is in disuse. The reunion doesn’t come off quite as hoped. The team still stinks. Doesn’t matter. The Final Season is a warm and compelling read for lovers of our town’s history, its sports teams or of baseball’s most famous address. Evoking the time when all you needed was the game, a place to watch it and maybe a beer, it casts a long shadow over Ferris wheels, carousels, bobble-head dolls and all the other nonsense that distracts from the most important stuff, the stuff happening on the field.
Vic Doucette is the copy editor at Metro Times. E-mail him at email@example.com.