CLOSE

Swapping his guitar for a bat and mitt, Jack White singled in his first at-bat and ultimately led his team to a 17-5 victory in a homecoming baseball game Thursday afternoon.

But the day’s real winner was Hamtramck Stadium, the 89-year-old facility that’s getting a face-lift thanks to efforts by White and a contingent of town locals.

The Dan Street site is among the few remaining Negro League ballparks in the country, and was home to the Detroit Stars in the early 1930s. White’s $10,000 donation in the spring kick-started a fundraising campaign that ultimately netted more than $115,000.

“As things are getting better with the new renaissance of the city, things like this are going to be more and more possible,” White said of the restoration, which will start in August.

Several hundred onlookers gathered on a festive, sunny afternoon as White and company — including musical pals Brendan Benson and Dean Fertita — played a team that included many Hamtramck residents. The rocker’s squad sported gold uniforms emblazoned with the name of Warstic, his baseball-bat company, and every player wore the number 3, a nod to his Third Man Records.

Looking on were his Raconteurs band mates Patrick Keeler and Jack Lawrence, as the group gears up for its North American tour kickoff this weekend at the Masonic Temple Theatre.

White sipped Labatt Blue Light between innings and at one point asked his crew to turn up the volume on the soul tunes that filled the ballpark during play. The lifelong baseball fan. who has also helped restore the diamonds at his childhood Clark Park, looked solid as he manned first base, though he did strike out swinging in the fifth inning.

His Warstic partner, former college baseball player Ben Jenkins, said the team has played at least 10 games around the country, and hasn’t lost yet. The players try not to run up the score on the local teams they encounter, he said — though certain teammates can’t help being competitive.

“I’m totally fine with losing. He’s not,” Jenkins said, gesturing at White.

Still, the game was more Harlem Globetrotters exhibition than World Series final — loose enough that White’s 88-year-old mom, the 4-foot-something Teresa Gillis, stepped up to the plate in the eighth inning. Taking a short pitch, she got contact on her first swing, making her way to first base with a helpful nudge from her son.

The day also featured appearances by former Negro League player Ron Teasley, who threw the first pitch, and the daughters of late Stars centerfielder Turkey Stearnes, who performed a sweetly harmonized rendition of the national anthem. 

Before the game, White was presented a ball signed by late Stars hall-of-famer Ray Dandridge.

“If we were doing this event by ourselves, we’d have 30 people here,” said Gary Gillette, founder of the Friends of Hamtramck Stadium. “Now we’ll get coverage in all sorts of places.”

White’s relationship with the ballpark goes back decades — even if he wasn’t always aware of its historic status. Working in a nearby upholstery shop in his pre-White Stripes days, White would drop by on lunch breaks.

“I didn’t know it was an old stadium. I didn’t know anything about it,” he said. “I just always loved to come over here and eat lunch by myself in the stands.”

Years later, he was reading up on Negro League history.

“I saw a picture — ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe that’s the same park,'” he said.

White soon discovered the preservation campaign by Gillette and others.

“I immediately wanted to donate,” he said. “I decided to split it off: Donate a little bit (of money), then donate some time and get more people involved. It’s better to get more people who can spread the word, and let everyone be involved in the comeback.”

For now, funds will be used to restore the field and playing surface. Eventually, White said, the hope is to renovate and expand the spectator stands while adding bathrooms, concession areas and a homerun fence — though that price tag will be in the seven figures. 

Hamtramck Stadium may not be the last of White’s hometown ball field renewal projects. Driving to Thursday’s game, he passed the abandoned Kettering High School.

“I wish we could save that one too,” he said. “They’re all just beautiful places where people grew up and had their amazing childhood moments.”

White, who moved to Nashville in 2005 but regularly makes his way home, said such projects are easier to pull off now that Detroit’s revival momentum is rolling.

“When the city’s coming back the way it is now, the infrastructure starts happening, the roads get paved, the parks get cleaned up, and then everything starts to fall in line after that,” he said. “I think (Detroit has) learned the lesson after decades of scaring people from living in the city. It’s open season for people to invest, and not just in real estate to make a profit.”

Contact Detroit Free Press music writer Brian McCollum: 313-223-4450 or [email protected]

Read or Share this story: https://www.freep.com/story/entertainment/music/brian-mccollum/2019/07/11/jack-white-baseball-game-hamtramck-negro-leagues/1707466001/

https://www.freep.com/story/entertainment/music/brian-mccollum/2019/07/11/jack-white-baseball-game-hamtramck-negro-leagues/1707466001/

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This