2016 Hilda Award Recipient: Tom Derry

Hilda Chester painting, "Fan Attic Brand" by artist Ben Sakoguchi, in the collection of the Baseball Reliquary.

Hilda Chester painting, “Fan Attic Brand” by artist Ben Sakoguchi, in the collection of the Baseball Reliquary.

The Board of Directors of the Baseball Reliquary is pleased to announce that Tom Derry has been selected as the recipient of the 2016 Hilda Award.  The award will be formally presented at the Shrine of the Eternals Induction Day on Sunday, July 17, 2016, beginning at 2:00 p.m., at the Donald R. Wright Auditorium in the Pasadena Central Library, Pasadena, California.  The festivities will also include the presentation of the 2016 Tony Salin Memorial Award and the induction of the 2016 class of electees to the Baseball Reliquary’s Shrine of the Eternals: Don Newcombe, Bo Jackson, and Arnold Hano.

Established in 2001 in memory of Hilda Chester, the legendary Brooklyn Dodgers fan, the Hilda Award recognizes distinguished service to the game by a baseball fan.  To Baseball Reliquarians, the award is comparable to the Oscar or Emmy: it acknowledges the devotion and passion of baseball fans, and the many ways in which they exhibit their love affair with the national pastime.

Tom Derry with his John Deere mower at the site of Tiger Stadium. In the distance is the 125-foot-tall flagpole that towered above center field.

Tom Derry with his John Deere mower at the site of Tiger Stadium. In the distance is the 125-foot-tall flagpole that towered above center field.

The 2016 Hilda recipient, TOM DERRY is founder of the Navin Field Grounds Crew, an all-volunteer group which has, since 2010, preserved and maintained the historic Tiger Stadium baseball diamond in Detroit, transforming a demolished local landmark, neglected by the city, into a baseball mecca.  (Originally known as Navin Field, the site was later renamed Briggs Stadium, and finally Tiger Stadium.) “The field means so much to so many people,” Derry said.  “When we took over that field, the weeds were six and eight feet tall and there was trash everywhere.  We turned a trash dump into a field of dreams.”

In fact, for the last six years, Derry and his crew have tended to the nine-acre field at the intersection of Michigan and Trumbull, where baseball has been played for more than a century, even amid threats early on of arrest for trespassing on the city-owned property.  The same field where Babe Ruth hit his 700th home run in 1934, where Denny McLain won his 30th game in 1968, where Kirk Gibson’s dramatic home run capped the 1984 World Series, has become a pilgrimage for thousands of baseball fans from all across the nation.  The same field that witnessed the exploits of Motor City baseball legends such as Ty Cobb, Hank Greenberg, Al Kaline, Willie Horton, Hal Newhouser, Dizzy Trout, Mickey Lolich, and Mark “The Bird” Fidrych has, since 2010, been home to Little League and pickup games of all kinds, as well as a site for scattering the ashes of loved ones and for wedding ceremonies; in fact, Derry himself married Navin Field Grounds Crew member Sarah Aittama at home plate in August 2014.  Writing about the work of the Navin Field Grounds Crew for Rolling Stone in 2014, Dan Epstein commented, “Their efforts testify to the deep emotional connection that so many Detroiters still feel to this spot – it’s hard to imagine the sleek and corporate Comerica Park ever engendering a similar degree of affection – and by clearing away the weeds, the garbage and the rubble, the NFGC has enabled the ghosts and vibrations of the now-vanished ballpark to return.”

Tom Derry 6

In recent months, the Detroit Police Athletic League has taken over the site and plans to maintain much of the historic playing field for youth baseball.  “We’ve had a great run here,” Derry said.  “We knew it wouldn’t last forever.  We’ve been honored to be the contemporary caretakers of that field.”  Their grassroots urban renewal project did not go unnoticed.  The Navin Field Grounds Crew was the subject of a 2014 documentary, Stealing Home, and the group was recently honored at home plate with the “Spirit of Detroit” award, one of the highest recognitions in Detroit.  For more information, visit the Navin Field Grounds Crew blog at http://navinfieldgroundscrew.blogspot.com/.

The amazing Derry also has a unique wintertime obsession.  A huge Babe Ruth aficionado, he has, for 29 consecutive years, hosted a birthday party for the Bambino on the first Saturday in February.  In the inaugural bash for the Babe in 1988, a few of Derry’s friends showed up.  In the ensuing years, the event has become a major happening, with a thousand Ruthian rooters from all over the country packed into Nemo’s Bar in Detroit’s Corktown for this year’s celebration.  Derry spends two weeks prepping for the ultimate hot-stove league party, decorating every inch of the bar, from floor to ceiling, with thousands of Ruthian pictures, posters, and items of memorabilia.  A thousand balloons line the ceiling, with plenty of hot dogs and beer flowing all night – just the way the Babe would want to be remembered!

Tom Derry, a postal worker who lives in Redford Township, Michigan, will attend the Shrine of the Eternals 2016 Induction Day in Pasadena, California, along with his wife Sarah, to personally accept the Hilda Award.  Join the Baseball Reliquary in celebrating the dedication and labors of love of one of the game’s greatest fans.

Sarah and Tom Derry were married at home plate at the site of Tiger Stadium, August 2014.


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