FJA Baseball Players
Left: FJA third baseman Ethan Baker snares a ground ball hit by a Cristo Rey batter with his bare hand. Right: FJA’s Ari Michaels fouls off a Cristo Rey pitch. (Brian Sevald)

Frankel Jewish Academy baseball team plays at historic site of Tiger Stadium.

They weren’t born in 1999, when the Detroit Tigers played their final game at Tiger Stadium after calling the iconic ballpark home since 1912.

But the 14 players on the Frankel Jewish Academy baseball team experienced the aura of the magical place at Michigan and Trumbull on a warm spring afternoon and evening April 27 when they faced Detroit Cristo Rey at The Corner Ballpark, where Tiger Stadium once stood.

The Jaguars were swept in the Catholic League doubleheader at the Willie Horton Field of Dreams.

They fell 11-9 in the first game despite coming from behind several times. Cristo Rey won the nightcap 22-5 as FJA ran out of pitching.

The scores really didn’t matter.

“After the second game, under the lights there, we gathered as a team and I told the guys to take it all in, take a breath,” said FJA coach Joe Bernstein.

“I think their parents were more excited about being where Tiger Stadium once was than they were.

“So I told the guys they just played where Ty Cobb and Hank Greenberg played. Where the Tigers won the final game of the 1984 World Series. Who else can say that?

“For me, it was great seeing people who live in the apartments down the right field line watch us play from their patios. There they were. Spending their afternoon watching Frankel Jewish Academy play Cristo Rey in a high school baseball game.”

Junior Benji Schmeltz pitched and played shortstop for the Jaguars during the doubleheader. Junior Daniel Bernstein, the coach’s son. played first base for FJA.

Not surprisingly, the teens were more impressed with the ambiance of The Corner Ballpark — the turf, below-field-level dugouts and views of the city — than the history of the site.

“It was so different than any high school field I’ve played on,” Schmeltz said.

“It was cool seeing Downtown Detroit all around us. I also liked the dugouts. You only see those kind of dugouts at a major league or collegiate stadium.”

Daniel Bernstein’s biggest memory from the day was when the FJA team first took the field after arriving The Corner Ballpark quite a while before game time.

“It was great soaking it all in,” he said.

Joe Bernstein isn’t a native Detroiter. He’s from St. Louis. He made just one trip to Tiger Stadium before it was shut down in 1999 and demolished in 2009.

That was in 1995, when he and his wife were visiting his wife’s family.

He doesn’t remember the game, but he does remember, like many Detroiters, “walking across the bridge over the freeway to get to the stadium, and my feet sticking to the ground at our seats.”

FJA was supposed to play Cristo Rey last spring at The Corner Ballpark, which opened in 2018, is home to Detroit Police Athletic League teams, and next to the PAL headquarters.

But spring high school sports were canceled by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the MHSAA because of the COVID-19 pandemic, wiping out the Jaguars’ first game at The Corner Ballpark and Bernstein’s first season as FJA’s coach.

“Getting to play there [last month] was Cristo Rey’s doing. We’re very thankful to them,” Joe Bernstein said.

“We hope we can play there again, maybe as the home team. We don’t have a home field. We’re always searching for a place to play our home games.”

While there are 14 players on the FJA roster, only 12 played in the doubleheader vs. Cristo Rey because two players were injured.

This is a young Jaguars team, with only two seniors and two juniors, and the rest sophomores and freshmen.

Ari Partrich, one of the seniors, had two hits in the first game against Cristo Rey. So did Schmeltz. Freshman Ryan Schmeltz pitched four strong innings.

The Jaguars won their first game in two years May 3, beating Royal Oak Shrine 17-11 to improve their season record to 1-3.

“We’re building our program the right way. We’re not taking shortcuts,” Joe Bernstein said. “I’m seeing leadership starting to emerge, which is important.” 

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