Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet—it’s one of the most iconic taglines in the history of automotive advertising. The TV commercials with this jingle were both popular and award-winning. The campaign was so successful Chevy used it from 1975 to 1978. Like “See The USA In Your Chevrolet” from the 1950s and ’60s, generations of enthusiasts can still sing along to it decades after the commercials disappeared from the airwaves.
Is it karma or just destiny that I love all four of the elements touted in the song? As my waistline would indicate, I love a good hot dog and warm apple pie. I memorize opening day of the baseball season with a zeal that should probably be reserved for my wedding anniversary. As for the Chevrolet part, well, there’s no denying my love affair with the Bow Tie. I’ve owned plenty of them, gone into hock for quite a few, and let my passion for them dictate a few serious life decisions.
Before the 2013 baseball season started, I had seen major league games in no less than 32 stadiums—yes, that’s two more than there are actual teams—and my goal is ultimately to go to them all. Many of my all-time favorites are gone (Tiger Stadium, Shea Stadium, and Memorial Stadium among them), but some of the new ones are every bit their equal—or better (Baltimore’s Camden Yards tops this list). I’ve been to All-Star games, pennant clinchers and World Series’ tilts, plus hundreds of regular season offerings from coast to coast and from San Diego to Montreal.
My 14-year-old son, Sam, has the same affinity for baseball I do, and he’s getting sucked into automotive addiction as he gets closer to his driver’s license. Earlier this year, I knocked Marlins Park in Miami and the new Busch Stadium in St. Louis off my list, bringing the total to 34. As the summer drew to a close, I noticed on a map that if you start in Detroit and head south on I-75, there are no less than four major league parks between there and Tampa/St. Pete: Comerica Park in Detroit, Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, Turner Field in Atlanta, and Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. With the mid-August introduction of the ’14 Corvette just a week away in Monterey, California, Sam noticed that if we started in Detroit on Labor Day weekend, we could knock off a game in each park (and he’d only miss one day of school).
Given the potential father-son bonding experience and my scheming to score us a C7, I couldn’t wait to pitch the concept to the powers that be at General Motors. My contact at Chevrolet loved the idea, but didn’t have a ’14 Vette that needed to be in South Florida just yet. “What about a 2014 Camaro ZL1 convertible?”
Does a bear shift in the woods? Detroit, here we come!
Days 1 & 2: Detroit
Once we landed in the Motor City, I made a call and quicker than you could say “Al Kaline” our chariot appeared curbside at the airport. Covered in sinister Ashen Gray paint with a charcoal black interior and black top, it burbled through the dual mode exhaust, which is open when the car is idling. Inside, we were greeted by an odometer that read a hair over 400 miles and an automatic transmission with Tap Shift function. Sam had a look in his eyes that only a teenage boy could muster, but I can’t say mine was much different.
It was early when we checked into our hotel and our first game (Indians-Tigers) didn’t start for a few hours, so there was only one thing to do: Make a pilgrimage to the former site of Tiger Stadium. Sam was not ready for the devastation that is much of Detroit. Abandoned buildings, empty lots where businesses used to stand, potholes the size of swimming pools. It was depressing.
“It’s worse than I thought it would be,” Sam said. “It’s really sad.”
Still, a group of volunteers comes to the corner of Michigan and Trumbull to tend what used to be the field in one of baseball’s original cathedrals. You can dig in at home plate and fantasize you are Ty Cobb. The flagpole still flies Old Glory in deep centerfield and the Olde English “D” is painted (and maintained) in the outfield grass. There’s one gate still standing and one other good omen: The old “Corktown” neighborhood is seeing signs of renovation—baby steps perhaps, but steps forward nonetheless.
After watching the Tigers crush the Indians 10-5 Saturday night, we were up early the next morning to meet photographer (and native Detroiter) Mike Y. He positioned the car in some great locations—as you can see from the photos. While I wondered aloud if we could shoot in certain places sans permits and Sam was shocked by our guerilla tactics, Mike assured me, “As long as there’s not a dead body or gunshots involved, the cops pretty much look the other way. They’ve got too much else on their plates.”
Sam and I were then off to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn. The neighboring town might be home to Brand X and the name of the museum might suggest otherwise, but this is a can’t-miss place if you’re in the area. Where else can you sit in the Rosa Parks bus and see the chair in which Abraham Lincoln was sitting when he was assassinated? It’s got locomotives, steam engines, and a DC3 hanging from the ceiling, not to mention some of the most amazing automobiles—of all makes, including Chevrolets—ever made.
Next up: Cincinnati. The state police in Ohio keep check on speeders with what can only be described as religious zeal, ergo we never ventured far from the posted limit on I-75. Maybe it was the holiday weekend, but they were picking off motorists left and right. Glad I wasn’t one of them.
As we approached the Queen City, we saw exit signs for the town of Norwood. This used to be a Chevy town. Millions of GM’s finest rolled off the assembly line at the Norwood Assembly Plant from 1923-1987, everything from brass era cars to Impalas to Novas and Camaros. The legacy of this plant is complex. For some it was a sign of the greatness of GM; for others it will be forever stigmatized by labor troubles that at one point led to the destruction of 1,100 partially finished ’72 Camaros, abandoned by striking workers. By the time the strike was over, the cars had to be crushed because they could not be turned into ‘73s.
That enormous facility (which also included a Fisher Body plant) is all but gone today. I did some Internet research, but it seems like there’s little left but a loading ramp and a couple of parking garages that are now part of an office complex.
We can say this about the ZL1: Top up or down, it’s a spectacular highway cruiser. Keep the adjustable suspension in the Tour mode and the shifter in “D” and it’s as comfy as a Cadillac CTS. Punch the throttle, however, and it knocks you back in the spectacular sport bucket seats. Lift and it goes back to something your grandmother could drive. When you find a road you like, however, twist the knob to Sport and pull the shifter into the Manual mode. Then the ZL1’s true personality emerges: Rock and roll animal. Its tires claw at the road while the 580-horse LSA tries to turn the expensive Goodyear Supercar tires into clouds of acrid smoke. We learned more about the car’s Mr. Hyde personality after Monday’s game at Great American Ballpark. It was an epic NL Central fight between two playoff-bound rivals, with the Reds getting the edge on this Labor Day, 7-2.