By Raymond Rolak
It is a family affair for Wally and JoAnne Ozog. We are talking about the administration of the Polish American Heritage Night at Comerica Park. This year’s game is the 50th anniversary of the annual event and the opponent is the
New York Yankees. Son Christopher acted as the Editor and Publisher of the commemorative program which is available for $25. The Polish Roman Catholic Union, a fraternal insurance and investment company headquartered in Chicago also supports the dance troupes that regularly entertain during pre-game activities of the event. It is an accomplishment at 104 pages.
The first event was in 1971 and was the idea of Ed Browalski and Leon Zarski. Browalski was the Sports Editor of DZIENNIK-POLSKI in Detroit and was also the official scorer for the Detroit Tigers. First game festivities at old Tiger Stadium included dancers, music, floats, baseball players from the Industrial League and a color guard.
In 1973 Mayor Roman Gribbs contributed some City of Detroit energy to the event and urged Tigers General Manager Jim Campbell to expand the celebration. Campbell designated a committee headed by Hal Middlesworth. Also on the committee was Ed Katalinas, John Skurski, Vince Desmond, Stan Stempien, Johnny Lipon, Stan Drall, Bill Bridenstine, Ted Klamaras, Peter C. Harlow and Commander Eugene Ziolkowski of the 6th Precinct (McGraw Station). In 1976, a dinner banquet to help fund the activities was held at Holy Cross Knights of Columbus Council and honored longtime Tiger player and coach, Dick Tracewski. It was standing-room-only event.
The celebration expanded and now included the inductees of the newly formed National Polish American Sports Hall of Fame. Eventually after about 20 years the Hall of Fame broke away because of conflicting dates.
Currently, throughout Major League and Minor League Baseball ethnic promotional nights are very popular. Detroit was the first and the template is now copied globally.
Brian Malski, a perennial supporter of the Friends of Polish Art is slated to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. The National Polish American Sports Hall of Fame will have a display on the concourse. The Polish and American National Anthems will be sung by Robert Szczublewski who hails from Toledo, Ohio. Since 1995 “PAWS”, the Detroit Tiger mascot, has been a popular photo-opportunity in his authentic Krakovian style folk dress. Everyone is Polish on this special night hosted by the Detroit Tigers and supported by many Polish-American fraternal organizations
Ryan Ozog was the chosen winner of the 50th Anniversary of the Polish American Heritage Night Art Contest.
Souvenir tee-shirts and the souvenir program book can be purchased from the Ozog’s for $25 each at:
St. Stan’s Scholarship Fund
Warren, MI 48092