Built in 1966, Joker Marchant Stadium is one of the oldest parks in the grapefruit league. Yet after 52 years it remains one of the most beloved and it continues to be a friendly stadium for all fans. It’s 2016 renovation has made the park more accessible for people with disabilities to enjoy spring training.
Les Garlock and his wife, Sue, have two of the most specialized jobs at Joker Marchant. Les seats handicapped guests in the upper deck, while Sue assists near the first aid station.
The pair make the trek down from snowy Michigan every December for the spring break season. The Dewitt native has served as an usher at Publix Field’s upper handicapped section for the past several years and has been a Tigers fan since his first birthday.
The office decided to move Garlock from the gate to the upper deck, not understanding the change, as he was one of the most upbeat ushers.
One day after the move, a coworker asked him to take special care of a visitor. It was Melanie, a schoolteacher with cancer who was watching the game with her parents. Les was entrusted with making sure she took breaks from the sun periodically and was struck by her genuine nature.
She was not looking for sympathy, he said. She simply wanted to take in a baseball game.
“I went home and told my wife, ‘I know why I was moved up here’.”
Garlock didn’t see the teacher for many years after her family stopped purchasing season tickets. Much to his surprise, last year he was tapped on the shoulder.
It was Melanie.
The two embraced and took in how incredible, yet normal it was to be back at a game so many years later.
“And then she said ‘well, can you help me find my seat?”
Serving disabled guests for the past several years, Garlock is proud that the new facilities make the stadium much more fan friendly, the renovations have especially for disabled Tigers fans, he said. The new improvements include seats for wheelchair companions, additional elevators and increased space to accommodate for wider wheelchairs.
Garlock is especially proud of the renovations made to Marchant in 2016. The Tigers’ spring home underwent a $48 million revamp that included a new clubhouse, additional covered seating and an extension of the safety netting, Garick said.
The fixes seem minute, Garlock explains. However, the simple addition of an extra elevator has allowed disabled fans to exit the park much more quickly.
The usher has seen the stadium drastically improve in his nine seasons working there. The field continues to improve as it is finely tuned in its second season following the renovation.
In addition to making the stadium more handicap accessible, the 2016 upgrade increased the stadium’s workload by 30 jobs. Garlock’s favorite recruit would have to be his wife.
“They give you a call in January to ask you if you’re coming back and they told me to bring her down,” he said.
Garlock was elated.
While the fans Garlock’s section are fruitful in conversation, having his wife working down the stairs has brought a new enjoyment to the experience.
Garlock’s new highlight of his days at the park is close to his heart: “seeing her sneak around the corner and wave at me.”