I’ve been to 26 of the 30 Major League ballparks. Actually, its 30, but I stick with 26 because the number of newer parks have skewed the total. For example, I count Qualcomm Stadium for San Diego, when I was out there Petco was not yet built. Same goes for Target Field in Minnesota as I went to a game in the Metrodome.
Until Sunday, only Three Rivers Stadium/PNC Park, RFK Stadium/Nationals Park and Cleveland Municipal Stadium/Progressive Field were the only places I have doubled up.
I have just added Comerica Park to that list.
My family and I visited old Tiger Stadium in the summer of 1999 to see it before the Tigers played their final game at “the corner.” My buddy Andrew and I spent our long weekend trekking up to Detroit to catch Tigers-Red Sox. Just less than four hours away from Youngstown, OH, we acted on our tingling baseball impulses to make Memorial Day a true American holiday celebrating the nation’s pastime.
We did so with the entire Tigers organization.
We stopped in Toledo to check out Fifth-Third Field, home of the Mudhens. The Triple A affiliate of the Tigers were indeed playing Saturday night, but had the misfortune of being rained out. Lucky for us, that meant we could still check out the ballpark free of charge.
Their team shop is major league-esque with thousands of items and many varieties of hats, t-shirts, jackets, jerseys and plenty of other novelties. We each bought pennants to commemorate our stop.
More commemoration came the next day. We spent the night in Dearborn, refreshed to wake up early for the Tigers-Red Sox doubleheader because they too were rained out the night before.
Our first destination was at Trumbull and Michigan Ave, the spot of old Tiger Stadium. Through the hard scrabble streets of uptown Detroit lies a baseball mecca field with history of a proud past. While the walls, seats and infrastructure of the stadium are torn down, the field of Ty Cobb, Al Kaline, Jack Morris and Alan Trammell still remain.
In straightaway Centerfield, the historic flagpole still stands as well as Plaza Gate Four, right down the first base side. The grass and field is in horrible shape and looks like a swamp from the Florida Everglades, but the spirit is still palpable. Now called Ernie Harwell Park, let’s hope it can be restored to some form of decency. It’s what the legends would have wanted.
We had some time to kill before the 1:00 clock start, actually make that 11:30 gate opening because we’re big fans of making it to any game as soon as humanly possible. In the meantime, we meandered around the dead city. It was a Sunday morning, after all. We stopped in a souvineer store to pick up some Tigers gear for the day and had breakfast at Cheli’s Chili, pictured above. Best Chili I think I’ve ever had. The bar has a hockey atmosphere with former red Wing great Chris Chelios as the owner. Detroit is known as HOCKEYTOWN, but I think it’s sports are centered around the Tigers. Some locals agreed with me, other argued for the sport on ice.
The outside of Tiger Stadium is like a wildlife reserve. Humongous tigers line the outside of the stadium hanging from the walls and cemented in the ground.
The energy surrounding the stadium was great. There were long lines at every gate to get in once 11 o’clock rolled around. It was a great day for baseball as a doubleheader was forthcoming, the Tigers are right in the thick of things in the AL Central if the surprising Indians tail off and the Red Sox always bring a crowd. 36,000 plus were on hand to see the first ballgame. An announced corwd of over 39,000 were said to be at the second game, but it was a far cry from that. The night before, the rain out, had a big, dissapointed crowd, but their tickets were obviously good for the makeup game.
The palpable atmosphere of outside spills through the gates along with the throng of people.
It’s a carnival scene and the ferris wheel and carousel prove that. On top of that, there are many speed pitch, batting cage and tee ball stations set up around the ballpark to appease children of all ages. The monument park in left-center field is also a drawing point with statues honoring all of the retired numbers of great Tiger players. Harwell also has a rightfully deserved statue greeting fans at one of the gates.
Concessions stand lines are never a problem as there are plenty to serve at every corner. The concourses are indeed alive with so much to see and do.
On the field is a different story, though.
The scoreboard was messed up throughout Game 1, it was fixed for Game 2, but it diverted attention and provided no stats, facts or numbers for any batter. Between innings, its lack of information hurt as well. Also, it is the most dead between innings compared to any baseball game I’ve been to. No on the field contests, games, t-shirt or hot dog tosses, either. There is no in-game host to rally fans or create a fun time when the game is not being played. Now, I know the Pirates are notorious minor-league type gimmicks, many other teams do it as well, but they are done professionally and are quite entertaining. The Tigers did nothing of the sort to get fans involved.
However, the game was entertaining enough. Knotted up at 3-3 in the top of the 9th, David Ortiz come out of the dugout, pinch hitting, and blasts a solo home run off closer Jose Valverde to give Boston the 4-3 lead.
Jonathon Papelbon came in for the save.
As it was a day-night double header we had to clear the park in preparation for the second tilt. The Tigers staff were very efficient in doing so, the weather wasn’t.
A 50 minute rain delay stalled the 7:05 start, but here it was worth the wait, too.
Justin Verlander and Josh Beckett squared off in the night cap. Hundreds of fans clamored toward the left field bullpens to catch a glimpse of their pre-game throwing sessions. It was a playoff feel as two of the leagues best righties went toe-to-toe. Beckett struggled, but Verlander pitched a gem of 7.2 scoreless innings.
All in all, it was great, somewhat spur of the moment weekend that Andrew and I won’t soon forget. Thanks for the memories, Detroit!