Monday, April 2, 2007

Reflections on Detroit Tigers Opening Day 2007

I love Opening Day. It may be my favorite day of the year. Yes, the Detroit Tigers lost this afternoon (5-3 in 10 innings to the Toronto Blue Jays). And Yes, I'm very much sunburned right now after sitting in the stands with the sun on me for all of those 10 innings. But, even with the loss, and the burns, it was still the perfect day. 65-degrees, sunny, not a cloud in the sky, and 40,000+ fans and thousands more in the bars and restaurants surrounding the stadium. It was a sight to see, and anyone who questions whether the city of Detroit can turn things around need look no further than the stadium district this afternoon. Yes, it was a small area but it in many ways can be an example of what is to come in other parts of the city. And it was a great, great afternoon.

Comerica Park is just some much more alive when its packed and the fans are into the game, yelling and waiving their rally towels, and booing Neifi Perez (and Kwame Kilpatrick, the Mayor of Detroit who threw out the first pitch to a chorus of boos). I remember when the Tigers were in the basement of American League and the stadium was half full or worse on a regular basis, and while games were fun go to, there was something missing. Then we had the magical season of 2006 and a generation of fans who had seen nothing but last-placed teams quickly learned why Detroit is one of the best baseball towns in America. And today, with the weather as perfect as anywhere on the planet, as the Tigers raised their 2006 American League Championship banner up the flagpole, baseball was very much back in the city of Detroit.

And the stadium and surrounding area was more than just alive. I arrived downtown almost an hour and a half before the game started and the area around the stadium was already packed. Tons of people at Chelli's Chili Bar and standing near the numerous local radio stations which were broadcasting live from near the stadium. But, even with the influx of people, it was all convenient. Even when my normal parking lot was full (at 11:30 no less for a 1:00 game) there was ample parking down the street in a city of Detroit municipal lot. And inside the stadium, plenty of vendors and no lines to get my Leo's Coney Island for lunch or my Frozen Pepsi from the Little Ceasers stand. My only complaint is that the Frozen Pepsi's went up in price from an already inflated $3.50 to a ridiculous $4.00. But, I paid it anyway, even though I could get a Slurpee twice the size for $1.50 at 7-11. Oh well, it's stadium pricing, and I couldn't go to Opening Day without a Frozen Pepsi.

As for the game itself, yes, we lost, but the game was still entertaining, and the Tigers showed the flashes which will make them a World Series contender this year. Starter Jeremy Bonderman struggled early, giving up three runs in the first inning (which is a problem to look out for -- He seemed to struggle in the first inning of games last year too) but then settled down, and didn't give up another run. And seeing Bonderman pitch held extra significance. I remember seeing Bonderman's first professional outing, April 2nd, 2003 against the Minnesota Twins. The Tigers had just acquired the young right-hander from Oakland, and I convinced my buddy and fellow Tigers fan Ethan to drive down to Comerica Park from Ann Arbor to see the young phenom throw his first professional game. I had a feeling we were going to want to say one day that we saw that debut. (I almost did the same for Justin Verlander when he was called up on July 4, 2005 to start in Clevleland against the Indians, but couldn't pull the trigger on driving down to Cleveland. I sort of regret that now.)

And the Tigers offense battled hard against former Cy Young award winner Roy Halladay, clawing out three runs to tie the game, two on sacrifice flys by the newest Tiger bat, Gary Sheffield. And while Fernando Rodney struggled in the 10th inning, loading the bases and eventually allowing the game winning runs, Joel Zumaya looked good (as always) and hit 100 miles-per-hour on his second pitch of the game.

I can't wait to get back to Comerica Park. I've already bought 12 games with some friends and I'll probably attend a few more on top of that. Baseball is back in Detroit and its just so much better to go to a full stadium with interested fans who are cheering for their hometown team. If the games are anything like today for Opening Day, and I have no reason to believe they won't, then there's nothing better in the summer than heading down to Comerica Park to watch the Tigers.

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