On a bleak January evening in 2002, two ambitious 18-year olds on winter break from college sprawled a U.S. map across a Cape Cod living room floor, sifted through a stack of ink-splotched MLB team schedules, and plotted a summer road trip for the ages: eleven games in eleven different ballparks in nine cities over ten days.
Over the last twelve summers, I’ve chipped away at my goal of seeing a home game in all 30 MLB cities. At press time, only one remains: Minneapolis. Today we look at Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers.
My friend Will and I suspected Detroit wasn’t going to be one of the highlights of our road trip, so we milked our time in Chicago beforehand and planned to head to Cleveland following the Tuesday night Tigers-Royals tilt. Other than Comerica, there was one place we needed to see: the old Tiger Stadium at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull.
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From where we parked near the new stadium, it was something like a 22-block walk. On the way, admidst the brownfields and abandoned buildings, I observed 14 real, living, breathing people. I honestly took a count. It was bizarre.
The old ball yard stood before us like a sleeping giant — the home to nearly 90 years of baseball just waiting to heave open its gates so fans could come back for one more summer. But inside, we knew weeds were growing.
We moved on, quietly through the Detroit streets as game time approached and fans filtered into the new stadium, adorned by giant tiger statues on both sides of the entrance. The outfield concourse featured statues of Tiger greats. It was spacious, it was polished, it featured an old-school dirt path between the pitcher’s mound and home plate and yet, nobody was there. The Tigers were in the midst of a 106-loss campaign (they followed that up with 113 defeats in 2003) playing a similarly depressing opponent on a weeknight. The announced attendance eclipsed 14,000, but it was probably a third of that.
The first half-dozen years at Comerica Park were tough on Tigers fans. The debut season featured a well-documented power outage due to the new park’s dimensions as blockbuster acquisition Juan Gonzalez slumped to 22 homers, then skipped town to join the Cleveland Indians. The Tigers made a series of poor veteran signings in the early 2000s and relied on a juvenile pitching staff that lost games in bunches (and none of whom remain in MLB).
Of course, the Tigers signed Ivan Rodriguez and Magglio Ordonez in 2005, put Jim Leyland at the helm in 2006 and went all the way to the World Series. Owner Mike Ilitch continues to pour out his pizza money every year to field a contender, and while the Tigers haven’t yet won a World Series, they’re in the picture every year.
And beautiful 14-year old Comerica Park is filled with fans.