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FIELD TRIP OF DREAMS

AROUND THE MAJOR LEAGUES IN 49 DAYS


Comerica Park

Detroit, MI
Kansas City Royals at Detroit Tigers
July 26, 2003

By Ken Schlapp

This was certainly an interesting and eventful day and night.  I saw the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, returned to the United States, drove through the 48th state on my journey, went to both Detroit airports, met two friends, saw two stadiums, went to a casino and heard the commotion surrounding a Detroit hip-hop club until the wee hours.  Here are the details:

It all began early in the morning at the Renaissance Hotel in Toronto, which as you know is actually part of the Skydome.  I woke up, fell out of bed, dragged a comb across…no wait, I just got up and drove two hours to St Marys, Ontario to see the Canadian baseball Hall of Fame.  The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame was originally established in Toronto, but was moved to St Marys in 1994 and opened to the public in 1998.  St Marys is Canada’s attempt at creating Cooperstown, because it is located near Beachville, Ontario, where there are records of base ball games dating back to 1838, which is prior to the mythical baseball games in Cooperstown in 1839.  St Mary was chosen more specifically because St Mary’s Cement Company donated 32 acres of land to build the museum on this site.

To provide perspective on what the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame is about, I will quote the criteria for enshrinement that I found on their website:

-Must be a Canadian citizen
-If not a Canadian, must have done something significant for the game of baseball in Canada
-Player must be retired for 3 years
-Must receive 75% of the votes
-Can stay on the ballot for nine years as long as they receive at least one vote

Some of the players that have been enshrined here are Canadians like Fergie Jenkins, but many of the stars that I noticed fell into the starred in baseball while in Canada, such as Gary Carter, Jackie Robinson, Cito Gaston, Pat Gillick, and Joe Carter.  There was some controversy a few years ago when Pete Rose was up for consideration as a member for having briefly managed in Montreal, but that never came to fruition.  It would certainly be interesting if he had made it.  Like any other baseball museum, I was easily entrenched about reading about the history of baseball in Canada and looking at all the old pictures and equipment, but what really caught my attention, was Gordie Howe’s old baseball glove!  Baseball is my favorite sport, but I am an avid hockey fan as well, so seeing hockey’s immortal Howe’s glove here made it extra special to know he played baseball too.  It would be like a huge hockey fan in Canada finding Babe Ruth’s hockey stick.  Overall, I had a great time spending an hour or so going through the museum and walking a bit in this small town.  It was certainly worth the trip.

Now, I just had to worry about having as much trouble crossing the border into the US as I did when I crossed into Canada.  Although I did hit some traffic crossing the border at Sarnia, I had no trouble with border patrol this time and was on my way to Detroit fairly easily.  I would have a traveling partner the rest of the way (well almost at least, since I dropped him off at the airport in Pittsburg before my final 6-hour drive back to New York).  I had to pick up my friend Efrem Goldman, who would be joining me for the Tigers, Indians, and Pirates game, as well as my trips to Cooperstown and the Little League Museum, at the Detroit airport.  The Only problem that I had was that I printed directions to the Detroit City Airport, while Efrem was landing the Detroit Metro Airport, and Efrem is cell-phone phobic, so it was not easy to correct this situation.  Amazingly enough, as I was in the process of recalculating my way to the correct airport, Efrem called me from a pay phone, so I was able to tell him I was on my way.

Once I finally got to the correct airport, I was able to pick him up and head off to our first destination, which of course was Tiger Stadium.  This is one of the classic old stadiums still standing.  Unfortunately, it is no longer used, and I was not able to finagle my way into this one.  A few years prior to this I had to go to Anne Arbor for work-related training while the Tigers were still playing there, but our practice leader switched the training date from a day the Tigers were home to a day they were on the road, because he could not make the first date.  Of course, he did not show anyway, so I only had the chance to walk around the stadium without entering, just as I did today.  Unfortunately, the first time I was here it was 2 days before they started offering stadium tours, and this time the tours were a thing of the past.  The walk around, however, was interesting.

The Tigers played in Tiger Stadium from 1912 (the same year the Red Sox began playing at Fenway) until 1999, although it was called Navin field from 1912 to 1938, and Briggs Stadium from 1938 to 1960, in honor of the two owners during their reign.  The Detroit Lions also played football here from 1938 through 1974, before moving into their own stadium.  Tiger Stadium is located on the corner of Michigan Avenue and Trumball Street, and was often known simply as “the Corner”.  Today, this once bustling spot is now mostly deserted.  You can still see the Welcome to Tiger Stadium sign and signs for Tigers parking in the abandoned parking lots, but not much else.  The whole area just looks like a bunch of abandoned warehouses and stores.  It was truly sad to see.  The first time I came here, I walked all around the stadium and the surrounding area went from city buildings to shacks, so it was not a real uplifting place to be.  I could only imagine what it would have been like to see an actual game here.

After our Tiger Stadium excursion, we checked into the Shorecrest Motor Inn on E Jefferson Street near Comerica Park.  I was not all the familiar with Detroit prior to this visit and just wanted to find a place close to the stadium.  Let me just say that this turned out to be a very interesting part of town.  The room had two double beds, but we would actually need a third sleeping spot for my friend Nigel Daniels, who would be joining us for the game and night as well.  Unfortunately, they could not provide us with an extra cot, so we would have to figure something out later.  Nigel used to work with both Efrem and I at Segal, but was going to law school in Lansing, Michigan and was able to drive to Detroit to join us for the game.

After checking in, we drove to Comerica Park, where I took Efrem through my traditional game rituals, which always starts with a walk around the stadium.  The feel and atmosphere around this Comerica Park is light years more positive than what is left of the Tiger Stadium neighborhood.  It is right next to Ford Field, where the Detroit Lions play football and next to the Fox Theatre and a huge Hockeytown sign with the Red Wings emblem.  Regardless of the successes or failures of the Lions and Tigers, Detroit really does come across as a Red Wings town and that even shows up around the football and baseball teams. 

OK, back to baseball.  Comerica Park, which opened in 2000, is simply beautiful.  There are nine huge majestic tiger statues all around the outside (and inside) of the stadium.  There are two overlooking the entrance by Adams Street and five more by the main entrance, with one on the ground ready to pounce on all the incoming fans.  In addition, there are loads of tiger heads with baseballs in their mouths to clearly let you know that you are entering a baseball stadium played by Tigers.  I have to say that I love all of it.  The brick exterior is also a beautiful design that matches Ford Field and the other buildings around it.  Kind of like Camden Yards, it fits with the neighborhood.  The green beams and walkways on the exterior do not quite fit with the neighborhood, but do give the stadium the nice old-time feel.  Another cool thing about the stadium is that the field is below ground level so you can actually see inside from outside the stadium, but not enough to see the game.

Once I picked up the three tickets left for me by Rick Thompson of the Tigers, I left one ticket for Nigel, and then Efrem and I headed in past the guardian tigers and giant baseball bats by the entrance to start the internal traditions.  Meaning, we took a loop around the interior, with a stop for my free credit-card-give-away T-Shirt and my souvenir soda cup.  As those reading my articles have learned by now, I love the history of baseball and love it more so when teams acknowledge and embrace their own team history.  On that front, the Tigers highly succeed.  As we walked along the wide concourses, we came across the decade-by-decade displays (that go from floor to ceiling) of Tiger’s history.  For example, the 1900 display had Ty Cobb memorabilia and photos and the 1940s display features their 1941 championship and Hal Newhouser.  They had a section commemorating the Negro Leagues as well.  Then the best part comes in with the Tigers version of Monument Park, which is behind the center field stands.  They have full statues of past Tiger greats such as the immortal Ty Cobb (sliding of course), Hal Newhouser, Al Kaline, Hank Greenberg, Charlie Gehringer, and Willie Horton.  The original Monument Park in Yankee Stadium II is still the best, but I really like the way the Tigers have full statues of each of their greats doing the things they were famous for., which of course means Newhouser was throwing a pitch and Greenberg was swinging his bat.

The Tigers also take care of the fans that want to play instead of watch the game, but they do it in a very Tiger way.  Like many of the other new stadiums, they have a wiffle ball field for kids (next to the picnic tables beyond center field), but they also have a carousel with tigers instead of horses and a Ferris wheel with baseballs as the carts to sit on.  Overall, it is a nice set up.  Once we finished the walk around, we headed for our green seats in the 300 level behind home plate.  Although, the green seats throughout the stadium are just like many of the other new stadiums, I still like that old-time feeling they give you.

From our seats, we had a great view of downtown Detroit beyond the outfield walls.  Whatever you may think of Detroit, the downtown area does look nice from this angle (it may just be the baseball euphoria getting to me).   Another thing you notice from behind the plate is the strange dirt strip between home plate and the pitcher’s mound.  Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix is the only other stadium that has that idiosyncrasy, but this was common in ballparks many years ago.  This angle also gives you a good view of the retired numbers (and names) on the brick wall surrounding the Ivy-covered batters eye in center field.  The interesting part of the names is that Ty Cobb and Sam Crawford never wore numbers, so they just have their names on the wall and no number.

When I first looked out to left field, I noticed that the front wall in left center field looks like it does not quite fit, and then I learned it was not supposed to be there.  The dimensions of this field are much larger than they were in Tiger Stadium, so the Tigers went from a homer happy bandbox of a stadium to a serious pitcher’s park.  To compensate they added a wall in front of the existing outfield wall and moved one of the bullpens from down the left field line to go between the new and original walls.  The sad part about that change was that the giant flagpole ended up going from in play (like Tiger Stadium) to home run territory behind the new wall.  The other bullpen is beyond the right field wall and under the Pepsi Porch, which is a hard-to-reach target for powerful left-handed batters. 

Enough with the observations, it is time for the game.  Thankfully, Nigel made it in time for the start of the game and even got to hear the woman screw up the words singing the Star Spangled Banner.  The good part about this game was that instead of seeing the 119-loss Tigers play the Royals, we get to see the Detroit Stars play the Kansas City Monarchs.  Well actually, it is the Tigers and the Royals, but they were wearing retro-uniforms in tribute to the two old Negro League teams that played in these cities.  Again, the Tigers are winning me over with their stadium and their recognition of history, despite the horrible product they are putting out on the field.

The game itself was not overly exciting, but we did get to witness one of the Tigers (Stars) 43 wins of the season.  The Stars starting pitcher, Jeremy Bonderman, was the main show.  He pitched 8 shutout innings before giving up his only run in the top of the 9th and he wasn’t even on the field when that happened.   He walked Aaron Guiel to start off the inning then threw a wild pitch to Desi Relaford to move Guiel over to 2nd, before being pulled from the game for Chris Mears to finish the game.  Mears then walked Relaford and allowed Guiel to score on a groundout by Ken Harvey before finishing the game.  Bonderman only gave up 3 hits and 3 walks while striking out 4 Monarch batters and did leave to a standing ovation from the happy and appreciative Stars crowd.

Kyle Snyder started for the Monarchs, but he did not fare quite as well as Bonderman.  The Stars first batter, Alex Sanchez led off the 1st with a triple and scored on Bobby Higgenson’s sac fly.  The Stars added 2 more runs in the 2nd on a 2-out 2 RBI triple by Ramon Santiago, which allowed both Carlos Pena and Matt Walbeck, who both walked, to score and give the Stars a 3-0 lead.  In the 5th the Stars scored again, but this time entirely on the speed of Alex Sanchez.  He reached on a bunt single, stole 2nd, moved to 3rd on Monarchs catcher Bent Mayne’s throwing error and scored on the same play when centerfielder Carlos Beltran also threw the ball away.  The final Stars run came in the 6th on a double by Kevin Witt and a sac fly by Eric Munson to give the Stars a 5-0 lead that would easily hold up after the Monarchs scored their lone run in the 9th.

After the game, we still had some adventure left in us.  We went back to our motel to dump our stuff off before heading out to the relatively new casinos in the area.  Detroit recently allowed casinos in the downtown area to compete with those that are across the water in Windsor, Ontario.  The humor comes with a description of my 2 friends.  Efrem is a skinny Jewish guy and Nigel is a large African-American with dreadlocks.  Nigel fits in this neighborhood with no problem, I am quite comfortable in these surroundings, but Efrem is nervous and uncomfortable even though he said he was not.  Watching Efrem was half the fun of the walk, he mentioned that he was happy that Nigel was with us.  Once we got to the casino, Nigel and I grabbed some food at the restaurant since neither of us gamble, while Efrem had some fun and won money, or at least enough to avoid the walk back by paying for a cab to take us back.

Once back at the room we had to figure out how 3 people fit into 2 beds, but that was solved easily when Nigel claimed the lounge chair that completely reclines and managed to snore soundly all night, which to this day amazes me.  It amazes me, not because he was on a lounge chair, but because the motel we picked just happened to be across the street from a hip-hop club.  The hip-hop club had the distinct ability to attract multiple visitors that ALL came with music blaring at high decibels from their car as they drove by and/or parked, which had the unique effect of setting off the unbelievably LOUD car alarm of the SUV parked directly in front of the window in our room.  The alarm only went off every 5-10 minutes until about 3:30 in the morning.  It was certainly a good thing that we had plenty of time to sleep before getting up at 7 AM to drive to Cleveland!

Bottom line – Comerica Park is a great place to see a game and it is a shame that Tiger Stadium is deteriorating along with the neighborhood is stands in.

Basic trip facts:
-Stadium # 28
-Old Stadium Sites visited – Tiger Stadium (Total – 19)
-Under construction Stadium Sites visited – None (Total – 2)
-Miles traveled – 284 via Car (Totals: Driving – 16,767, Subway - 20, Air - 3,196, Total – 19,883)
-States, provinces, Districts and/or commonwealths passed through – Ontario, Michigan (Totals: States – 48, Provinces – 2, Districts – 1, Commonwealths - 1)
-Seats – Section 329, Row 5, Seat 7 – Upper Level behind Home Plate
-Prices: Parking – $20 (we took a $5 cab ride from hotel instead), Beer – $5.50 - $7.00, Hot Dogs - $2.75 - $4.00, Program (including pencil) - $5.00, Souvenir Soda Cup – $4.00
-Credit Card giveaway –  Tigers T-shirt
-First Pitch -  7:07 PM
-Attendance – 24,664
-Results – Tigers 5, Royals 1, W – Jeremy Bonderman, L – Kyle Snyder, S – None
-Home team record to date – 17 wins, 14 losses
-Record of “team I was routing for” to date – 13 wins, 18 losses
-Lodging – Detroit, Michigan

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