May 28, 2004: Detroit, Michigan
September 28, 2003, the final day of the 2003 Major League Baseball regular season: ESPN cut away from regularly scheduled programming to bring its audience the final inning of the Detroit Tigers vs. Minnesota Twins game. The Twins had already clinched the American League Central Title and were assured of playing the New York Yankees in the Division Series. The story in Motown was the hometown Tigers, who were three outs away from avoiding baseball infamy. As the Tigers recorded the final out of the 9-4 win, the home crowd erupted and the Tigers ran out on to the field as if they had won their Division. It prompted Tigers announcers Mario Impemba and Rod Allen to toss away their 1962 New York Mets footage and celebrate the end to an auspicious season. Since that “historic” September afternoon, the Detroit Tigers organization stepped up its efforts to upgrade the team by signing catcher Ivan Rodriguez, outfielder Magglio Ordonez, and relief pitcher Troy Percival. These players brought a winning attitude to a city rich in baseball history, one that hosted the 2005 All-Star Game.Comerica Park opened its doors for the 2000 season. It was a sad day for old-time Tigers fans because it marked the end to the Tiger Stadium era, which began in 1912. Although Comerica Park has a Ferris wheel and a merry-go-round, the Tigers organization was able to uphold the traditional baseball experience Tiger Stadium offered. In left field, there are six statues that pay homage to the greatest Tigers of all time: Ty Cobb, Hank Greenberg, Willie Horton, Al Kaline, Charlie Gehringer and Hal Newhouser. The Tigers also have dedicated a statue to their Hall of Fame announcer Ernie Harwell, who spent 42 years with the franchise. The most magnificent feature of Comerica Park has to be the Tiger statues in and around the ballpark. These Tigers adorn the gates of Comerica as if they are protecting the ballpark from intruders and the Tigers’ opposition.
The 23,298 in attendance suffered through a 3-hour-and-41-minute game between the Tigers and the visiting Baltimore Orioles. We saw Tiger Chris Shelton hit his first Major League home run and Carlos Guillen go 4-for-5, but it wasn’t enough to beat the Orioles, who, behind a Luis Matos two-run home run, won 7-5.
Zach joined Mike and me for the weekend and was a great travel buddy. We spent our time in Detroit’s casinos and museums. I won $77 on a $1 slot machine; besides visiting Comerica Park, it was the highlight of my trip. Detroit was a city built on the automotive industry. The Henry Ford Museum chronicles the history of transportation in the United States and the world. The museum was home to numerous Presidential limousines and historic automobiles, but what I will never forget was sitting on the same Montgomery, Alabama bus that Rosa Parks did 49 years earlier. History was made in 1955 when Rosa Parks, an African-American woman, refused to give up her seat. Her simple act of protest galvanized America’s civil rights movement.
Comerica Park has helped revitalize downtown Detroit. Detroit’s economy was destroyed when American car companies began sending manufacturing jobs outside the United States. Tigers’ owner Mike Illitch led the development of Comerica Park and other downtown projects like the restoration of The Fox Theatre. These actions encouraged the Detroit Lions to build their new home, Ford Field, adjacent to Comerica Park. Ford Field and the city of Detroit hosted the 2006 Super Bowl. Having the Major League Baseball All-Star game and the NFL Super Bowl in Detroit within a 7-month period was a great way to highlight Detroit. I made a return trip to Comerica in 2013 and was happy to see more businesses and a strong Tigers following.
“Baseball is a lot like life. It’s a day-to-day existence, full of ups and downs. You make the most of your opportunities in baseball as you do in life.”
– Ernie Harwell