Day 3: Comerica Park, Detroit

August 30, 2011

Tigers 2, Royals 1. W: Joaquin Benoit. L: Aaron Crow.

The Stadium:

Unlike the other two stadiums I’ve been to, Comerica is absolutely covered in reminders of the team’s mascot. The Blue Jays had their logo and team name around, but the only blue jay likeness was the mascot. And of course the Indians couldn’t have much. Nonetheless, there are tigers everywhere here. The main entrance:

That is a giant tiger statue.

The exterior walls of the stadium are also covered in tigers.

These ones glow from the mouth.

I suppose the team spirit is good, although it does make for strange architecture. I can’t think of many other buildings with a ton of animals sticking out of the side. At least nobody will be confused about which team plays here.

On the first base side, the park has a circular food court with a carousel in the center.

Build a rollercoaster in in the stadium and then I'll consider going on a ride.

And on the third base side, there’s a ferris wheel right near where the Fox Sports Detroit pre-game show is filmed. Each of the cars on the ferris wheel looks like a baseball.

The Tigers care about the kiddies.

The stadium also has a small sculpture area in the outfield for Tigers greats like Hank Greenbeg, Al Kaline, and Ty Cobb. The statues have inscriptions explaining the player’s importance and big-time records (cool note: Ty Cobb didn’t have a number because he played before players had them). And you can check them out while watching the game because it’s open to the field area, which is neat.

Maybe Verlander will have one here someday.

Even though Comerica was finished for the 2000 season, the jumbotron is already out of date. The huge scoreboard consists of three screens: a center huge one in black and white with two smaller color ones flanking it on each side. None of the boards is particularly good. The black and white one is antiquated, obviously, and it can’t really be called “retro” because none of the rest of the stadium is retro. And the two smaller ones are not of the quality that Rogers Centre and Progressive Field had in a much larger size. At least they’re all in one place so it’s easy to take it all in at once.

Time to update for the 21st century, Detroit

The Experience:

At last! A stadium where lots of people actually come to watch a game! After the last two stadiums were basically half-empty, it was great to be in a ballpark flooded with people. The concourses were full, there were lines for food, and seats were filled to maybe 85 or 90% capacity. Of course, it helps when your team is in first place and will likely make the playoffs, but it was a welcome change. The view from our seats in the upper deck was pretty great. You can see Ford Field over the left field wall and the downtown Detroit skyline over center and right. Also, in center field, the team shows its support for American car-making, with logos for the Big Three and a big sign saying “We Support our Automakers” or some such. When the Tigers hit a home run (see below) fountains shot up from behind the sign.

Nice view. Also, check out the dirt strip between the mound and home plate.

The concourses had all the concessions you could possibly want, but it also gave the stadium a sort of haphazard feeling. It was as though the stadium couldn’t figure out exactly what it wanted so they just threw as many things as they could think of and hoped that something stuck. Despite that, the stadium does give you a good feel for Tigers history. In addition to the statues, throughout the stadium the concourses have monuments and displays for historical moments in Tigers history.

One complaint (aside from the jumbotron): the PA announcer screams out each batter’s name when he’s coming to bat (in addition to playing the guy’s at-bat music, which I like). This is not a basketball game. Baseball is a low-key sport for large parts of it. If there’s two outs and nobody on in the bottom of the fourth, you’re not going to hype the crowd up by screaming Alex Avila’s name. It’s mostly just annoying. Position, number, name, finished. Every other stadium I’ve been to gets this right.

The Game:

Best game we’ve seen so far by a long shot. Doug Fister, starting for the Tigers, was dominant early in the game. Fister threw 6 perfect innings before giving up a leadoff double to Alex Gordon in the top of the seventh inning. Despite the great performance, Fister was actually in line for a loss when he left the game after two outs in the eighth inning. Gordon had come around to score on a Billy Butler sacrifice fly and the Tigers were completely ineffective against the legendary Jeff Francis. Francis pitched 6.1 innings of scoreless ball, giving up only two hits. But in the bottom of the eighth, the Tigers got a run across on three singles by Jhonny Peralta, Austin Jackson, and Magglio Ordoñez (Ryan Raburn actually scored the run; he reached first on a fielder’s choice with Peralta out at second). The game went to extra innings. In the bottom of the tenth, Ramon Santiago pinch hit for Ordoñez and planted a walk-off solo homer in the right field seats for a 2-1 Tigers victory. Great game.

The bid for the perfect game by Fister was (not surprisingly) very interesting to watch. There is a superstition in baseball that, when a pitcher is dealing a perfect game or no-hitter, his teammates are not supposed to talk to him about it for fear of the jinx but I’ve never really been sure what the role of the fan is supposed to be. As a Mets fan, I’ve haven’t had to worry about it at all as the Mets are one of two franchises to have never thrown a no-hitter. But in the stands for this game, I wondered whether I may have been somewhat obligated not to speak of it, and, for that matter, when the fans as a whole were allowed to cheer for it.

For my part, I broke the rule—if there is one—in the top of the fifth. Wesley commented that it didn’t seem like much had happened in the game so I pointed out that, in fact, the lack of anything was actually a lot of everything. But at that point I couldn’t really tell if most of the fans had noticed the perfect game in the works. Part of this was due to the fact that the nincompoops around us were talking about everything except for the game. If the crowd had noticed, though, they were (probably wisely … see jinx) doing a good job of hiding it. This changed with two outs in the fifth. Fister fell behind 3-1 to the ninth hitter, Alcides Escobar, and through some sort of collective understanding the entire crowd suddenly got behind Fister. He threw two pitches and struck out Escobar and the stadium exploded. I think the cheers were louder for the strikeout than they were for the walk-off homer four innings later. Best part of the game, by far. Of course, the next batter hit a leadoff double. But still.

The Food:

Comerica Park had probably the widest array of choices of any stadium yet. It felt like there were concession stands and kiosks in every available spot on the field-level concourse. If you are looking for some random type of ballpark food, guaranteed someone is selling it. There were a lot of vendors selling roasted almonds, which was something we hadn’t seen before. The area near the ferris wheel had turkey legs (a state-fair favorite of mine) and burgers. There was a Mexican stand with burritos, tacos, and nachos and an “Asian Tiger” place selling “Asian” food, I suppose. Pretty wide array of more or less anything you’d want.

A lot of places have started selling giant frozen mixed drinks nowadays (there was one at Progressive). Wesley decided to try Tiger Fuel, which the guy behind the counter claimed was “orange flavored, and the strongest thing we’ve got.”

That's what she said.

It lived up to its billing. One of the kiosks on the lower level was a Food Network stand, just like in Cleveland. And just like in Cleveland, the stand was selling steak sandwiches with mystery sauce or maybe blue cheese or maybe peppers and onions along with potato stix. This time the sandwiches were “Signature” and “Detroit.” Really, Food Network? You can’t sell the same thing at every stadium and claim it’s from that city. I’m on to you.

Don't you have enough chefs working for you that you can come up with something different? Ask Flay. He'll do it.

I decided to go with a Detroit-area classic, the Coney Dog. I’m not really sure how they’ve co-opted the name Coney Dog considering Detroit is about 700 miles from Coney Island, but Coney Dogs are all over the Detroit metropolitan area. During college I refused to eat them on the grounds that I’m a New Yorker and stop stealing our names for things. But in the spirit of the trip, I decided to go for one. Hot dog with Coney sauce and onions.

Coney dog!

I should have stuck with my principles. The hot dog was no better than average, depsite the prominently billed “natural casing” and the Coney sauce was kind of non-descript. Onions are still onions.

Later in the game, Wesley and I decided to share the chicken nachos from the Mexican place near the carousel. These were enjoyable (aren’t all nachos?), and the salsa that came in a cup on the side was surprisingly good. I will say, though, that the  nachos had a clumping problem. I realize it’s easier to just put a whole pile of meat or jalapenos on top and call it a day, but the nachos suffer. Nachos are all about proportion. In retrospect, I’d like to re-grade the nachos from the Blue Jays game a few steps higher. Despite not really being “BBQ” or “chicken,” at least the people working at the stadium did a good job making them, even spreading the sour cream out evenly. Enough about nachos; here’s a picture:

That's a lot of jalapenos.

Comerica Park has all the makings of a great stadium. Tickets aren’t too expensive, the team is good, it’s right downtown, there’s a solid mix of food, the stadium is nice and open and reflects the team and team history. Add in a better jumbotron and streamline the concessions a bit and it will be really great. Now we just need more of that Detroit renaissance everyone’s been talking about.

Next stop: Chicago.

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