The Tigers don’t miss 2002

It was great to see Comerica Park in Detroit crowded and rocking for tonight’s playoff game. Whenever you have a chance to put the Yankees away on your home field, you’d better have the home crowd out in force. It doesn’t look too good for them in the eighth inning now, but this season has taught me–in case I had forgotten it–that nothing is over until the last out is made.

I’ve only been to Comerica Park one time, but it was a pretty eventful visit. Every trip to a ballpark should be eventful, really. I was in Ann Arbor on business in the Spring of 2002. One of the people I was working on a committee with was a guy in his forties, who lives in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (or da Yoo Pee, as everyone calls it) and had never been to a big league stadium before. So I jumped at the chance to go to a Tigers game with him, because baseball’s the only thing I would ever evangelize about.

It was April, and the Tigers were off to a really bad start. In fact, they were 0-11 on the season, and on their way to 106 losses. They were already on their second manager, less than two weeks into the season. And so, for a Tuesday night game, tickets were definitely available. We drove into Detroit after the work day was done, and walked into a stadium that was still relatively new. Tiger Stadium had stood for eighty years before that, so the new park will continue to be “new” for some time to come.

When the crowd is announced at 13,000 in a stadium designed for 40,000+, it’s not hard to find seats wherever you want to sit. We started off in the bleachers, and then moved to the upper deck, then a very nice section down the third base line, and we wound up in a section of back deck-sort of chairs behind home plate. They probably fetched top dollar for tonight’s game, but once upon a time they were open to whoever wanted to sit there.

The Tigers did well that night, to the surprise of everyone, and the game went to the ninth inning with the Tigers holding a comfortable lead. I thought that there might be a little extra celebration ahead, since the home team was about to get win their first game of the season. But I thought wrong.  Apparently a desire to beat the traffic runs deep within the D, and a large number of fans started streaming towards the exits.

Although I didn’t care who won the game, I was sticking around until the last out. So we went down to the closest seats we could get to the field, 2 or 3 rows behind home plate, and yelled like the Tigers had just made it into the playoffs. It’s always better when the home crowd goes home happy, even if there’s just a few thousand fans left when the game’s over.

If the Yankees win tonight (and it’s 10-1 now, so it looks like that will happen), they will get the final game of the series back in New York. It’s very likely that baseball won’t come back to Detroit again this season. But the franchise is much better off now than they were nine years ago, and the ballpark itself is very nice, too. Things are looking good for the Tigers in the years ahead.

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