Book a Flight to Motown
The words "Detroit" and "vacation" may seem oxymoronic in the same sentence, but baseball fans could do worse than visiting Michigan's largest city.
While gritty Motown has fallen on hard times for the past 40 years, there is one very bright spot here. Although Comerica Park isn't a clone of beloved old Tiger Stadium, the current home of the Tigers is a great place to catch a game or three.
I made my first visit to the downtown Detroit ball yard on May 25 when the American League Central Division-leading Indians were in town. There has always been a rivalry of sorts between these blue-collar cities, and a fair number of Cleveland fans drove up from northern Ohio for the game.
Two of baseball's better teams, an underdog pennant winner in 2006 and the start of the Memorial Day weekend meant this one was going to be a sellout. Since I needed a single ticket, I bypassed the scalpers and asked the woman at the ticket window for "just one seat, not too expensive if possible." Us lowly freelancers have budgets that are far closer to Ralph Kramden than Ralph Lauren, so box seats are out.
Displaying the niceness that is common in the Midwest, she smiled and came up with a $15 upper mezzanine ticket. Since I had some time before the game started, I took a quick tour of Comerica. Snarling concrete tigers are everywhere on the stadium walls, and the art is well executed. The team's time line is chronicled by decade-length displays inside the park, and (unlike some other franchises) the Tigers clearly have some interest in preserving their history.
I didn't expect much from my right field seat - located in the next to last row of Comerica - but the view was superb and completely unobstructed. You don't need piles of cash to see the game clearly in Detroit these days, and a crowd of 40,074 was glued to the action.
This would have been a perfect game for a baseball newbie, as a little bit of everything took place. Grady Sizemore led off with a hard grounder in the hole between first and second. Placido Polanco ranged into the outfield to snag it and throw out the speedy Sizemore by less than a step.
That wasn't the only attention-getting play. Indians left fielder Jason Michaels robbed Craig Monroe of a home run when he did a fine Torii Hunter impersonation and went over the wall. That got Paul Byrd off the hook in the second inning and allowed him to go 6.1 innings for his fifth victory of the season.
Lefty Nate Robertson started for the Tigers. While he was around the plate, Robertson's pitches had little variety, as he was almost always between 82 and 88 MPH. Indians right fielder Casey Blake and first baseman Victor Martinez hit first-inning solo homers. Martinez's bomb was an opposite field fly ball that barely landed fair just two rows into the bleachers. Robertson gave up five earned runs and 10 hits in 5.2 IP. The loss dropped his record to 4-4.
There were a pair of triples, something that rarely happens in a game. Carlos Guillen's three-bagger was good for an RBI, while Travis Hafner's blast to the left-centerfield wall resulted in an unexpected triple for him. The flag pole is no longer in play, and the distance from home plate to the centerfield fence has been shortened from the original 440 feet to a still-distant 420.
Detroit may not be a touristy place, but baseball fans have an excellent reason to take a trip to this border (Windsor, Ontario is just across the river) town. While I still have many stadiums left to visit, it would be hard to imagine a better example of the recent "modern retro" school of baseball architecture than Comerica Park.
One other tip: Eat your hot dogs before or after the game. American Coney Island and Lafayette Coney Island are neighbors on Lafayette Street, several blocks from the stadium in Detroit's Greektown neighborhood. Put $2.35 on the counter and get a Detroit-style all-beef "Coney Island" frank loaded with meaty chili and topped with mustard and onions. Tube steaks don't get much better than what this pair of venerable lunch counters has dished up since the early 1900s.