Comerica Park

Comerica Park, Detroit, MI

Number of games: 2
First game:  July 21, 2004 (Tigers 4, Royals 2)
Most recent game:  July 22, 2004 (Royals 13, Tigers 7)

(Click on any image to view a larger version.)

I grew up in Denver before it had a major league team.  When the time came (as it inevitably does in any young man’s life) to select a favorite team, the Tigers were my choice, mostly due to my legions of relatives in the area.  Some of my best

childhood memories are centered around trips to Michigan in my youth…every damn summer, my parents would pile my three siblings and me into the back of a station wagon and drive the three days to my Aunt Sally and Uncle Fred on Bishop Street and Grandma Gene’s place on Lennon.  Indeed, it was with them and my two cousins that I went to my first ballgames at Tiger Stadium.  So I was excited to head back to them in 2004–returning to the original scene of the crime–to take in Comerica Park.

I had the pleasure of attending my first game back at Comerica with most of the same relatives I went to my first game with 24 years earlier.  I think my Uncle Fred was born drinking a beer and watching a ballgame…so

he’s got to be one of the top choices for partners at any ballpark.  Aunt Sally is not at all a sports fan, and yet she tagged along, offering me her unique perspectives on baseball.  (Example:  she believes that, if major league hitters were indeed the best in the world at hitting baseballs, a .600 average should be the baseline for greatness, not the paltry .300 we use as a benchmark now.)  My cousin Joe helped me remember the fourth and fifth starters for the ’84 Tigers, a problem that had dogged me for several days prior. (I thought Juan Berenguer was the #5, but he was the #4.  Dave Rozema spot started at #5.)

I was especially impressed with the art in this ballpark.  Loads of tiger statues and gargoyles festoon the exterior of the ballpark, including several with baseballs in their mouths.  Tigers guard just about every entrance

and even patrol the tops of the scoreboards, and they’re the right mixture of cute and scary.  Baseball bats serve as columns and bats crossed like swords mark the entrance.  There’s even a lovely baseball-themed fountain.  But the sculptures of past Tigers’ greats absolutely knocked my socks off.  I’ve now been to about a dozen stadiums which feature some kind of baseball player sculpture, and it’s usually one of my favorite parts of the ballpark.  Tiger Stadium’s sculptures (of  Cobb, Gehringer, Greenberg, Harwell, Horton, Kaline, and Newhouser) are immensely superior to any I have seen anywhere else, and it’s not like the other ballpark sculptures are bad.  I’m afraid my photographic skills don’t do the sculptures justice, but I gave it a try.  Here’s a look at the sculpture of Hank Greenberg.  I’m making this picture larger than I usually do so you can get a better look at it.  Check out how the artist hints at motion with the swinging bat and traveling ball.


The ballpark further adds to its local color by focusing on Tiger history in its pavilion areas, setting up exhibits focusing on the Tigers in each decade in the twentieth century.  I found my beloved 1984 team and learned a few things about earlier teams.  I even got into a brief conversation with a woman about the ’67 Tigers as well.

In spite of all this, there are a few drawbacks that, in my eyes, keep this from being a top-ten park.  First of all, Comerica Park is guilty of

outrageous excess.  I’m referring here to its carousel and its Ferris wheel.  I ask this:  why?  My Detroit relatives got a little testy when I asked this, saying something about how there needs to be something at the ballpark for the kids so that they’ll grow to like baseball.  This is, I believe, a flawed argument.  There were no amusement park rides at Tiger Stadium, and it’s not like I was bored there at age ten.  Even when I was younger, as a seven-year-old attending Denver Bears games at Mile High Stadium, I managed to make do without a Tilt-a-Whirl or an Octopus.  “But Paul,” my opponents say, “That was a different day and age.  Kids today are raised on MTV and video games.  Surely they can’t make it through a game without at least two or three visits to a carnival thrill ride.”  Baloney.  I have taken my nephews to major and minor league games when they were as young as six, and again, they have no problems.  Do we need to go walk around and burn off energy during the game?  Of course.  (And because of this, I can even handle playgrounds and slides like those at Safeco Field, PacBell Park, The Ballpark in Arlington, and a few others I’m forgetting…they give a destination less garish and silly than Comerica’s rides are.)  Do I need to provide my nephews with astonishing amounts of ice cream, hot dogs, and/or soda pop?  Yup. But we watch the game.  We get through it.  We enjoy it.  We even score it.  This, to me, is incontrovertible proof that Comerica’s carnival rides are unnecessary at best and deleterious at worst.

Speaking of deleterious, the PA announcer was the worst cheerleader PA guy I’ve ever heard.  His announcement of “Brandon Inge” made me cringe.  His voice goes up at least an octave and a half as he announces the name of any Tiger.  I can feel his vocal cords tensing to the point where they might snap.  Lighten up, buddy!  We know when to cheer.

I can’t ignore the fact, however, that beyond carnival rides and overly perky PA guys, there’s something a bit deeper about the whole experience and atmosphere of going to a game at Comerica Park that creeped me out.  I guess I see some things in Detroit now that I formerly didn’t, and those things bother me.  The city has devastating problems.

For starters, the stadium is in such a bad area that a stadium-induced neighborhood renaissance (like the ones that turned iffy warehouse neighborhoods in Baltimore and Denver into cool spots with nightclubs and brewpubs) is simply too much to ask.  There’s no feel of being in a neighborhood…spectators don’t linger before the game, don’t hang out near the ballpark, don’t go to sports bars before and after the game.  Indeed, there aren’t any sports bars there–around the ballpark, all I saw was the tony, alienatingly-exclusive, don’t-even-think-you’re-good-enough-to-belong Detroit Athletic Club, one diner, the Fox Theater, and about a half dozen court buildings and jails.  No watering holes.  No places selling Tiger merchandise.  The fantastic feeling of anticipation that comes with heading through a throng of ballpark-goers headed toward the game is replaced by people concerned for their own safety, trying to get into the ballpark (and back out to their cars) as quickly as possible so they can make it back out to the safety of Bloomfield Hills or Birmingham.  Not that I blame them–I’d do the same thing, and in fact did.  (Update 2009:  I recently read a Sports Illustrated article indicating a great sports bar opened nearby.  Possible change for the better?)

Why does this bother me in Detroit when other ballparks in terrible neighborhoods (such as Comiskey Park or Yankee Stadium) don’t trouble me as much?  In Chicago and New York, the edginess of the neighborhood makes its way into the ballpark.  Even though it scares me, I think I like that better than the freaky oasis-from-the-poor-outside-these-walls vibe at Comerica.  Plus, at Yankee Stadium anyway, the subway ride gives me atmosphere–I feel a part of the city rather than apart from it.

Additionally, as scary and depressing as the housing projects near Comiskey Park and Yankee Stadium are, they’re not nearly as depressing or scary to me as a deserted, broken downtown.  Comerica Park took a page from the new ballparks in Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and elsewhere by providing a vista of downtown past the outfield wall. 

But it’s a little different in Detroit.  With the exception of the distant skyscraper that houses GM headquarters, instead of the gleaming glass-and-metal buildings I’ve grown accustomed to seeing in downtowns, the view from Comerica features old stone-and-mortar buildings–brown and tan instead of gray and reflective.  This, in and of itself, isn’t a problem–it just gives me a feeling of a retro downtown.  But things go sour for me at twilight…I learn that Detroit’s downtown isn’t retro, but instead is simply decimated.  As it got dark in Detroit, I looked out past the scoreboard and saw the skyscrapers again, and I noticed something that, to me, is nothing short of alarming:  there were literally no lights on in the skyscrapers.  It was Wednesday night, about 9PM.  Where the hell were the people?  Where was the lawyer working late, the businessman calling overseas?  Geez, where was the custodian cleaning the offices, even the staircase that’s lit 24/7?  Nothing.  The only conclusion I can reach is that these two buildings have been completely abandoned.  I turned to my relatives to ask why there aren’t any lights on downtown.  They live here, so I guess they’re accustomed to it:  I get a shrug.  “I guess nobody’s working there.”  To me, this downtown vista, intended to be a beautiful view and celebration of the city, had the opposite effect.  It scared me.  Possibly the scariest movie I’ve ever seen is This Quiet Earth, where a man wakes up to discover everyone in the world has disappeared…he wanders around the cities looking for any human contact.  The darkened downtown Detroit reminded me of that…we’re all entertaining ourselves with a baseball game surrounded by a city that’s disappeared. Comerica Park makes me wonder about how things got this broken.  It even stirs in me some predictable and passe’ white guilt, since Detroit is a city that’s about 90% African-American and I’m sitting in a crowd that’s about 90% White…and much of the other 10% are ushers, hawkers, and cleanup crew.  Simply put, this is not the best mindset in which to entertain myself, but I can’t help but feel this way.

Even during the next day’s day game, the s

adness of the urban situation interfered with the experience.  I borrowed the relatives’ car and headed downtown, making sure I did not make any turn that could put me even a half block out of my way.  I zipped to the ballpark.  Ninety minutes before the game and the streets around Comerica Park were deserted–everyone was on a beeline straight from their cars into the ballpark.  There was zero neighborhood atmosphere.  Even on the inside, while wandering around getting a feel for the park, I was attracted to two bits of graffiti on the bar in a restaurant by the Ferris wheel.  They felt to me like examples of the problems of Detroit, as hard as Comerica Park tries to keep them on the outside, pushing their way into the stadium.  Something about these words written a few feet away from a Ferris wheel–and a few more feet away from a world nobody should ever have to know–really struck me somewhere deep.

In any event, I was very much impressed by Comerica Park in all kinds of ways.  In spite of the theme-park overkill, the ballpark is quite lovely, and the art there probably better than the art at any ballpark I’ve ever been to.  They do well to focus on baseball history and on Detroit history.  But the experience was,

paradoxically, harmed by that very history.  I’m not a city planner–I don’t know what combination of social and economic factors got Detroit where it is, and I certainly can’t propose a way out.  But I sincerely hope that there comes a day when being located at the heart of downtown Detroit is an asset rather than a liability, and that I can head back one day–ten years from now?  twenty?  more?–and take a leisurely walk through a vibrant, interesting, and active stadium neighborhood.  I hope I can score a Tigers game in the ballpark without feeling just a tad guilty and callous because of the conditions all around me.  I hope that I can walk to a sports bar after the game and have some nachos and a drink, staying downtown without a second thought until the end of the West Coast games.  Somebody out there–please find a way to heal this city so that the beauty of this ballpark is the rule rather than the exception.

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Mike Sweeney hit a pair of home runs–a grand slam and a three-run homer–to lead the Royals to a decisive win.

Nook Logan makes his major league debut, going an amazing 4-for-7 in the two games I see him.

Omar Infante homers twice in a game.

Indeed, I saw ten homers in two games–and many of them would have been homers at the old Comerica.  Only a couple were made homers by the then-recently-shortened left-field porch.

(Written August 2004.)

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