Comerica Park is flanked by ferocious Tigers, but fans still have found ways to sneak into games. (Getty images)
The man hung atop of the iron gates at Comerica Park for about 30 seconds, trying to decide whether to make the final descent to the stadium floor. Finally, he shimmied down, turned upside down and nearly toppled to the ground. He'd taken a big risk but made it into the ballpark free of charge.
Some applauded his conquest. This was Saturday night during a crowded Tigers game against the Cleveland Indians. The man looked around, saw he was in the clear, and bought a beer from a nearby vendor.
The art of sneaking into baseball games is alive and well again. We used to hear stories from old Yankee Stadium and the Polo Grounds of kids sneaking through a hole in the outfield wall or past an usher.
As a youth, former Tigers slugger Willie Horton used to hide behind garbage trucks when they drove through the center-field gates at Tiger Stadium. One time he got caught and was brought into the stadium to be processed. He ran into boyhood hero Rocky Colavito, who not only got Horton off the hook, but negotiated a clubhouse job for him. You don't hear stories like that anymore.
Not so fast
There are new giant, modern ballparks with ticket takers armed with scanners. But risk takers have chosen Comerica Park's right-field gates, behind the smoking section, as the perfect spot to sneak into games.
Normally, there's security there making sure people hanging outside the ballpark don't sneak in. However, some wait for any kind of opening or breech in security to make their move.
But danger lurks. The gates are at least 15 feet high and fans risk injuring themselves. Tigers vice president of marketing Ron Colangelo has heard stories before and issued a warning.
"From a safety standpoint we don't encourage it," he said. "You have to have a ticket. Besides it's illegal."
Before tickets were scanned, Tigers fans used innovative techniques to sneak into Tiger Stadium.
John Maniaci of Sterling Heights used to take his Little League team to Tiger Stadium. He would pile 10 people into a car, purchase six tickets, and hand them to the ticket taker. The ticket taker would rip the six tickets, thinking they were 10, and let them all in.
Pasquale Bruno of Dearborn would get in by flashing dollar bills at the ticket takers.
"It only took a couple of dollars each," he said. "Probably not worth the risk as I recall bleacher seats at Tiger Stadium were under $10 at the time."
One of the best stories comes from Dawn Serio of Clinton Township. A man offered her his used ticket and she took it to the nearest gate.
However, the scanner revealed it was a used ticket and Serio did not have a hand stamp. The ticket taker questioned her.
"I told them I didn't think I needed one," Serio said of the hand stamp. "I told them I am a diabetic, which I am, and I had to run to my car to check my blood sugar because I wasn't feeling so well. She looked at my insulin pump and just said go ahead.
"I can't believe I did that," she said. "Honest, I am a God-fearing person."