April 9, 2010 at 12:32 pm

Tony Paul

Baseball's back! Here's your guide to Comerica Park

A worker cleans the outfield wall during preparation for the Tigers' home opener today. First pitch for the game against the Indians is at 1:05. (Robin Buckson/The Detroit News)

Baseball returns to Comerica Park this afternoon, for the first time since the Tigers departed for their heartbreaking trip to Minneapolis last October.

That, right there, is one of the beauties of today. Last year never matters on Opening Day. Not for the Yankees, who won it all. And not for the Tigers, who lost it all -- that three-game lead with four to play, and, of course, their one-game playoff to the Twins.

Opening Day is all about this year, about hope, about spring -- and about getting reacquainted with your ballclub and your ballpark.

Like the Tigers, with all those new faces, young and old, there have been several changes at Comerica Park, too. But there's a whole lot that remains the same -- including plenty you might not have ever known about.

So, to help you fully enjoy your experience at the old ballgame, we've compiled a guide, of sorts, to Comerica Park.

The freebies

It's always worth paying attention to the club's promotional schedule. Perhaps you'll find it worthwhile to push up or back a day your trip to the park if you know you'll be getting some cool swag one day and not the other.

There are several highlights this year, though No. 1 on my list is the Justin Verlander "K-Counter" Bobblehead -- which allows you to keep track of the Tigers ace's strikeout total a year after he became the first Tigers pitcher since Mickey Lolich in 1971 to lead the majors in strikeouts. (Verlander is at six and counting this year, by the way.)

There's also a cool replica wool cap being given out to celebrate the 1935 Tigers, who won the franchise's first World Series. Being the 75th anniversary of that club, hopefully there'll be less of a stampede -- and a few hundred less elbows thrown -- than last September's replica road jersey giveaway honoring the 1984 champs.

The list

Today: Rally towel (first 25,000 fans)

Saturday: Magnet schedule (first 10,000 fans)

Sunday: Foam paw (all kids 14 and younger)

Friday, April 30: Justin Verlander "K-Counter" Bobblehead (first 10,000 fans)

Saturday, May 1: 2010-11 wall calendar (first 10,000 fans)

Sunday, May 2: Magglio Ordonez poster (all kids 14 and younger)

Monday, May 10: Breast cancer awareness pin (first 10,000 fans 18 and older)

Friday, May 14: Set of tumblers (first 10,000 fans)

Sunday, May 16: Brandon Inge replica glove (all kids 14 and younger)

Friday, May 28: 1935 world champions vintage cap (first 10,000 fans)

Saturday, May 29: Coffee clutch (first 10,000 fans)

Sunday, May 30: Baseball bingo game card (all kids 14 and younger)

Friday, June 11: 60-ounce beverage pitcher (first 5,000 fans 21 and older)

Saturday, June 12: Detroit Stars Negro Leagues hat (first 10,000 fans)

Sunday, June 13: Comerica Park jigsaw puzzle (all kids 14 and younger)

Sunday, June 20: Charlie Brown Bobblehead (all kids 14 and younger)

Friday, July 2: Stars-and-stripes bandana (first 7,500 fans)

Sunday, July 4: Player poster (all kids 14 and younger)

Saturday, July 10: Travel tote (first 10,000 fans)

Sunday, July 11: Foam tail (all kids 14 and younger)

Sunday, July 25: Player poster (all kids 14 and younger)

Friday, Aug. 6: Island-themed floppy hat (first 10,000 fans 18 and older)

Sunday, Aug. 8: Inside-out rally cap (all kids 14 and younger)

Friday, Aug. 20: All-Star poster (first 10,000 fans)

Saturday, Aug. 21: Miguel Cabrera cap (first 10,000 fans)

Sunday, Aug. 22: PAWS photo frame (all kids 14 and younger)

Friday, Sept. 10: "Tigers Fan Parking Only" sign (first 10,000 fans 16 and older)

Sunday, Sept. 12: Back-to-school binder (all kids 14 and younger)

Friday, Sept. 24: Camouflage hunting hat (first 10,000 fans)

Saturday, Sept. 25: Knit hat (first 10,000 fans)

Sunday, Sept. 26: Player poster (all kids 14 and younger)

The festivities

In case a baseball game isn't enough to keep you entertained for three hours -- and, let's be honest, if analysts are right about the Tigers' offense, it might not be -- there is no shortage of theme nights and special events on the Comerica Park calendar.

An early season highlight is a traditional Chinese New Year parade -- to celebrate, of course, the Year of the Tiger (the first one since 1998) -- before the Indians-Tigers game Saturday. The parade, which should be visually stunning, will begin around 12:10 p.m., at the intersection of Adams Avenue and Witherell Street.

Also new on the schedule is Weather Day on April 29, when there will be an on-field presentation with a guest meteorologist explaining weather's impact on baseball. I wonder if they'll reschedule if that game's rained out; that would pretty much say it all, right?

The list

Saturday: Chinese New Year celebration

Tuesday, April 27: Jackie Robinson Day

Thursday, April 29: Weather Day

Saturday, May 1: Pregame on-field clinic

Friday, May 14: Friday night fireworks start

Saturday, May 15: Saturday night fireworks start

Friday, May 28: Polish-American Night

Saturday, June 12: 16th annual Negro Leagues Tribute Game

Friday, June 18: '80s Night

Friday, July 2: Country Night

Friday, July 9: Elvis Night

Thursday, July 22: Christmas in July

Sunday, July 25: Scout Day

Thursday, Aug. 5: All-American Girls Professional Baseball League Reunion

Friday, Aug. 6: Parrothead Night

Saturday, Aug. 21: Fifth annual ˇFiesta Tigres!

Sunday, Aug. 22: On-field photo day

Friday, Sept. 24-Sunday, Sept. 26: Fan appreciation weekend

Don't-miss dates

Today, vs. Indians: It's Opening Day. Odds are, you might not have tickets. But don't let that deter you from enjoying the atmosphere downtown. Pick a local pub, and watch the game there. Harry's on Clifford Street is always a rockin' good time on Opening Day.

May 10-May 13, vs. Yankees: It'll be Curtis Granderson's first trip back to Detroit since being traded in December. While most Yankees will be booed, he should get a loud and lengthy welcome back to the city he enriched with his play and his community service.

May 14-16, vs. Red Sox: They're baseball's second-biggest draw, behind the Yankees; and like their American League East rivals, they're a World Series contender, too.

June 11-13, vs. Pirates: The first home interleague series is against the team that gave Jim Leyland his big break. They haven't had a winning season since he was still there (1992).

June 15-17, vs. Nationals: This could be a big draw for a couple reasons: Prized prospect Stephen Strasburg could be pitching this series, and old friend Pudge Rodriguez visits.

June 18-20, vs. Diamondbacks: Here's the final series in an underwhelming interleague home slate. At least there'll be a Kirk Gibson sighting. He's their bench coach.

July 2-4, vs. Mariners: They're one of the most improved teams in baseball, and they have an ace -- Felix Hernandez, 24 -- with one of the best young arms in the AL.

Aug. 6-8, vs. Angels: Another reunion. Former Tigers closer Fernando Rodney is their setup man. Won't it be nice to not be nervous when he enters the game, for a change?

Aug. 9-11, vs. Rays: Another AL East power makes the trip, with some electric young starting pitching. Will ex-Tigers OF Matt Joyce (elbow) be healthy and starting by then?

Sept. 6-9, vs. White Sox: This should be a key four-game set, as well as a chance for revenge. Chicago beat Detroit four times late in '09. We all know how that turned out.

Sept. 24-26, vs. Twins: Like with Chicago, this is Minnesota's last of three trips to Detroit in 2010 ... unless there's a one-game playoff, but that never happens. Oh, wait.

Tony's tips

  • As appealing as it seems, in theory, to sit along the third-base line, behind the Tigers dugout, try the first-base line instead. Otherwise, gloomy days aside, you could be stuck with the sun in your face most of the game -- or all nine innings, for afternoon games -- and the glare will severely hinder your view of the action, sunglasses or not.

  • If your legs can stand it, buy a cheap $5 ticket to a nosebleed seat and watch the game from a standing-room-only section. The view from right of the fountain, behind the right-field bleachers, is outstanding -- and darn close to a beer stand!

  • If you have your heart set on picking up one of the more popular promotional items, make sure you're downtown early -- stock tends to run out quickly. Last year, for jersey night, there were lines out to Woodward, hours before first pitch.

    How to get a ball

    A New Yorker named Zack Hample would know better than me, seeing as he's caught 4,358 balls and I've caught none. (Check out zackhample.com.)

    But this much I know: The easiest way is to show up very early for batting practice and camp out beyond the right-field and left-field walls, because there tend to be lots of homers. Hanging out along the railings near the dugouts could net you one, too, because players and coaches, often in a loose mood pregame, occasionally will flip you a souvenir.

    If you're dead set on your ball being game used, be sure to sit in foul territory and as close to the field as possible. Bringing a glove is wise, too. No sense breaking a hand.

    One note about etiquette: If you're older than 18 and you've beaten a child to a loose ball, you will get booed -- and rightly so -- until you hand the ball to the youngster. Do it quickly.

    How to get an autograph

    Like snagging a baseball, your odds increase greatly if you arrive early -- like as soon as the gates open, which in the Tigers case is 90 minutes before first pitch.

    Near the dugouts, of course, is the best place to score your keepsake signature -- and, most times, ushers will allow you near the playing field, even if your ticket is for elsewhere, until a little before game time.

    The golden rule when seeking autographs: Be polite. And falling under that umbrella: Know the name of the player/coach you are asking for an autograph. If you're calling out with "Hey, hey, hey!" you're not likely to get a response. At least not a positive response.

    One other thing: Don't be offended if a player/coach chooses not to sign. They might be preoccupied with work -- Do you want a slumping Tiger signing autographs or hitting in the cage? -- or simply having a bad day. Just because they're in the majors doesn't mean every day is a great day. You don't know what's going on in their personal lives.

    Tony's do's and don'ts to being a good Tigers fan

    DO ... Wait until between innings to leave your seat for a bathroom break or food run.

    DON'T ... Return to your seat unless it's between half-innings or if there's a break in the action, like a pitching change. Fans in your section will appreciate your courtesy.

    DO ... Keep your off-the-field conversation -- "Did you hear what so-and-so did last night?!?" -- out of earshot from surrounding fans, just in case they don't care.

    DON'T ... Be afraid to talk baseball, though. Just don't think everybody is interested in hearing your analysis, either, especially if it's flawed analysis. True story: I once heard one fan praise a batter for moving the runner up ... on a double play!

    DO ... Stand up for the national anthem, "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" and when the Tigers are an out or three away from winning.

    DON'T ... Stand up, while the game's going on just because you want to wave to your friend 12 sections away -- the same friend, we presume, you're on the cell phone with.

    DO ... Walk over to the beautiful statues beyond the left-center-field wall and get a history lesson on some of the greatest players in Tigers history.

    DON'T ... Ever again ask why there's no number above Cobb's name on the brick wall in front of the statues, or what No. 42 means on the brick wall in right-center. I'm here to help: Cobb didn't wear a number because they weren't common when he was playing early in the 20th century, and Jackie Robinson's number is retired throughout baseball.

    Care for a hot dog ... or 12?

    The Tigers have jumped on the binge bandwagon!

    New this year are the all-you-can-eat seats, which are becoming increasingly popular in pro sports -- and not so popular among cardiologists.

    At Comerica Park, a ticket gets you an unlimited feast of hot dogs, burgers, chicken tenders, popcorn, pasta salad, vegetable platter (yeah, that makes it better) and soda. Cost ranges from $55 to $75, depending on whether the game is "premium" (quality opponent or weekend) and whether your ticket is good for a seat or standing-room only.

    The gorge-fest is located on the upper-suite level along the left-field line, above sections 142-144. It's buffet-style, and fans get until two hours after the regularly-scheduled first pitch or through the seventh inning -- whichever comes first -- to chow down.

    Perhaps the biggest selling point: Private bathrooms.

    Smokers: Take it outside

    Comerica Park isn't waiting for Michigan's smoking ban to go into effect May 1. Rather, starting Opening Day, smokers will have to leave the ballpark to light up.

    Apparently, Tigers manager Jim Leyland wasn't consulted.

    There are three designated smoking areas: Behind Section 101 on Adams Street, behind Section 117 outside Gate A, and behind Section 140 on Brush Street. Fans must have their ticket scanned before leaving the park, and again upon re-entry.

    Better find someone to hold your beer, too. Can't take that outside the park.

    Party in the sky

    If you haven't witnessed one of Comerica Park's fireworks shows, you're missing out. Time and time again, I walk away impressed with the surprisingly lengthy display.

    If you're a season-ticket holder or have seen your share of fireworks shows, try watching from a different vantage point -- high up in the upper deck one time; way down in the lower box next time; and maybe out by the statues, fountain or behind the bleachers another time. It's been my experience ushers are very lax checking tickets for the show.

    This year's fireworks start May 14, and take place every Friday and Saturday through the end of the regular season. The shows start about five minutes after the game ends.

    New on the menu ...

    Of the additions to the Comerica Park menu, the highlight is the Italian beef sandwich. Let's hope it rivals the classic from Bernie's Tavern in Wrigleyville in Chicago.

    Other new grub to be on the lookout for in 2010: Garlic fries, three-meat pizzas (pepperoni, sausage, bacon) and veggie pizzas (green peppers, mushrooms, onions). There also is a new concession stand behind Section 104 that'll feature hamburger sliders, chicken wings and hand-cut French fries.

    It's about the kids

    Sundays remain Kids Day at Comerica Park, with children 14 and younger receiving a free promotional item, free rides on the carousel and Ferris wheel, as well as free face-painting. Kids get to run the bases, too.

    "Kids Opening Day" is Sunday, with each child receiving a free foam paw.

    Diamond digits

    $5: Deals the Tigers are offering, including $5 tickets, $5 adult meals (hot dog, chips, soda), $5 kids meals (hot dogs, chips, juice box) and $5 parking (lots M, R, P, Q, Columbia Street between Cass Avenue and Grand River Avenue)

    15: Special events at Comerica Park, three more than last year

    21: Postgame fireworks shows at Comerica Park, two more than last year

    31: Giveaways at Comerica Park, five more than last year

    4/11/00: The first game at Comerica Park, a 5-2 victory over the Mariners. Brian Moehler got the win, Todd Jones the save, and Bobby Higginson had a two-run triple. The 10th anniversary of the park's debut is Sunday.

    Fan-demonium

    A look at the annual attendance since moving into Comerica Park 10 years ago, and how Tigers fans rank among the 14 American League teams.

    2000: 2,438,617; seventh in AL; 43-38 home record

    2001: 1,921,305; ninth in AL; 37-44 home record

    2002: 1,503,623; 12th in AL; 33-47 home record

    2003: 1,368,245; 13th in AL; 23-58 home record

    2004: 1,917,004; ninth in AL; 38-43 home record

    2005: 2,024,431; 10th in AL; 39-42 home record

    2006: 2,595,937; fifth in AL; 46-35 home record

    2007: 3,047,133; third in AL; 45-36 home record

    2008: 3,202,645*; third in AL; 40-41 home record

    2009: 2,567,165; fourth in AL; 51-30 home record

    * Franchise record in attendance

    Source: Baseball-Reference.com, Detroit News research

    Get your tickets

    Single-game tickets can be purchased at detroittigers.com, the Comerica Park box office or by calling (866) 66-TIGER.

    For sellouts, try your luck on Craigslist.org or StubHub.com.

    Opening Day, of course, is sold out.

    More online

  • Check out Tony Paul's Covering the Bases blog at detnews.com/tigers

  • See his MLB power rankings every Thursday in his blog

  • Become a fan of Covering the Bases on Facebook

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