Let’s party two: Opening Days in Detroit

Francis X. Donnelly
The Detroit News

Detroit — One day after Tigers fans showed it was possible to celebrate Opening Day without a baseball game, they did it the normal way Friday.

They squeezed into bars, listened to music at Grand Circus Park and posed for photos at the big Tiger statue in front of Comerica Park. They turned streets into parking lots and parking lots into restaurants.

But something was amiss during the first home game of the baseball season. It had to do with the folks playing for the Tigers. Who were those guys?

Matthew Frain of Ontario, Canada, tips his hat with his son Alex, 5, during Opening Day ceremonies at Comerica Park on Friday.

A rebuilding of the team during the offseason left many fans wondering who they were watching.

“A lot of no names,” Tony Hall of Bloomfield Hills said about the Tigers’ lineup. “I’ll still be rooting for them.”

The No Names put up a good fight and even seemed to have won the game, only to have the umpire’s call reversed, before finally losing, 13-10, in 13 innings.

The long game, in which the teams exchanged leads over five hours and 27 minutes, left Mike McCabe of Trenton exhausted and disappointed.

“It stunk. They (the umpires) stole the game,” he said.

The Tiger roster played into the Opening Day theme of starting over. Of the 25 players, 15 have fewer than three years of experience, said team officials.

With so many young players, fans aren’t expecting a lot of success this year. But that didn’t temper their enthusiasm Friday. Good team or bad, Opening Day is one of the sweetest days in sports.

Ten days into spring and two days before Easter, the home opener is all about starting over. After being cooped up all winter, fans were ready to spread their wings.

“I love Opening Day. This is my favorite time of the year,” said Bill Vultaggio of Wayne. 

When the home opener, originally scheduled for Thursday, was canceled because of rain, fans didn’t allow it to spoil the fun. They continued to party at bars throughout the day.

The enthusiasm continued into Friday but seemed a tad muted. The bistros and lounges weren’t quite as full as the day before. Friday’s game was a sellout, with 42,516 tickets sold, but empty seats could be seen all around the park.

Perhaps it was the weather, a bone-rattling 37 degrees when the game started. Or maybe fans had the day off from work on Thursday but not Friday.

“I’m glad they waited,” Anne Murphy of Oak Park said about the decision not to play in Thursday’s rain. “It’s cold, but at least I’m not wet.”

During the game, Rob Peters of Woodhaven was familiar with most of the Tigers he was watching. But then the team dipped into the bullpen. The first three relief pitchers were Warwick Saupold, Drew VerHagen and Daniel Stumpf. Peters didn’t recognize one in the bunch.

“Never heard of them. Are they Tigers?” Peters said.

The inexperienced VerHagen lived up to his low billing, blowing a lead. He gave up two runs without retiring a single batter.

To be fair, another reliever, Shane Greene, who has been around for several years, also was shelled by the Pirate hitters.

The long game made for a long day and, for most of the faithful, a long two days. Especially for people like J.R. Blankenship of Wolverine Lake.

Blankenship and his friends were the first people to set up a tailgating tent across from the ballpark entrance. They arrived at 7 a.m. Friday, six hours before game time.

He said their tailgating was a tradition that began when Comerica Park opened in 2000.

“We were here at 6:45 a.m. yesterday, and there were a lot more people,” said Blankenship. “We found out it was postponed at 9:30 a.m., but we hung out until 6 p.m.” 

The two-day spectacle meant a lot of driving for Kellie Richards of Bay City.

She and her four friends drove to Detroit on Thursday only to learn the game had been rained out. So they did the same thing Friday. Thursday wasn’t a total waste as they spent several quality hours partying downtown.

The partying continued Friday as they assembled at a beer tent in Grand Circus Park.

“It’s Opening Day,” Richards said.

No further explanation was needed.


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Twitter: @francisXdonnell

Staff writers Sarah Rahal and Melody Baetens contributed.