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Detroit — Per usual, the sky was gray. Per not so usual, empty seats abounded.

But chilly weather and no-shows weren’t about to ruin the Tigers’ first home game of the season Thursday.

And, to put an exclamation point on the festive proceedings, the Tigers beat the Kansas City Royals 5-4. Don’t look now but the team, a lineup of mostly unheralded players, has won five of its first eight games of the year.

“They won again,” Walt Denison of Commerce Township said after the final out. “I didn’t think they would have any by now.”

Opening Day is one of the sweetest days in sports, especially in sports-crazed towns like Detroit, where the Tigers have played during three different centuries.

The unofficial holiday is awash with live rock music, old English D’s adorning caps and jackets, and the smell of beer and barbecue wafting over downtown lots in the shadow of Comerica Park.

The early April ritual is equal parts baseball and nostalgia, partying and religious experience. Fans are commemorating all manner of things: the return of spring and baseball, the chance to start over, the ability to do something outside after spending six months inside.

“Detroit knows how to party,” said Barb Pearson of Wyandotte. “We live and play hard.”

Despite the game being sold out, empty seats and even empty rows could be spotted around the stadium. That’s uncharacteristic for the home opener.

One can’t blame the weather because the weather is usually lousy on Opening Day, said fans. They just bundle up, drink a little more and deal with it, they said.

More likely, the no-shows had to do with all the no-names in the lineup, said Andy Flowers of Royal Oak.

But Flowers doesn’t care if they players are All Stars or minor leaguers. He wouldn’t miss the home opener for anything.

“Fourteen years,” he said about the number of Opening Days he has attended. “I don’t even ask my boss. He knows I’m not coming in.”

Here are some of the sights and sounds from one of the happiest days in sports in Detroit.

'Spring is on the way'

It was a standard Opening Day timeline for Mike Bowdell of Allen Park:

Leave home at 7:30 a.m., arrive in Lot 1 at Comerica Park at 8:15 for the 10th year in a row, crack the first Coors Light at 8:30.

Bowdell, 52, expected to have 20 to 25 friends and relatives cycle through the white tent he set up behind his red Ford Expedition. 

“It’s a tradition,” he said, working on Coors Light  No. 3 at 10:45. “It tells you spring is on the way.”

Last year, Bowdell and friends were having such a dandy time they didn’t know until well after the declaration that the game had been postponed.

Thursday, America was blasting from a speaker atop the Expedition, helping to keep the chill at bay: “Ventura Highway, in the sunshine ...”

Party people pack the bars

As game time got closer and the chilly wind continued, fans looked for shelter and a place to watch. A line grew outside of the tent near Music Hall, which was blasting '90s hip-hop.

The party at Elwood Bar & Grill spilled onto the patio and the parking garage next door.

Nearby, Punch Bowl Social was packed with party people taking advantage of the attractions here, which included bowling, video games, darts and private karaoke rooms.

For Opening Day, Punch Bowl was boasting shareable dishes like a “sheetload” of nachos or a platter of chicken wings.

Rachel Breeding from Commerce, who was celebrating a birthday Thursday, stopped in before heading off on a pedal pub with Lacy Lobenstein from Clarkston.

“It’s a great party. It’s everyone celebrating the start of baseball season,” she said.

Dad brings two first-timers 

Dan Vought of Shelby Township has only missed two Opening Days since 2000 — one when he took his kids to Disney World, and last year when rotten weather forced a one-day postponement. 

By the time last year's rescheduled game started, he was flying to San Antonio, Texas, to see Michigan play in college basketball’s Final Four. 

Vought, 41, brought his kids for the first time Thursday, which presented a logistical problem. Alexis, a student at Central Michigan University, is 18. Jacob is 17. 

“What do you do when they’re not 21?” Vought asked. “We’re still figuring that out.”

To start with, each had a carryout cup of coffee. Alexis, wearing double layers but no jacket, was shivering anyway. 

Vought offered her a sweatshirt. It was a kinder gesture than an I-told-you-so — “and besides, that way I don’t have to carry it.”

Anchor's aweigh

After being sold several months ago, the longstanding sports hangout Anchor Bar held its grand reopening on Thursday to coincide with the Tigers home opener.

The bar has benefited from a cosmetic refresh of the walls, seating and light fixtures plus updates to its sound system and menus. New owner Zaid Elia, who was on hand Thursday morning, said he couldn’t sleep anticipating the day.

“I didn’t sleep all night because I was hoping I would open the doors and people would come in and be excited and the good thing is that they are,” he said.

Among the attendees were Ashley Morgan of Oak Park, who said she loves the downtown vibe on Opening Day because everyone is in a good mood.

fdonnelly@detroitnews.com

(313) 223-4186

Twitter: @francisXdonnell

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