Tigers take swing at new season with Detroit kids

Ariana Taylor
The Detroit News

Three young Detroit boys pumped their fists in the air as their mom pulled into the parking lot next to Triumph Church on Sunday morning. 

The boys weren't excited about worship service. They wanted to meet the Detroit Tigers' mascot, PAWS. 

Ferris Holmes, 28, of Detroit with her children, Brandon Holmes, 7, Kamron Holmes, 9 and behind them, Kazmere Holmes, 9, at the Tigers giveaway.

To celebrate the start of the Tigers' baseball season on Thursday, the team hosted a giveaway rally in partnership with Triumph Church's East Campus on East . Grand Boulebard. 

The Tigers, minus any of the team's players, distributed hundreds of baseball and bat sets to families in the city as part of Major League Baseball's Play Ball initiative. 

"(My sister) is going to help me. She's just going to throw the ball and I'm going to whack the ball," said 7-year-old Brandon Holmes, who plans to start playing Little League baseball with his twin brothers, Kamron and Kazmere, 9, in April.

Families drove up to tables filled with goody bags and piles of pizza boxes. Each child received an MLB-branded tote bag and a Tigers hat in addition to a bat and ball.

Tigers mascot PAWS gives way gift bags at Triumph Church East Campus in Detroit on March 28, 2021.

Shree Hemphill of Detroit said she brought her 9-year-old son Hollister to the event to feel the excitement a new season can bring.

"It's very important for him to see this firsthand. I'm trying to get him more involved in sports, and it's closer to home now so we're able to get to it," Hemphill said.

Tigers mascot PAWS dances with Patricia Lewis, right, and Terry Fairley, left, members of the nursing ministry at Triumph Church.

Parishioners drove up for the rally before and after church service and some even got out of their cars, dancing to gospel music with a masked-up PAWS.

"We've been working with the church to help grow the game of baseball in the city of Detroit," said Kevin Brown, director of community impact for the Tigers. "A big thing for us is making sure kids have access and opportunity when it comes to the game and events like this give us the ability to make that happen."

Music played from a speaker, selfies were taken with the mascot and "Go Tigers" was said many times over. 

On Saturday and Sunday, the Tigers hosted rallies at Piwok Park in the Fort-Schaefer neighborhood and the Skinner Playfield in the Denby and Yorkshire Woods neighborhoods with more giveaways, food trucks, a DJ and a drumline.

For the Tigers organization, giving opportunities to kids in the inner city was the focus of the weekend events. 

"At the end of the day we want to make sure that kids have opportunities to play the game that we all love, so events like this are important because they give that access to equipment and to other information from our organization that will hopefully help a kid fall in love with baseball," Brown said.

The gatherings are some of the only events that are allowed to celebrate the Tigers' season opener as traditional festivities are banned because of the pandemic.

On Friday, the Detroit Health Department and Police Department said tailgating for Opening Day on Thursday is prohibited and they're cracking down on anyone not following state COVID-19 guidelines. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's administration announced a week ago that it will allow up to 20% of capacity at outdoor stadiums, including Comerica Park.

The new order from the state's Department of Health and Human Services came just days after a group of GOP lawmakers called on Whitmer to ease a prior cap that would have allowed just 1,000 fans to attend the first Tigers game. 

Comerica Park can seat 41,083 fans, so a 20% capacity limit means the Tigers could accommodate up to 8,217 fans.