Packard Plant partial demolition begins

Tigers fans embrace cold Opening Day and get rewarded with comeback win

Francis X. Donnelly
The Detroit News

Detroit — Baseball returned to Detroit a week later than usual but it was still cold.

Then again, the Tigers could play their first game of the year in the middle of July in Death Valley and it would still be cold.

That’s because, as any fan will tell you, Tigers’ Opening Day is supposed to be cold.

It’s also supposed to be raucous, hopeful and spirited in any way you want to use that word and, on Friday, it was check, check and check.

“I don’t want it to be nice,” fan Zack Fredericks of Bingham Farms said about the weather. “It wouldn’t be the Tigers."

The Tigers beat the White Sox 5-4 in a come-from-behind win but, even though it was spine-tingling, it may have been the least important part of the day.

Opening Day is a celebration of the return of a sport that binds generations of families, said fans. It heralds a time of year that is synonymous with resurrection. It’s a mishmash of baseball and nostalgia and partying and religious experience.

And you thought it was just about drinking beer.

Andy Heller of Rochester Hills, who was drinking Bud Light in the left-field bleachers, has begun bringing his son to the home opener just as his dad brought him. In the Heller family, it’s an unofficial holiday from work and school.

“He loves it,” Heller said about 9-year-old Tony. “He’s more excited than I am.”

The loquacious tyke had talked about the game all week, said his dad. He was still chattering when a reporter bid adieu to the family in the fifth inning.

“I believe they’re going to win,” said Tony. “They have good players. I also believe the Lions are good.”

He wasn’t sure which of the two Detroit teams was better. He decided they were about the same.

Full of hope

Jerry Knight (from left) and James Demps watch William Rice take a huge bite from his ultimate nachos outside Comerica Park before the game between the Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox on Opening Day in Detroit on Friday, April 8, 2022.

The cacophony surrounding Opening Day doesn’t wait for the first pitch. On Friday, as usual, it began in the morning with rock music blaring from the sheds of Eastern Market to the three floors of The Old Shillelagh bar in Greektown.

It was hard to talk about the Tigers in the parking lot of the Tin Roof bar. The music was so loud it was hard to even think about the team, even though the stadium was just across the street.

Given the song playing, it was easier to contemplate Bob Seger in the back seat of his ’60 Chevy. The singer of “Night Moves,” the song blaring from the speakers, hails from Detroit and is a humongous fan of its sports teams.

Kathy Baker of Kalamazoo fought through the din at the Tin Roof to explain the importance of Opening Day. She said it had become a tradition for her longtime friends to hold a reunion around the game. (Miguel Cabrera enthusiasts, assemble!)

“It’s fun. It’s an excuse to have a good time, not that we need one,” said Baker, who was dressed in a Bengal tiger coverall.

Another fan was dressed like Abe Lincoln, mixing up his holidays. (We’ll get to him later.)

Baker’s buddy echoed her sentiments, saying the joy surrounding the game made it an ideal time to get together the gang. At least that’s what it sounded like she said.

Like Opening Day Past and Opening Day Future, Friday was full of hope.

It doesn’t take much to raise the hopes of sports fans, especially after the past five lean years of the Tigers. The team acquired several players during the off-season and, while they’re not stars, they’re better than the people they replaced.

Detroit Tigers fans, from left, Rob Boyle of Royal Oak, Brian Fox of Grosse Pointe Park and Nick Andrew of Detroit celebrate the winning run driven in by Javier Baez against the Chicago White Sox on Opening Day at Comerica Park on Friday, April 8, 2022, in Detroit.

Also, one of those players, Javier Baez, who is known for swinging at any ball in his Zip code, drove in the winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Tom Norris of Taylor, standing in the concourse near third base, ran the numbers and believes the Tigers can win their division.

He allowed that wishful thinking may have been part of his calculations. He also may have been delirious from the dramatic win, in which the Tigers had trailed the mighty Sox 3-0 at one point.

“A lot has to go right,” he said. “It’s possible. They might surprise us.”

What also may surprise him is some of the team’s heralded young players having a breakout season, he said. He feels the rookies are several years away from mastering the game.

One of the rooks, Spencer Torkelson, had a rough day, going 0-4 with two strikeouts, and dropping a foul ball.

But why dwell on the negative? Baseball is back and the Tigers won. Here are some scenes from Opening Day, one of the sweetest days in sports:

Abraham Lincoln joins the fun

Professional Abraham Lincoln presenter Ron Carley tips his hat at the entrance to Comerica Park on Opening Day in Detroit on Friday, April 8, 2022.

Ron Carley, a professional Lincoln presenter, said he was at the ballpark for the game like everyone else.

"It’s Opening Day,” he said. “It’s a party.”

People stopped him to take selfies with the ersatz commander-in-chief. He said he comes to the stadium just about every day at noon to take pictures in front of its giant stone tiger sentries.

“I think I’m the only professional Lincoln presenter left in Michigan.”

Glad to be outside

Ultimate Detroit Tigers fan Roberta Kordish, 79, of Lincoln Park, wears her Detroit Tigers hat to Opening Day in Detroit on Friday, April 8, 2022.

Emily and Frank Pizzo, both 62 of South Lyon, said they tailgate every Opening Day in the same spot in a parking lot a stone’s throw from the ballpark. They have been doing it for 10 to 15 years.

They arrived Friday at 8 a.m. to set up a canopy, chairs, the TV, grill, snacks and beverages for family and friends who joined them later.

“We hardly ever come to the games during the season, but we come on the big day just to feel the atmosphere,” said Emily. “It’s just amazing and we love it.”

Despite the big spread, the furnishings were actually fewer this year, said Frank. In years past, they provided a band and porta-potty.

He said he was glad to get outside after being cooped up during the pandemic.

“It’s just time to get out,” he said. “You have to live your life.”

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Twitter: @prima_donnelly

Staff Writers Charles E. Ramirez and Amelia Benavides-Colón contributed.