Henning: Opening Day cold won’t faze Tigers’ faithful

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

Each winter a brown leather Carhartt coat big enough to keep a 747 jet warm is draped over the giant tiger that guards Comerica Park’s front.

It’s a cute promotion.

It also might be the right garment to wear for Friday’s Comerica Park season-opener between the Tigers and Red Sox.

Temperature at game time (1:10 p.m.) is projected to be 42 degrees. That’s fine for keeping your box-seat beer cold, but not so great for men swinging bats and throwing pitches, much less for 44,000 or so who will attempt to avoid freezing their keisters as they convene to inspect the 2017 Tigers and enjoy a day of downtown merriment, perhaps not in that order.

It’s something, Opening Day in Detroit. Ask people who have come here from other towns who thought they had seen their share of rites and celebrations that transcended a single game or event.

Motor City ritual

Mardi Gras in New Orleans. The Boston Marathon. St. Patrick’s Day’s parade in Chicago. The running of the bulls in Pamplona.

Baseball season’s first day in Detroit is slightly less dangerous — depending upon your choice of bar — than chasing bulls through Spain’s streets. But it has about it character and color that can, in its grandest moments, make unleashed bulls seem rather banal.

The day begins early and often runs late into evening — or beyond. It tends to feature beverages, many of them carrying ingredients that patrons like to believe helps ward off April’s chill, which pretty much is a fact of life each year when the Tigers debut.

Complete guide to the Detroit Tigers' home opener

There is hot food and hot dogs. Hot coffee and hot couples. Crowds push along and across Woodward Avenue, steered by police who somehow make cars and feet cooperate. Eventually, about 12:45 p.m., folks who have taken refuge in cozy saloons and bars bundle up and head for the ballpark hoping to be hunkered down, in their seats, for the year’s first pitch.

And, if the customers can endure the chill for nine innings — Friday will be a test — they hope a hometown Tigers team can make a day of revelry that much more festive. They hope to see a victory. They want to feel all the more as if this team has a shot, as if this Opening Day bacchanal is about more than a good party. That, in fact, it might be the first taste of a good baseball team.

There are traditions at work here. For good friend Stacy Spence and her husband Alan, recently retired Ferndale residents when they’re not traveling about the planet, an annual habit has been to host an exotic Opening Day breakfast.

Pancakes to snowflakes

Crème brulee pancakes, cheese and seafood delights, Bloody Marys — “with multiple condiments and spices from worldwide sources,” Stacy reminded — are part of an annual pregame celebration ahead of their journey to Comerica.

“Opening Day breakfasts and after-game parties are the epitome of what life in America offers,” Stacy said, throttling up the eloquence. “It’s embracing each other and enjoying our relationships. And, on the best days, lavishing in a sunshine-filled stadium.”

Sharing in the spirit are Mark Jones, 31, a city planner for the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, and his fiancée, Amanda Vig, a psychologist for the Monroe Intermediate School District.

They live in Detroit and will take Friday off, joining a friend, Jon Phillips, a College for Creative Studies student from Seattle. They were able to buy standing room only tickets that at least afforded the three of them a chance to be together for a game that will have 3,000-4,000 beyond Comerica’s 41,299 capacity.

The plan is to bundle in at least four layers and to begin their pilgrimage at Midtown at 10 a.m.

“We’ll walk south from Midtown on Woodward, then hit the local places that have no cover,” said Jones, a native of Blissfield who isn’t terribly worried about Friday’s hypothermic temps. “I’m OK with the 40s, as long as it’s not 35.

“We can bring a backpack, so I’ll have a rainjacket, a stocking hat and baseball cap — stuff I don’t have to go home for if it’s needed.”

It will be his and Vig’s first Opening Day. It wasn’t going to be missed. Not in this, their wedding year.

“I was going to do Opening Day at some point,” Jones said. “While I’m still living here, in the city, there’s no excuse not to.”

Well, there might be. The Weather Channel would offer forgiveness there.

But this is Detroit. This is April. Forecasts have always tended to be a rather ancillary matter when it comes to Tigers followers and that first celebration of baseball season. That first long, hearty swig of spring, and a summer to come, spiced by baseball’s inimitable grip on those who are wedded to a team from Detroit.