It's Opening Day in Detroit: Tigers fans on the prowl

Holly Fournier, Melody Baetens, Tom Greenwood and Francis X. Donnelly
The Detroit News

Detroit's baseball cathedral welcomes back the boys of summer and their loyal fans on one of the city's most beloved days of the year: Opening Day. Follow the events of the day -- from first beer to first cheer -- below:

Rachel Kazmarski, 33, and daughter Madison, 4. Madison has 10 autographed baseballs, this one is from last year's home opener and is signed by Jim Leyland.

The Opening Day celebrations were in high gear in Greektown.

Bass boomed from a tent outside the Old Shillelagh and sports fans spill out of the Well and Delux Bar & Louge nearby.

Down Monroe street, which is closed to car traffic from Beaubien to Randolph, revelers hopped from party to party.

Exodus rooftop lounge was just warming up before the first pitch was thrown. DJ Lady Leb spun electronic dance music while bartenders readied themselves for an afternoon rush.

DJ Lady Leb spun electronic dance music while bartenders readied themselves for an afternoon rush.

Opening Day superfans

Windsor resident Rachel Kazmarski has made it to 24 straight Tiger Opening Days; pretty good for someone who's only 33 years old.

"My daughter Madison is only 4 and she's been to three Opening Days," Kazmarkski said. "She was only 2.5 months old for her first Opening Day."

Madison brought one of 10 baseballs she's acquired since she's been at Comerica Park.

"Most of them are autographed," Kazmarkski said. "This one she brought for good luck was signed last opening day by Jim Leyland. She wants to add to her collection this year."

Who's Madison's favorite Tiger?

"Tori," she yelled.

Apparently, mom hasn't broken the news to her yet that Hunter was traded ... to the Twins (she may find out at game time).

Sweet smells of barbecue

Carol James of C & C Seven Star barbecue catering set up shop at Clifford and Fisher at 6 a.m. Monday to lure in revelers with the smell of smoky grilled ribs.

"Busy, busy, busy" said James of the day. It's her first time selling food on Opening Day. "It's an interesting corner. I'll come back next year."

Across the street at Harry's Detroit, folks in blue and orange gathered in a tent outside where there was much more room to move around compared to inside.

There, fans were packed in both upstairs and down as the smell of grilled peppers filled the air.

Carol James of C&C 7 Star barbeque

A first experience

Red cups in hand, friends Halie Xenakis, Elise Drager and Jaclyn Sienzenga sat in the back of their friend's truck people-watching.

It was their first Opening Day experience. The 22 year-olds, all from Shelby Township, decided to skip school and work to check out the party.

"We've never been before, and we had the opportunity to come check it out," said Drager. "We're going to a tent party later, and we're going to catch up with some of our friends. It's really fun."

Halie Xenakis, Elise Drager and Jaclyn Sienzenga sit in the back of their friend's truck people watching.

Party on, D

Suzanne Hurley of Roseville said Opening Day has been an "unofficial holiday" in her family for at least 15 years.

"We don't even have tickets, we just came downtown for the party atmosphere," said Hurley, 43. "We're going to watch the game at The Fillmore."

Hurley hit Grand Circus Park Monday with her brother, cousin and future sister-in-law, everyone decked out in Tigers gear.

"We are true Tigers fans," she said. "Win or lose, we support our boys of summer."

Suzanne Hurley, second from left, celebrates the start of the season near Comerica Park.

On tap

Bartender Scotty Hinson has been serving Tiger fans at the Fillmore Detroit's free Opening Day party for six years.

Bartender Scotty Hinson at the Fillmore Detroit on Monday.

He said around 10 a.m. Monday the bar was already busier than in previous years and he credits the nice weather.

His favorite thing about working on Opening Day?

"The babes," he says. "Babes love baseball."

The Fillmore will show the game on a big screen on stage while offering fans plenty of bars plus hot dogs and other snacks. Unlike some bar parties, there's no cover to get in.

Get your dogs, here

Dale Lockwood, owner of Brighton-based Hickory BBQ & Grill caterers, said he will slow-cook around 5,000 Ballpark hot dogs on Monday to make 15,000 samples for hungry Tigers fans.

"We did it last year and again this year," said Lockwood, who was hired by Ballpark to cook up the free snacks.

This year, Ballpark is introducing two new flavors: Jalapeño cheddar and slow-cooked chili.

To meet demand, Lockwood snagged two spots downtown: one in Grand Circus Park and another in the ballpark's frontyard.

"We've got the best spot in town for Opening Day," Lockwood said, checking a batch of hot dogs in the smoker right outside Comerica's front gates. "It's sunny, it's beautiful, and there's nothing like giving away free food."

Dale Lockwood, owner of Brighton-based Hickory BBQ & Grill caterers, said he will slow cook around 5,000 Ballpark hot dogs on Monday to make 15,000 samples for hungry Tigers fans.

On the Mover

Jane Plunkett, left, and Barb Rutledge on the People Mover as it pulls up to the Broadway stop near Grand Circus.

Detroit's People Mover saw some action Monday morning as the train cars were fuller than usual, ushering Tiger fans from all over downtown to Comerica Park.

Jane Plunkett, originally from Scotland but currently residing in Pleasant Ridge, was on board with Barb Rutledge, also of Pleasant Ridge.

Rutledge says they try to get to Opening Day whenever they can because "I love the atmosphere."

The pair are meeting friends who are tailgating near the ballpark and celebrating their friend's 50th birthday.
Plunkett says being from Scotland she never played baseball but she's a fan now.

Atmosphere like Christmas

Northville residents Joe Sczytko and his wife, Kerri, joined family near the park Monday morning for all-day tailgating.

"Some years we get tickets if we're lucky, but we usually just tailgate," he said. "Tailgating is more fun because just look at the atmosphere. It's like Christmas to us."

Like many other fans out early Monday, tailgating is a tradition for 36-year-old Sczytko.

"I've come every year since forever, or at least since the late '90s," he said. "I started when I was old enough to drink, pretty much."

Joe Sczytko and family with the Victor Martinez bobblehead.

Looking for a good start

Ken Cannon, 42, said he's been coming to Opening Day for seven or eight years.

"It's fun, all the festivities," he said.

Cannon, of River Rouge arrived around 8 a.m. Monday with family. They parked at Compuware and walked over to enjoy the atmosphere before attending the game this afternoon.

It's tradition, Cannon said. He was able to attend the last Opening Day at Tiger Stadium but missed Comerica Park's first game.

"Hopefully, the Tigers win," he said of the game Monday. "We're looking to start the season off well."

'All-in' for Opening Day

Amber Grayson, 38, and her mother, Kim Faison, 60, joined a group of friends and were in line at the Hockeytown Cafe just before 8 a.m. Monday

The two have been coming to Opening Day since 2009, Grayson said.

Jann Cannon, 44, of River Rouge takes a photo of Amy Merchak, 32, of River Rouge and Marta Merchak, 38, of Southgate as Ken Cannon, 37, of River Rouge stands by.

"We used to go to the game but now we just hang out and enjoy all the tailgating," she said.

Amber Grayson, 38, and her mother, Kim Faison, 60, joined a group of friends and family in line at the Hockeytown Cafe just before 8 a.m.

Faison and Grayson said they left their homes in Monroe at 6:30 a.m. to snag a good table at Hockeytown.

"Being a Tiger fan is just something you can't do 50 percent," Faison said. "You have to be all-in."

Tigers tailgating

Garden City resident Norm Orsette said he has been coming to Opening Day for about five years, often with no game tickets in hand.

"This is a tailgating party only," he said as his group of about a half dozen people began to unpack their cars.

Orsette, 49, said parts of his group arrived early to get a good spot directly in front of Comerica Park. Around 40 family and friends are expected to show up by game time.

Norm Orsette talks to fellow tailgaters outside Comerica Park on Monday.

"Some people will go in (the park)," Orsette said. "But we find it more fun out here; we can enjoy the festivities out here."

Orsette's group came prepared. Bags of food line one table and an oversized cooler is stuffed with beer. Another cooler holds hundreds of blue and orange Jell-O shots.

"Food, friends and Tigers baseball," Orsette said. "It should be a national holiday."

From Greece with love

Jennie Kosta came all the way from Greece for the Tigers' first home game of the year.

Well, she came to Michigan to attend the University of Michigan but she went to the game Monday with her cousin.

What does she think about all the pregame hoopla?

"It's festive. Everyone is excited," she said as hundreds of people milled about Comerica Park and the surrounding eateries and bars.

That's as good a description as any of the way Detroit views Opening Day.

Several hours before the first pitch, all three floors of Cheli's Chili Bar were jammed. Parking lots had become pop-up restaurants.

And woe to the stragglers.

Parking spots were at a premium late in the morning. Stilted traffic turned the streets around the ballpark into parking lots.

Traffic, traffic everywhere

Robin Jennings had it all planned out.

By leaving her Waterford home six hours before the game, she would have a better chance to avoid heavy traffic, find a good parking spot and score a ticket.

But Opening Day has a way of turning the most intricate plans to mush.

"It was crazy," she said about traffic around the ballpark. "It wasn't moving."

She settled for a parking spot 10 blocks from the stadium, and was still looking for a ticket around noon.

Wearing the colors

Comerica Park doesn't have a dress code but, by the looks of the crowd streaming into the ballpark, it looked like fans thought there was one.

Seemingly everyone wore a T-shirt, sweatshirt, jersey or jacket of blue-or-orange Tiger vintage.

And then there were the more unusual outfits, like Pete Gibson dressed head to toe in a Tiger outfit, complete with a tail.

"I love the Tigers," he said. "It's a fun way to spend the day."

Gibson, 23, of Taylor, said he dresses like this for all Tiger games, attending five a year.

But today is a little more special, he said. For Opening Day, he has painted whiskers.