Tigers blog: Fans' hearts warm despite cold

Holly Fournier, Melody Baetens, Stephanie Steinberg, and Candice Williams
The Detroit Tigers host the New York Yankees in their 2016 home opener at Comerica Park in Detroit on Friday, April 8, 2016.

Baseball fans at Comerica Park rose to their feet Friday and released a chorus of "whooooo!" at the conclusion of the "Star Spangled Banner."

Representatives from the Michigan National Guard were present as a stoic brass quintet from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra performed the National Anthem. The performance ended with red, white and blue fireworks exploding from behind the Chevrolet Fountain.

Former Tiger Kirk Gibson threw out the first pitch and the game is on.

Slow's To Go server Ben Thomas, 22, estimates he's scooped out hundreds of mac and cheese bowls to Tigers tailgators in the 97.1 The Ticket block party.

A taste of tailgating

The park outside the Opera House, where 97.1 The Ticket was hosting an Opening Day block party, was packed with hungry tailgaters in the early afternoon. Ben Thomas, a Wayne State communications student and server at Slow's to To, estimates he's scooped out hundreds of bowls of mac and cheese and pulled pork with slaw and pickles. "It's busy and hectic, but it's manageable," he says.

Windsor resident John Weese was thrilled to see Slow's amid the smattering of pop-up restaurants in the park. A vegetarian, he ordered "The Genius" meal with meat substitutes and coleslaw. "No hot dogs for me," he admits. After years as a Tigers fan, he decided to take his wife and 16-year-old son across the border for the Opening Day experience. "I had no idea it would be this festive," he says, between bites of The Genius. "It took us 45 minutes just to find a parking spot."

His wife Ellie Weese is really a Bluejays fan, but she humored her husband and dressed in fleece Tigers pants and a flaming orange hat. "I was trained to like them," she jokes.

"I'm super warm," says Bill Schultz of Detroit.

Good day for fake fur

One way to keep warm is to dress head to toe in tiger faux fur, which is what Bill Schultz of Detroit did. Posing with fans just inside the park, Schultz sipped on a bright orange frozen daiquiri.

"I'm super warm," Schultz said with a big grin.

He says he gets his Tigers pride from his family. "There's a longstanding history of Opening Day in my family going back to my grandfather before he passed."

Shultz, who has worn his Tigers suit in Chicago before when the Detroit team played the White Sox, says he has fond memories of Tiger Stadium but Comerica Park is where he considers the team's home to be.

"This is my park," he says.

Barton Malow Vice President Matt Lentini performs with his band Doin' Time on Elizabeth Street a few blocks away from Comerica Park.

Arena builder rocks out

Barton Malow is building a new hockey arena that will have Red Wings fans rocking in their seats, but Vice President Matt Lentini had a crowd of 500 rocking to Led Zeppelin at the company's tailgate in a lot off Elizabeth Street.

Lentini focuses on renewable energy as one of 26 company officers, and he's also a lead singer in the rock 'n' roll band Doin' Time. "He's a pretty good singer too," says president Ryan Maibach, adding that Lentini performs at other company events.

This is the first time Barton Malow, one of the largest general contractors in Michigan, has hosted a tailgate for Opening Day. Employees and clients enjoyed heated tents, Jay Ray's barbecue, a Bloody Mary bar and local beers from Atwater and Bell's. "Opening Day is an awesome event. It's a great time to gather with friends and celebrate what's here in the city," Maibach says.

At the front gate of Comerica Park Megan, 39 and Gregory Ahejew, 44 of Flint get married at Comerica Park on Opening Day April 8, 2016, in Detroit

Despite Friday's chilly weather, there were no cold feet as Megan, 39 and Gregory Ahejew, 44 of Flint get married at the front gate of Comerica Park before the Tigers' home opener.

Rapper shares music, Tigers spirit

Detroit rapper Shadow Klan stands in front of Comerica Park promoting his music to potential fans.

"I've been out here for every Tiger game since they built this stadium," said the rapper, who rhymes about UFOs, positivity and evolution.

Shadow Klan, 35, is often spotted in downtown Detroit promoting his music and telling people passing him on the street to "live long and prosper." Naturally, his outlook on this year's baseball season is positive.

"I think if a certain individual by the name of Verlander is feeling good and puts out a good initiative then it will have a snowball effect."

The Michigan Peddler party bike cruises down Park Street

Chilling wind isn't stopping Tigers fans along Park Street in tailgating lots and those marching down the street. The smell of charcoal burning mixes with whiffs of spilled beer as the Michigan Peddler party bike cruises by Cliff Bell's jazz club.

It's a $5 cover charge to get in there and the Park Bar next door, a small price to pay for a warm seat and proper bathroom facilities.

Cody Smith Fllof Lansing was keeping warm while walking along Elizabeth with long johns under his Detroit Tigers fleece pajamas.

"Today is a holiday," said Smith, 26, who calls his pants "stylish." "I give today 10 out of 10."

Tigers fans bond over home opener

Craig Madigan, 45, of Madison, Wisconsin, was celebrating a "bittersweet" home opener  alongside his brother and his 11-year-old son, Jack.

"My dad passed away last weekend, so we were here for his funeral," says Madigan, who grew up in West Bloomfield. "He loved baseball and always took us to games, so we figured we should come."

Brad Madigan, Jack Madigan and Craig Madigan watching batting practice near the Tigers dugout.

Jack stood along the fence Friday near the Tigers dugout, decked out in the team's gear and prepared for autographs with a bright orange sign and black sharpie.

"I kinda like everyone (on the team) because everyone has their special abilities," Jack says. "I'd want (an autograph from Miguel) Cabrera, though. He's just really cool and my dad likes him, too. It's (in my) genes."

Jack's father agreed.

"He's got Lions and Tigers all over his room," Madigan says. "His buddies always bust his chops, but he's a Detroit kid through and though."

Hours before first pitch, five members of the DSO Civic Youth Ensemble gathered near home plate to practice a booming rendition of the National Anthem.

Home opener gets a tune-up

Hours before first pitch, five members of the DSO Civic Youth Ensemble gathered near home plate to practice a booming rendition of the National Anthem.

Conductor Nelson Rodriguez-Parada didn't ask many questions when his boss told him about the opportunity. It was a no-brainer to accept, he says.

"We've never done anything like this," he says.

Rodriguez-Parada called each performer to invite them to take the field Friday.

"I kind of jumped at the opportunity," says Annette Brewer, a 22-year-old Oakland University student and tuba player of 12 years.

"My first thought? Something like, 'That's a lot of people watching,' " she says, glancing toward the empty seats around 10:30 a.m. Friday. "This is probably the highest profile event I've played at. But I'm a performer, I like to get out there and show people what I do."

The five performers, touting three trumpets, a trombone and a tuba, brought with them various levels of nerves ahead of the big performance. They estimate their biggest crowd prior to Friday numbered around 3,000 spectators, a far cry from Comerica Park's roughly 45,000 seating capacity.

"We are very well prepared, but I'm also very nervous," Brewer says.

One issue, she says, is trying to ignore the sound of their own performance on a slight delay over the stadium's loudspeakers.

"We just have to listen to what's happening here within the ensemble," she says. "But it's not as bad as I thought."

Trumpet player Nicholas Voisich, 22, isn't as nervous as his fellow performer.

"I'm really excited and very happy to receive this opportunity to play. It's an honor to play here but at the same time it's just another performance," says Voisich, an Oakland University student. "You just gotta go out there and do your job."

Jam session outside Comerica Park

Drummer Trapezio Forrest has been performing with singing partner Sissarow Brown outside Comerica the past two years. With a big smile, Forrest says he made the drum set himself out of buckets and tins.

The duo haven't missed a game yet.

"We have fun," Brown says. "The music comes straight out of the heart."

They'll be heading to play in Greektown later in the day.

Liam Nantais, 6, of Woodbridge pets a Detroit police horse while crossing Woodward near Adams.

A day never to forget

Liam Nantais, 6, of Woodbridge pets a Detroit police horse while crossing Woodward near Adams. This is his second time attending the Tigers' home opener festivities.

"We've been walking around pointing out buildings and things about the city," says Liam's dad, David Nantais. "We were by the stadium earlier, but it got a little crazy, so we walked over here and down to Campus Martius. It was pretty calm over there."

Nantias says he wanted to take his son downtown Friday because he's "proud of our residency."

"We're going to go the game. It's exciting," he says.

Deshone Henning

Good times on tap for home opener

Bartender Candyjane Darling is welcoming and helping fans warm up in the newly opened Broderick Grille in the Broderick Tower within eyeshot of Comerica Park.

"It's a great location, good crowd, we've got lots of good specials," says Darling.

The Opening Day menu includes mimosas, Bloody Marys, deviled eggs, salmon Rangoon, mac and cheese balls and, of course, burgers and dogs.

Fans were sipping local beer on tap like Motor City Brewing Works' Ghettoblaster, Bell's Two Hearted Ale and Dragonmead's Final Absolution.

Bartender Deshone Henning says the craft beer has been the most popular so far this morning.

"It's a nice, easygoing crowd. It's hectic but I think people expect that," says manager Julie Martin, who added they had nearly every staff member on deck today, plus extra help.

Detroit resident Amy Stewart and Harrison Township resident John Onofrey play corn hole with friends in lot G. The group started partying at 8 a.m.

The game is on

Amy Stewart, 30, staked out a spot at 8 a.m. lot G. Luckily, she didn't have to travel too far, since she lives in the Kales building across the street.

Stewart took the day off from her marketing research job in Southfield so she could party and play corn hole with a group of 20 to 30 friends. While they'll bear the cold for Lions and Spartans games, "Opening Day is our favorite 'holiday,'" she says.

"I would give up Christmas just to be here," chimes in her friend John Onofrey. The 32-year-old from Harrison Township has been to the 10 past Opening Days and says he just enjoys having fun with friends and seeing the city "so vibrant."

Ferndale residents Dede and Norm Powell got up at 4:30 a.m. Friday to snag their enviable tailgating spot in front of the stadium.

Early fan gets the tailgating spot

Ferndale residents Dede and Norm Powell got up at 4:30 a.m. Friday to snag their enviable tailgating spot in front of the stadium.

Dede Powell, 56, was embarking on her first tailgating venture after attending "numerous" Opening Days as a young woman at old Tiger Stadium.

"I used to do the party bus thing with my girlfriends," she says. "But this is my first time with my husband. He knows how to tailgate."

The couple sat bundled under a huge lawn umbrella Friday, facing the sun over Comerica Park.

"We've got hot dogs to grill and I made my secret cream cheese with salami wraps, with scallions," Dede Powell says. "They are great with beer."

Norm Powell, 55, a lifelong Tigers fan and tailgating enthusiast, says he snagged standing room tickets to the game — on purpose.

"We could get front row but we love to walk around," he says.

The two say they have cherished memories of old Tiger Stadium but have embraced Comerica Park.

"We were so against the new stadium (at first) but what a beautiful job they did with this stadium," Dede Powell says, looking toward Comerica. "It's like going going to the circus, there's just so much to see.

"I love the Tigers," she says. "And I'm talking about the Detroit Tigers and the tiger statues."

From left: Kyle Wright of Port Huron, Ken Nephew of Dearborn and Vicki Sitarski of Livonia attempt to get a fire started in Lot G. They arrived at 6:30 a.m. to get a good tailgating spot.

Corktown fans 'don't stop believing'

By 9 a.m., the G lot off Bagley Avenue was full of early riser tailgaters blasting "Don't Stop Believing" and swishing down breakfast burritos with beer.

Ken Nephew, 25, of Dearborn woke up at 5 a.m. with his family and friends to get a prime spot in the corner. "We got here at 8 a.m. last year and were too late," he says, lamenting they had to park in a structure.

Livonia resident Vicki Sitarski, their revered "leader of the tailgate," stays up cooking the night before Opening Day and invites her four children and their friends over. "We do this every year," she says. "It's a family tradition." With temperatures at 30 degrees, she pulled out all the stops and brought along a firepit for the first time in an attempt to stay warm. "My son asked, 'What are we doing? We never take this much stuff camping,' " she jokes.

The fire attracted fellow tailgater Kyle Wright of Port Huron, who kept the flames going with paper plates and a towel he found from his car. He arrived around 6:30 a.m. to spend a few hours tailgating before the game and make new friends, especially ones with fire pits.

Matt and Julie Lefevre are ready to tailgate Friday, whatever the weather brings.

Cold can't stop a good tailgate

The only Opening Day game Matt Lefevre has attended was the first at Comerica Park back in 2000.

But make no mistake: He's faithfully made the trek each year since then to the ballpark from Sterling Heights, just to soak up the revelry of tailgating.

"That very first day here was the coldest by far; well, today's not over yet," says Lefevre, 40. "But that day, there was snow, sleet, rain. That was the worst."

Lefevre and his wife were quick to insist even the coldest weather can't dampen a good tailgate.

Julie Lefevre, 36: "It is ever not worth it?"

The couple hit the ballpark early Friday alongside friends Ruthie Leo, 36, of Bloomfield Hills, and Theresa DeWalls, 38, of Rochester Hills.

All agreed that tailgating trumps the ballgame.

"Last year we had tickets but we never even went into the game," Julie Lefevre says. "You could hear the game and it was just too much fun out here. We just stayed."

Leo says one draw is finding friends from Opening Days past.

"You meet people through the years," she says. "It's like a reunion. Everyone yells 'Eat 'em up!' "

Matt Lefevre pointed to nearby vendors, doling out free energy drinks. Wandering around for freebies from vendors and generous tailgaters is a highlight for the partying group, he says.

"It's kind of like Halloween for adults," he says.

Coming to Tigers Opening Day? Dress warm

Baseball fans heading to Comerica Park on Friday should dress warm for what could be one of the coldest Opening Days in the Detroit Tigers’ 116-year history.

The good news? Snow is possible, but not until after the game.

The high is expected to reach the lower 40s when the Tigers play the New York Yankees on Friday afternoon. The game is scheduled to start at 1:10 p.m.

The average temperatures for this time of year is the mid-50s, says Dan Thompson, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in White Lake Township.

“Bundle up if you’re going to be tailgating,” he says. “It’s going to be pretty chilly.”

Between 1-2 inches of snow is expected to fall in downtown Detroit starting around 5 p.m., which may not affect game play. The majority of snowfall will occur after 8 p.m., says meteorologist Bryan Tilley.

Comerica Park Opening Day weather facts:

The coldest Opening Day at Comerica Park was in 2000, when temperatures dipped to 39 degrees. That was the first game the Tigers played at its new ballpark. The chilly weather, though, didn’t stop the Tigers from beating the Seattle Mariners 5-2.

The warmest Opening Day in recent history was April 4, 2005, when temperatures reached 66 degrees. That game also resulted in a win for the Tigers, who beat the Kansas City Royals 11-2.

Tigers Opening Day weather:

April 8, 1985 : 37 degrees

April 10, 1959 : 39 degrees

April 11, 2000 : 39 degrees

April 12, 1990: 39 degrees

April 5, 2002: 40 degrees

April 13, 1962: 40 degrees

April 17, 1936: 40 degrees

April 7, 1979: 41 degrees

April 11, 1907: 41 degrees

April, 24, 1919: 41 degrees

Source: National Weather Service