As Comerica Park kicks off 20th season, here are 20 classic memories
They say time flies when you're having fun, and let's be honest here — despite the current state of the Tigers, there's been a whole lot of fun to be had at Comerica Park over the years.
On Thursday afternoon, Comerica Park kicks off its 20th major-league season, with the Tigers' home opener against the Kansas City Royals.
The ballbark never will be confused for the best cathedrals in the game (and it certainly will never be anyone's serious No. 1, despite what that other newspaper had to say this week). But it's perfectly fine, and it's aged gracefully. That shrubbery in center field has grown in nicely. The dimensions are much more fair than when Comerica National Park opened in 2000. The vibe, when the team's winning, is woke.
As we get set for another season of Tigers' baseball in downtown Detroit, here's a look back at 20 of our favorite memories in the 20 years of Comerica Park. (In no particular order.)
The Tigers started the 2000 season with six games on the road as construction crews scrambled to put the finishing touches on the Tigers' $300-million new home. On April 11, 2000, Comerica Park hosted its inaugural game, and the Tigers wasted little time finding their groove — with two runs in the first, and two more in the second, those on Bobby Higginson's triple. Brian Moehler started for Detroit and scattered 10 hits over six innings, and Danny Patterson, Doug Brocail and Todd Jones closed the 5-2 win over the Mariners.
The dawn of Must-see JV
June 12, 2007, was remembered for a couple things. One, the geese. Oh, those damn geese. They were out in full flock, swirling all night at Comerica Park. The second — well, of course, that was Justin Verlander, the reigning American League rookie of the year who was dynamite on this night against the Brewers. He struck out 12 and got some excellent defense from Magglio Ordonez (seriously) and Neifi Perez (remember him?) in throwing Detroit's sixth no-hitter, and the first since 1984, and the first by a Tiger in Detroit since 1952.
Mr. Almost Perfect
Verlander went on to throw another no-hitter in 2011, in Toronto, the seventh in franchise history. But the Tigers had never had a perfect game. And, we suppose, they still haven't — even though Armando Galarraga forever will be remembered for his masterpiece against the Indians on June 2, 2010. A little-known right-hander, it was clear early on he was special this night. And when Austin Jackson made the amazing catch to start the ninth, it seemed inevitable. But with two outs, first-base ump Jim Joyce ... well, you know.
'And the Tigers ...'
By this point in 2006, after bouncing the Yankees and taking a 3-0 series lead on the A's, it was clear the Tigers were going to the World Series. But the way it ended, chills. On Oct. 14, 2006 — 22 years to the day after the Tigers last won a World Series — Magglio Ordonez, who homered earlier to tie the game, sent them to another with the most-majestic of walk-off home runs. The image is iconic, Ordonez's finger skyward and Placido Polanco leaping around the bases. And the Dan Dickerson call, well, we could play that on a loop.
The Tigers squandered the division in 2006, and that set up a first-round matchup against the mighty Yankees. Interestingly, in a VIP playoff kickoff at Comerica Park, I'll never forget what the great Ernie Harwell told me. He said facing the Yankees actually was a blessing, because the Tigers would only have to beat them three times instead of four. Genius. On Oct. 7, 2006, they closed the door and kicked off a celebration for the ages, complete with Kenny Rogers dousing a cop with champagne.
By early August 2006, the Tigers had captured the attention of the city with their surprising start under first-year manager Jim Leyland. It's debatable when the town really bought in — but this was as good a date to pinpoint as any. On Aug. 5, 2006, with a sellout crowd in attendance, the Tigers trailed the Indians, 3-2, with two out and a man on in the ninth inning when Pudge Rodriguez stepped to the plate. What followed was his most-iconic hit as a Tiger, a mile-high homer to left. Two days later, they were 40 games over .500 (76-36).
For 2005, the Tigers were awarded the All-Star Game for the first time since that memorable one at old Tiger Stadium in 1971 (which included 15 future Hall-of-Famers). The highlight of the summer stop in Detroit this time, though, really wasn't the All-Star Game (Googled it; the AL won, 7-5), but the Home Run Derby that took place the night before. Pudge Rodriguez, the hometown favorite, put on a surprising display of power to claw his way into the finals, where Bobby Abreu finally beat him, capping an epic, 41-homer performance.
Late in the evening
This is a favorite. On a Friday night with a sellout crowd set to show up, the rains came and came and came some more. But the Tigers were committed to getting this one in, so much so that they didn't start until 11:06 on the evening of Aug. 24, 2007. Wouldn't you know, the game would go to extra innings well into Aug. 25, before, finally, Carlos Guillen won it with a walk-off home run off some Yankees reliever named Sean Henn — at 3:30 in the morning. And a big crowd still was there, as the Tigers opened the gates for all after midnight.
Mr. Rogers' masterpiece
This is the Tigers' lone World Series game victory at Comerica Park, and their only World Series win since 1984. It was Game 2 of the 2006 World Series, on Oct. 22, and Kenny Rogers — who entered October with a horrific playoff resume — was unbelievable, with eight shutout innings, and pumping in fastballs with velocity he hadn't seen in years,if ever. He was pumped (OK, maybe pine-tarred, too), in extending his playoff scoreless streak to 23 innings. The Cardinals won the World Series three days later, in St. Louis.
Nine up, nine down
Tigers fans loved them some Doug Fister. He was a surprisingly good pitcher after he was acquired from the Mariners in a summer 2011 trade. He had a likable personality. He worked fast. On this day, Sept. 27, 2012, Tigers fans never loved him more (all due respect to the time he was struck in the head by a liner in the 2012 World Series and stayed in the game), as he tied an AL record with nine consecutive strikeouts. After the ninth (Billy Butler), Prince Fielder hilariously had to walk over and tell an aloof Fister to soak in the feat.
The Tigers have had some great brawls over the years, including in the Comerica Park era (we think Robert Fick's still cleaning beer off his jersey). But most of the good ones have taken place on the road. Then there was Aug. 24, 2017, when the Tigers and Yankees got into it, thanks to a Miguel Cabrera shoving match with Austin Romine, the brother of Cabrera's then-teammate Andrew. It led to a little bit of beanball, multiple play stoppages thanks to three benches-clearing incidents and, in the end, a whopping eight ejections. Good stuff!
Let's play nine!
The inaugural season at Comerica Park wasn't all that exciting. The Tigers finished the year 79-83. There wasn't much star talent, outside of Juan Gonzalez, who hated being here — and hated the dimensions of what he allegedly called a "horse-bleep" ballpark. But there was a little fun in the season finale, Oct. 1, when Mr. Do Everything, Shane Halter, literally did everything, playing all nine positions in the Tigers' 12-11 walk-off victory over the Twins. He started at first, then it went: third, right, center, left, short, catcher, pitcher, second.
This one was tough. When you think of the Tigers, you think of the great players like Kaline, and Cobb, and Trammell, and Whitaker, and Gibson, and Greenberg. And so on. You also think of Ernie Harwell, the voice of summer in Michigan for 42 years. Earlier in 2009, Ernie announced he had inoperable cancer, and on Sept. 16, in the middle of the game, the Tigers and Royals stopped as Ernie delivered his heartfelt farewell to Detroit. In typical Ernie fashion, it was short, smooth, perfect, and with no notes. He died May 4, at 92.
The Tigers have done quite nicely on Opening Day at Comerica Park, sporting a 12-7 record, including a nine-game winning streak that finally was snapped in 2018. One of the more-memorable performances, no doubt, came April 4, 2005, when the Tigers thumped the Royals, 11-2 — thanks to not one, not two, but three Opening Day home runs by Dmitri Young. Only three other players have accomplished that feat on Opening Day: George Brett, Tuffy Rhodes and, most recently, Matt Davidson. Young finished 4-for-4 with five RBIs.
Cabrera has had so many highlights in a Tigers' uniform, it's tough to pick just one — or 12. But this one sticks out. The Tigers were in a dogfight in the AL Central, it was getting a bit late in the season, and they trailed the Indians, 8-5, with two out and nobody on base in the 10th inning of a game Aug. 5, 2012. Then the unthinkable happened. Alex Avila and Andy Dirks walked, Austin Jackson doubled, and Omar Infante singled to tie it. Then, facing closer Chris Perez, Cabrera went yard to win it. The Sunday crowd of 38,000 went nuts.
Slamming the door
As far as Comerica Park late-inning comebacks go, that Cabrera homer might be 1B, to this 1A. Clinging to a narrow lead in the AL Central on this Monday night, June 30, 2014, the Tigers found themselves down, 4-1, in the ninth against tough A's lefty Sean Doolittle. Nick Castellanos led off with a single, and Avila singled, too. After a strikeout, Jackson walked to load the bases, and up stepped Rajai Davis — who, of all people, won it with a walk-off grand slam. A crowd of 42,477, on hand to celebrate the 1984 Tigers, went delirious.
Two more for Thome
All of these memories on this list are good memories for Tigers fans, except for one. This one. And that's because of the man who made history. On Aug. 15, 2011, Twins slugger Jim Thome entered the game needing two home runs for 600 in his career. And no surprise, he finished the game with 600 home runs, hitting No. 599 off Rick Porcello in the sixth inning and off Daniel Schlereth in the seventh. Thome finished his Hall-of-Fame career with 612 home runs, 66 of which came against the Tigers, the most of any opponent.
Count those K's
The Tigers' first 19 years at Comerica Park will be remembered much more for pitching, than hitting, and Anibal Sanchez is responsible for a lot of that — with an ERA title, several flirtations with no-hitters, and one magical night on April 26, 2013, when he struck out a franchise-record 17 in a win over the Braves. The previous record was 16 by legendary left-hander Mickey Lolich, on May 23, 1969. Sanchez K'd every Atlanta starter at least once, and struck out Dan Uggla and Freddie Freeman four times, and Juan Francisco three.
To the bricks
The Tigers may not be a first-class franchise in the standings these days (though they are coming home over .500; who had that prop bet?). But when they hold ceremonies, few organizations can mach the classiness of the Tigers. This was on display throughout 2018, when the Tigers — albeit years too late for many fans' liking — retired Jack Morris' No. 47 and Alan Trammell's No. 3 during separate August ceremonies. The previous month, they entered the Baseball Hall of Fame together. Now, about Lou Whitaker's No. 1 ...
J.D.: Just Delightful
You want to talk about goosebumps, chills, feels, the whole kitchen sink of emotions. This is the one for you. It was Aug. 3, 2016, the hard-charging Tigers had been riding a seven-game winning streak and they were getting back their star slugger J.D. Martinez, who'd been out since June with a broken elbow. He didn't start, but came on to pinch-hit in the eighth inning of a 1-1 game against nasty White Sox lefty J.D. Martinez — and, out of a movie, he homered on the very first pitch he saw. This was one of Mario Impemba's best calls.