Turn the page: Here are key dates to look forward to in the world of Michigan, Detroit sports
Is it officially the dog days of summer yet?
The cats playing baseball in this town haven’t given much of anything to cheer for since a mediocre 18-20 start, and as the Tigers continue to chase an embarrassing place in history, there’s one question on everybody’s mind: When do the other sports come back?
Mainly, that means football. We’ve already gotten a quick — albeit flavorless — taste of that as we approach mid-August, with the Lions on Thursday night falling swiftly to the New England Patriots in Week 1 of preseason action. While everything else typically takes a backseat to the gridiron this time of year, if football isn’t your thing, there’s still plenty to get excited about — including hockey, basketball and non-Tigers-related baseball — in the coming months. Let’s take a gander.
Now-Aug. 25 — Little League Baseball and Softball World Series
The Little League World Series is a great end to the summer — a thrilling, nationally televised reminder of what sports are all about. I can actually remember being in a sports bar last year during Grosse Pointe Woods’ run to the U.S. quarterfinal. Everybody was completely enthralled with a group of kids no older than 12, living and dying with every Ping! that rang off an aluminum bat, just because the pre-teens wearing baby blue lived a county over. It was one of those special moments where the Venn diagram of community and fandom completely overlap to form a wholesomeness so pure that it can really only exist in hindsight. Pretty cool.
The Softball tournament began Wednesday and will run through the final on Aug. 14. Baseball runs Aug. 15-25.
The entirety of both tournaments will be broadcast live on ESPN and ESPN+.
Aug. 12 — NBA Schedule release
The NBA has evidently been taking notes from the NFL about how to keep the conversation surrounding its sport flowing through the offseason. The league also, at least regarding social-media buzz, just had one of the wildest offseasons of any league in recent memory. It was only a matter of time before the league implemented a televised schedule release.
From a Pistons perspective, don’t expect any groundbreaking information. We already know that they won’t be one of the 12 teams to play on Christmas Day. Opening night will reportedly begin Oct. 22.
NBA schedule release
When: 3 p.m.
TV: NBA TV
Aug. 29-31 — Xenith Prep Kickoff Classic
A very small number of high schools will get their 2019 season started a week beforehand, but the Xenith Prep Kickoff Classic is the loudest starting pistol of the high school football season. Three defending state champions and other local heavyweights square off in a three-day, six-game rumble at the home of Wayne State’s Warriors.
Aug. 30 — Michigan State football opener
Per usual, Michigan State will open their season at Spartan Stadium under the watchful eye of Friday night lights.
This year they’ll play host to Tulsa of the American conference. Michigan State has underwhelmed in a handful of these games in recent years, struggling in 2016 to put away FCS’s Furman Paladins before topping Utah State, who, to be fair, would go on to finish 11-2, on a score from Connor Heyward with two minutes left to open 2018.
One could argue these games don’t mean much, provided a victory is secured. After all, a win is a win, and it’s really nothing out of the ordinary for a power-5 team looking to work out early-season kinks via in-game experimentation to struggle against lesser-established programs with nothing to lose. Still, though, 2016 and 2018 were some of the more challenging years of Mark Dantonio’s tenure in East Lansing, and it’d probably be fair to say that those respective season-openers indicated larger problems at hand.
The biggest thing to watch for — aside from the return of a fully healthy Brian Lewerke — will be the change in Michigan State’s offensive attack under new offensive coordinator Brad Salem.
Tulsa at Michigan State
When: 7 p.m.
Aug. 31 — Michigan football opener
Speaking of programs who've once struggled in season-opening matchups...
Sorry, Michigan fans — it was right there. The same obvious disclaimers from above apply to the outcome (as long as it’s at least semi-comfortable win).
Like Michigan State, the Wolverines have a new man in charge of their offense. Michigan in Week 1 will give a peek of what’s been touted as the first new-age scheme of Jim Harbaugh’s tenure — and the arrival of new offensive coordinator and former Alabama assistant Josh Gattis has the receiving trio of Donovan Peoples-Jones, Tarik Black and Nico Collins looking like a shoo-in for the breakout position group of the year.
Still, don’t expect to see Gattis and Co. to reveal too much from the new playbook against Middle Tennessee State. It’s not like there’s ever been an example of a Michigan school dropping a stunner to MTSU, anyway. (There. Now we’re even.)
Middle Tennessee State at Michigan
When: 7:30 p.m.
TV: Big Ten Network
Sept. 1 — MLB September callups
The Tigers on Friday cut ties with veteran second baseman Josh Harrison and right-hander Sandy Baez, a former prospect who in eight seasons with the organization made just 10 appearances at the major-league level.
Those moves will only supplement an influx of minor-league ballplayers getting their first shot in the bigs over the following weeks. The Tigers in their current state might not have a whole lot to play for, but they’re about to gain a whole bunch of teammates who do. Does 120 losses really seem that close? Maybe. Maybe not. But, come the last month of the season, there will be quite a few guys fighting to avoid the embarrassing mark who will have had nothing to do with the team’s 10-40 record during June and July.
Sept. 5 — NFL season opener
NFC North. Bears and Packers. The bright lights of Soldier Field in its 95th year, playing host to its first meaningful contest since Cody Parkey double-doinked Chicago right out of the Wildcard round after a 12-4 season.
Let’s see … what else?
Oh, there’s rumblings that this Aaron Rodgers guy under first-year head coach Matt LaFleur has some sort of a chip on his shoulder? And then the headliner: Chicago’s vicious pass rush, which fractured the former Super Bowl MVP’s tibial plateau and sprained his MCL in 2018’s Week 1 matchup between the two squads.
Sign me up.
Packers at Bears
When: 8:20 p.m.
Sept. 6-10 — NHL Prospects Tournament
Before Traverse City hosts Red Wings training camp on Sept. 13 — more on that in a minute —young guns from eight NHL teams will make their way to the northern Michigan vacation city for the 21st annual NHL Prospects Tournament.
The Gordie Howe (Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, Toronto) and Ted Lindsay (Columbus, Dallas, Minnesota, New York Rangers) divisions will engage in round-robin play over Friday, Saturday and Monday before playing in either a championship or consolation game on Tuesday. Each team playing for the Matthew Wuest Memorial Cup at Centre Ice Arena is guaranteed to play one game per day.
Sept. 8 — NFL opening Sunday
The moment we’ve all been waiting for — commence year two of the Matt Patricia era. Thursday night’s preseason performance against the Patriots certainly didn’t inspire much hope, as several injuries and outmatched second- and third-team units wrote the story of a 28-point loss.
But hey, as we all know, wins and losses in the exhibition contests don’t usually predict much (looking at you, 2008 preseason champs). With the memory of getting torched by New York Jets rookie quarterback Sam Darnold in last year’s Week 1 matchup lingering in the forefront of everyone’s brains, though, there’s an uncomfortable tension surrounding the idea of getting the first crack at 2019’s first-overall pick and Heisman trophy winner, Kyler Murray.
Detroit’s exciting offseason — and alleged changing culture — will finally be graded on an accurate scale. For a fanbase who wants so desperately to believe that its downtrodden franchise has turned a corner, perhaps nervousness, more than excitement, awaits this early September showdown against the NFL’s reigning worst team.
Lions at Cardinals
When: 4:25 p.m.
Sept. 13 — Red Wings training camp begins
The Red Wings’ four-day training camp in Traverse City is a sign that hockey season is almost back. It’s also a pretty neat spectator event.
Reserved/mezzanine and standing-room tickets can be purchased for practice sessions, an alumni/celebrity game and a ‘Red and White’ intra-squad game. Whether you live in the area, already planned on being around for a vacation, or wanted to make the Red Wings’ camp a focal point of a late-summer trip to one of the state’s most scenic regions, planning a stop at Centre Ice Arena is a fun activity for the whole family.
Red Wings training camp schedule
Friday, Sept. 13: Practice (9:30 a.m.)
Saturday, Sept. 14: Practice (9:30 a.m.); alumni/celebrity game (6:00 p.m.)
Sunday, Sept. 15: Red and White game (12:00 p.m.)
Monday, Sept. 16: Practice (9:30 a.m.)
Detroit opens its preseason slate on the night of Sept. 17 against the Chicago Blackhawks at Little Caesars Arena.
Sept. 15 — Lions home opener
As we’ve covered, the Lions’ expectations this year are sky-high.
Heading into the first game at Ford Field with a 1-0 record and a chance to prove itself against a league leader in the Los Angeles Chargers will bring confident crowds in droves. On the not-so-other hand, should the Lions fall to Arizona, it’s probable the people will still show — they always do — but they’ll instead break out the tailgate spirits in a fit of despair, which is pretty much par for the course in this city’s current sports scene. Either way, the morning and afternoon of September 15th in Detroit figures to be a party worth putting on your calendar.
Chargers at Lions
When: 1 p.m.
Sept. 21 — Big Ten conference play begins
The first few weeks of the college football season always feel like a bit of a tease. Sure, there are a handful of great games with national implications in Weeks 1 and 2, but those double-digit blowouts over tune-up teams from weak conferences that most Power-5 leaders are used to playing feels a bit like an impromptu preseason.
The first week of conference play is when Michigan and Michigan State will shift into next gear. Michigan travels to Madison for a showdown with the Wisconsin Badgers, who regressed a season ago (8-5) after picking up a combined 24 wins and two Orange Bowl appearances in 2017-18, with a 9-0 conference record during the latter season.
The Spartans, meanwhile, have a road game with a hungry team trending in the opposite direction. Pat Fitzgerald’s Northwestern Wildcats in 2018 captured a Big Ten West title, going 8-1 in conference play, and an appointment with the Ohio State Buckeyes at the Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis, where they fell short of a Rose Bowl appearance in a 45-24 defeat.
Michigan at Wisconsin
Michigan State at Northwestern
Late September (specific dates TBD) — Pistons training camp begins
It's still not certain what dates the NBA has designated for training camps across the league, but what we do know is that they'll take place in late September. The inclination so far is that the Pistons, whose training camp in 2018 took place at the University of Michigan's Crisler Arena, will hold camp at the Breslin Center in East Lansing, home of the Michigan State Spartans, this season.
Oct. 1 — MLB Postseason begins
The Major League Baseball season is long. If your favorite team is no good — or, say, in contention to be the worst team in baseball history — and you find yourself failing to care about the rest of the league, that should go away come October.
Everything about postseason baseball is so much more spectacularly dramatic and visceral than the regular season that one’s health is better off not having a dog in the fight.
The 162-game marathon is reduced to a sprint; each late-inning pitch is accompanied with a set of stakes that seem inconceivable on a Thursday matinee in April. Everything we know about the traditional roles of relief and starting pitching is completely thrown out the window. Telecasts load the ballpark with extra microphones, the emotions of a nervous audience fighting through a cloak of chilly autumn atmosphere, pulsing into the broadcast and creating a viewing experience so unlike anything else the sport provides during summer months. Now that’s America’s pastime.
Wild-card round: Oct. 1-2 (TBS, ESPN)
Division series: Oct. 3-10 (TBS, FS1)
Championship series: Oct. 11-20 (TBS, Fox)
World Series: Oct. 22-30 (Fox)
Oct. 2 — NHL regular season begins
The Red Wings in April ended Ken Holland’s 22-year run as general manager and appointed former captain Steve Yzerman in his place, thus writing the first sentence of what many are hoping to be a thrilling chapter in franchise history.
Obviously, if and when Yzerman’s rebuild efforts succeed, it won’t be showing itself on opening night of his first season at the helm. But this is the most exciting time to be a Red Wings fan in some number of years, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the return of Detroit’s prodigal son inject a buzz surrounding the team’s games — while they might not be the hottest ticket in town just yet, there’s reason to believe this is the year the Red Wings start trending in that direction.
The Red Wings will start their season on Oct. 5 (8 p.m.) in Nashville before returning to Little Caesars Arena for their home-opener against the Dallas Stars on Oct. 6 (7 p.m.).
Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.