Nobody throws an Opening Day party like Detroit. From rooftops to the tailgates, the area around Comerica Park is the place to be for baseball lovers on Opening Day. Follow our coverage from first pour to first pitch against the Kansas City Royals.
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Among the changes at Comerica Park this year is a refreshed Pepsi Porch.
The right field seating area has expanded to include a new bar, The New Amsterdam 416. It includes outdoor furniture with a fire along the back and flat screen TVs.
Denise Zieja, 52, welcomed the changes.
“I think it’s cool,” she said. “They really needed to revamp the area.”
The Sterling Heights native has had season tickets for 15 years, and hasn’t cared much for the Pepsi Porch area since the ballpark opened. She was lounging on a brown padded chair right before the first pitch Monday, and said the section will likely see more fans because of the renovations.
“There was nothing here before,” she said. “It’s a lot better now. It brings people together and gives them a meeting place.”
Mark Braekevelt stood and surveyed the new area as fans talked and drank before the game started. He’s a project director with Ideal Contracting, which made the upgrades to the ballpark, and he said it was nice to see the finished product.
“I’m glad to be here with a beer instead of a hard hat,” he said.
Brakevelt said the two-month project was “difficult and fun” but he likes the outcome.
“It looks like it’s well-received,” he said. “The fire at the bar will be a hit during night games.”
Forget peanuts and Cracker Jack; poutine and slaw dogs are all the rage at today’s ball game.
The Tigers unveiled a number of new food items this season, and one of the most popular Monday was the poutine dog, a hot dog topped with fries, brown gravy and cheese curds.
Rich Brown, 33, came to the game, in part, to try the new item.
“I think it’s awesome that they’re expanding the menu,” the Coldwater native said. “It’s better than I expected.”
Kim McKenzie wasn’t as impressed.
“It’s interesting,” she said as she bit into the poutine dog for the first time. “But I probably wouldn’t get it again.
McKenzie, 40, said she’s been to a handful of Opening Day games, and always gets a Chicago dog. Just not this time.
Say hello to the bad guy.
Redford Township resident Dustin Novack, 31, flew his father Danny Novack in from Witchita, Kan., for the Opening Day game against the Royal. But he didn’t expect him to garner as much attention as he did.
Danny Novack wore a gold crown, purple cape and held a Royals pennant as he posed in front of the large tiger at the main entrance of Comerica Park, which drew boos from the Detroit faithful.
“He does what he wants,” Dustin Novack said laughing.
“They call me the joker,” Danny Novack added.
Dustin said he goes to Opening Day every year, because the people, like his dad, make it special every year.
“It’s like Christmas, my birthday and New Year’s all rolled into one.
Danny Novack wasn’t alone in dressing up. One Tigers fan dressed up as Abe Lincoln and another like the Easter Bunny.
Rachel Manning of Novi, and her friend, Tarrah Evans, of Royal Oak, said they were the victims of a parking scam but didn’t let that ruin their Opening Day fun.
“We pulled in here at about 9 a.m. and were told it was $200 to park here,” said Manning, who parked at Clifford and Henry with a large group in a motor coach from Vintage House banquet center in Fraser. “We paid the lady and then the cops came by and told us no one owns this lot, but she was gone.”
Manning, after rubbing her recent cornhole score in a friend’s face added “It’s OK though, she probably needed the money more than I did.”
Despite Comerica Park’s new metal detectors, lines were virtually nonexistent around 11 a.m. in front of the ballpark.
Fans started entering around 10:30 a.m. and those who got in line early didn’t mind the new security measure.
“I’m OK with it,” said Bryan Collison, 27. “Pretty much anywhere you go now you have to use these.”
The detectors are part of a league-wide mandate to install extra security in ballparks by 2015.
Larry Dewey, 58, wasn’t worried about longer lines, either.
“Safety first,” the Rochester Hills native said.
Dewey has been to more than 30 Opening Day games and said this change wasn’t that big of a deal.
“Once everyone gets used to it, it will be just like any other game,” he said.
Friends Kelly Clark, Kim Spangler and father/son duo Craig Spangler Jr. and Sr. arrived a few minutes early, around 10 a.m., just in case lines took longer.
The elder Spangler was impressed with the detectors’ efficiency, at least early on.
“Wait and see what people are saying an hour from now,” he said.
Plain-clothed Detroit police officers are giving out open carry tickets to Tigers’ fans caught drinking alcohol on the street.
“We just started, but we’ll be giving out a lot of these today,” Officer Jay Zawislak said.
The fine runs $100-$500 depending on your record, Zawislak said as he and a fellow officer wrote tickets for a group of baseball fans at Montcalm and Clifford. While those drinkers were asked to pour out their beer on the sidewalk, just a few feet away tailgaters drank from red plastic cups without incident.
Zawislak said the people he’s ticketed so far have been understanding: “They say, ‘We know the law, we just wanted to see if we could get away with it.’”
Many tailgaters were content with their prime parking spots, but about 50 baseball fans lined up to try to get last-minute tickets to see the Tigers take on the Royals.
At the front of the line were Tigers fans Scott McNiel and Ron Meryn, who came to Comerica at about 6:50 a.m. from Fenton.
“We’ve done this many years,” McNeil said. “It’s been a tradition for the last six years.”
However, the time when the box office opens varies each year, keeping fans guessing on when they would know how many were available.
The two were followed a few minutes after by Eastpointe resident Kim Willis, who tried to pass the time by studying computer coding for a class at Macomb Community College.
“It’s fun waiting in line and socializing with everyone,” said Willis, who hoped to get tickets for herself and two friends.
Willis and others withstood temperatures near 29 degrees.
“It’s not as bad as last year when it was windy,” Willis said.
Willis said she hopes it will be like last year when she was able to snag tickets near the right field foul line.
But when tickets are at a premium on a day like Opening Day, “no seat is a bad seat,” said McNeil.
“Peanuts and Cracker Jacks! Shouldn’t go to the game without peanuts” shouts Pam Tucci, of Allen Park, selling snacks to baseball fans at Park and Montcalm. Tucci, who has been an indie vendor on Opening Day for 15 years says sales started slow but will pick up closer to the game.
“I’ve got peanuts for $2, they’re $4.50 inside.”
Opening Day brings its fair share of sideshows.
Fans dressed as tigers or wore wacky face paint, but that might have been trumped by one of the more recent mainstays: a Tigers-themed limousine.
The 1987 Lincoln Town Car was the brainchild of Entrepreneurial Express owner Patrick Mifsud, who had his employees customize the car over a two-week period during the playoffs last year.
“We wanted to be a little different and support the team and support Detroit,” Mifsud said.
The limo was equipped with a tiger-striped paint job, Tigers decals and an inflatable tiger on the roof.
“It took a lot of shopping at sports stores,” said Ryan Rodriguez, the driver for Opening Day, who blasted “Eye of the Tiger” through loud speakers on the car. “We tried to tell the history of the Tigers. The response has been outrageous.”
Also trying to tell the history of the team was Stanley Maul, 67, of Allen Park, a self-described “autograph hound,” who brought his 5-foot bat bearing the autographs of three Tigers World Series teams 1968, 1984 and 2012.
“I brought a big bat for Cabrera to get big hits,” Maul said.
He has been downtown for Opening Day 55 straight years, but never attended an Opening Day. He said outside is enough excitement on its own.
“I just come for the hoopla and party,” Maul said. “You see all kinds of different people here.”
The smell of charcoal was in the air early Monday morning as tailgaters poured into lots near Comerica Park as early as 6 a.m.
Despite early morning lows below freezing, coolers were filled with ice and beverages and rabid Tigers fans brought heaters to keep warm.
Marc McClintock and Kris Lange, of Sterling Heights, were among several dozen who lined up at 6 a.m. to get a parking spot overlooking the outfield wall for themselves and 25 to 50 guests.
“We used to go to Opening Day all the time, but after our third year (tailgating), we found it’s more fun out here,” McClintock said.
The back of their SUV had a widescreen TV, and they could see the jumbotron in the outfield.
“You get the noise of the game and then you can check out what happened,” Lange said.
Steve Beno and Phil Budzzette had friends and family coming from as far as Chicago for their sixth straight tailgate.
“I’ve been to a Chicago Opening Day a couple times, and I have to say there’s nothing like a Detroit Opening Day. I think it should be a holiday.”
Budzzette added: “Everyone should have the day off.”
The two came prepared with mini grills to make breakfast and custom corn hole boards that were printed like vintage World Series tickets.
Comerica Park is known for its statues of ferocious felines standing atop the outside walls of the exterior of the ball park.
But for Opening Day, Tigers fans noticed a new, more comical set of figurines were outside the west entrance on Witherell Street: six life-size bobbleheads of Detroit sports stars.
The roughly 5-foot-tall bobbleheads are in the likeness of Tigers Max Scherzer and Torii Hunter; Red Wings Pavel Datsyuk and Jimmy Howard; and Pistons Josh Smith and Andre Drummond.
Fans Mike Underwood and Bill Meinert, who arrived at 6:30 a.m., took pictures in front of them.
“I like the bobbleheads,” Underwood said. “They are really life-like.”
How much attention to detail, you ask? Down to the different color eyes of Scherzer.
But Meinert said Torii Hunter was his favorite.
“It’s the look on his face,” he said about the grinning Hunter.
No talking camel had to ask ESPN’s Mike Greenberg or Mike Golic what day it was. Or Tigers fans for that matter.
“It’s Opening Day!” shouted an exuberant Greenberg to the applause of some 50-plus Tigers fans donning orange beads and foam Tiger paws at Ford Field for the pair’s live “Mike & Mike” show.
That group included Lou Early, of Plymouth, who is a frequent listener and Tigers fan.
“It’s a big deal,” Early said. “I listen to these guys every morning. I figured it was a good opportunity to watch the show and take a few pictures of the field before the game.”
Early said the return of baseball will help ease the pain of having both Michigan and Michigan State losing on Sunday in the Elite Eight.
“It really helps,” he said.
Greenberg and Golic also had Lions head coach Jim Caldwell, who showed his enthusiasm for the Tigers season opener.
“We know it’s going to be a great day with Opening Day for the Tigers,” he said.
Meanwhile, maintenance crews were on the field and in the seats prepping for thousands expected to attend the game.
The lights were already shining on the new Kentucky bluegrass imported from Colorado last week and the Tigers statues outside the stadium were aglow as fans started to trickle into the area.