With the Detroit Tigers’ home opener upon us, I bet you’re wondering what’s new at Comerica Park? Several changes, big and small. The Tigers are bringing in the center field fence at Comerica Park so Riley Greene and his teammates can hit more home runs and lowering the height of all the outfield fences so they can make more spectacular leaping catches to take home runs away from the visitors. Or at least that’s the plan.
But wait, there’s more!
The new LED bulbs in Comerica’s light towers now can blink off and on — really fast! — to celebrate great plays.
Just imagine: Along with incessant recorded noise blasting from loudspeakers, Comerica now has yet another weapon to give customers headaches.
And that’s not all that’s new for 2023. New rules now make the defensive shift illegal, so two infielders must stand on the infield dirt on each side of second base the way they did back when Ty Cobb played center field in Detroit at Bennett Park and Navin Field. Also, the bases will be slightly bigger to increase scoring and the Tigers will start their weeknight games at 6:40 p.m. instead of 7:10 p.m.
Overseeing this locally — and commanding the second Tigers “rebuild” of the last decade — is Scott Harris, 36, the current whiz kid of the Theo Epstein era, hired last autumn as the president of baseball operations.
His resume sparkles from the Chicago Cubs and the San Francisco Giants. But some things even Harris can’t change. That includes the ballpark itself.
Like the Tigers’ roster, its infrastructure needs rebuilding from the bottom up. And with Ilitch family ownership seeking yet another taxpayer handout for different downtown projects, fans may be stuck for decades with this white elephant of a ballpark.
I know ballparks and care about them. I once ushered at Tiger Stadium (see: the 1968 World Series). As a reporter, I’ve been to more than four dozen major league stadiums, many of them now demolished. My wife and I have raised three kids on summer vacations to distant ballparks.
For the last few years, with friends, I’ve shared two season tickets at Comerica. So I must acknowledge some of its good points. For instance: Comerica boasts the best carousel and finest Ferris wheel in the majors. It has a sublime sculpture garden of hero statues behind center field.
Behind that, fans get a nice view of shrubbery, a water fountain, and the downtown skyline. Oh, that’s all nice, you say, but you want to watch a baseball game? That can be a problem at Comerica, where architects spent too much time on the frosting and not enough on the cake.
The lower deck rows aren’t steep enough, so your view might be blocked by the person in front, especially if you are a kid. The upper deck seats are steep enough, but the whole thing is too high and too far back.
And neither deck is covered much from sun or rain. Mercifully, fewer folks have suffered these indignities lately because the Tigers don’t draw like they did in the World Series seasons of 2006 and 2012.
Last season’s home-crowd average of 19,634 — not quite half full — was 22nd among 30 big-league teams. In 2019, the last season before the pandemic, Detroit’s average of 18,767 was 25th.
As I write this, spring training is about to begin, and of course, local media is full of the usual hope and hype. Among several promising pieces, Harris has Greene, in his second year, an above-average hitter with a flair for spectacular defense.
At first base, Greene’s pal Spencer Torkelson has not yet fallen from prospect to suspect despite a disappointing rookie season that brought a demotion to the minors.
Returning for his second year at shortstop is Javier Báez, an underachieving, free-swinging, $20 million free agent acquisition with a wild throwing arm. In some of his mystical pronouncements, Harris has voiced reverence for the sanctity of the strike zone. Perhaps the new boss can teach Báez that there actually is such a thing as a strike zone.
Speaking of high-salaried veterans, this will be the final season for Miguel Cabrera, the often-injured, part-time designated hitter with 45 home runs in the last five years. At age 40, he’ll collect $32 million in the final year of a 10-year contract.
En route to the Hall of Fame, Cabrera would be there now if he’d retired five years ago. He will spend the season passing statistical milestones and waving goodbye on his farewell tour.
We will endure — and some will enjoy — the scripted sentimentality that accompanies these things and that could kill some of the pain from what we hope is not yet another year of baseball mediocrity in the Motor City.
After all, it’s not even summer yet, and hope springs eternal, right? Play ball!
Detroit Tigers Digits
Here are some fun facts about the Detroit Tigers including how long the team has existed, the number of feet between home plate and center field at Comerica Park, and more.
The number of seconds a pitcher will have between pitches when there are no runners on base, starting in 2023. Pitchers will have 20 seconds between pitches when runners are on base. Major League Baseball decided to impose the time limit to prevent games from lasting too long. Previously, some games lasted for nearly four hours because some pitchers — especially in relief — were taking 35 or 40 seconds to deliver.
The age Miguel Cabrera, one of Hour Detroit’s 2023 Hour Detroiters, will be on April 18. By the end of the 2022 season, he had amassed 3,088 hits, 507 home runs, and 1,847 RBIs in his 20-year career.
The number of years the Detroit Tigers have existed. The team was founded in 1894 and was originally part of the Western League, which became the American League in 1900. They are the oldest one-name, one-city team in the American League.
The number of feet between home plate and the center field wall at Comerica Park now that the fence has been moved in 10 feet.
This story is part of the April 2023 issue of Hour Detroit. Read more in our Digital Edition.