September 9, 2011

It's good to be a Tigers fan

I don't blame people for not being baseball fans. Unless you've got a dog in the fight, you really don't have a reason to watch. I could not sit down and watch a Padres/Astros game start to finish (This, I think, precludes me from the top tier of rabid baseball fans). But since I'm a Detroit fan, and I know all the players and keep up with them, I actually enjoy watching them play. It doesn't hurt that they're playing well and are very much in control of their division, about to claim their first championship in 24 years. It's an exciting time to be a Tigers fan.

Lots of baseball fans – ones more rabid than I - have ambitions of seeing a game in every single Major League stadium. For me... maybe one day. But for now, I'm going to try to check out all the parks within a few states of Michigan. I've been to Comerica a few times, as well as U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago and the more distant Turner Field in Atlanta (where the atmosphere will go a long way to convert non-Braves fans). I've been to a few retired parks too. I took in a game at the Metrodome where the Twins played until moving into Target Field last year. Several years ago, my dad took us to a game at Milwaukee County Stadium where the Brewers used to play. And of course, he took us to Tigers stadium too.

With Progressive Field just a few hours away in Cleveland and the Tigers playing well, my friend Josh and I drove there Wednesday to see them play the Indians.

Cleveland, it turns out, doesn't look too far away on a map but is still a five hour drive from Grand Rapids. That's twice as long as driving to Comerica in Detroit and it's not a drive you want to make very often, and it's definitely not one you want to make just to see your team lose. I had never been to Cleveland before, and I'm all about going to places I've never been before just to say I've been there.

Across from QuickenLoans Arena where the Cavs play, Nike had hung a massive banner that said “We are all witnesses.” It had a picture of Lebron James angelically throwing powder in the air, like it was magic or something. You may not have heard, but he quietly left them last year to play for the Miami Heat. They took the banner down and in its place there now hangs one that says, “Our home since 1866. Our pride forever,” and it has a picture of the Cleveland skyline lit up at night. They would rather have their identity in their city than in a guy who plays basketball really well. I respect them just a little bit more because of that.

Don't stake your hope in guys who get paid to play games.

We found a parking garage a few blocks away with parking for $10. We pulled in and the attendant at the counter was sleeping with her head against the window. The gate was up, so we pulled through, expecting that maybe someone else would be waiting for us to throw money at them while their coworker slept. Instead, there was another woman, standing, who just waved us by. We parked, a little bit confused, and left the building no poorer than when we'd arrived. Unfortunately, we took no notice of the level on which we parked. When we came back later, we had it a Seinfeldian parking garage search.

Progressive Field is a pretty nice stadium. I like Comerica better – it seems a little more spacious and open, where Progressive has a little more of a condensed, closed-in feel like U.S. Cellular where the Sox play. (Here, I'd like to point out that the Tigers recently swept the White Sox and effectively crushed any of their dreams of reaching the postseason.) The Tigers – I'm admittedly biased – are blessed with a beautiful ballpark.

For the record, I think Comerica is a little cheaper too. Not by much, but it is. The vendors at progressive will sell you a hot dog for $5.50, which the guy who sat next to me balked at but later caved in and paid. A jumbo hot dog is $8.50. They'll sell you a 24 oz can of Honey Brown Lager for $9.50. A two beer/two peanut combo is $27.

Don't do it. I can't imagine there are many people who deem this a worthy investment. Josh and I smuggled in ziploc bags of peanuts. Mine were gone before the first pitch. We tried to smuggle in Dr Peppers but they didn't make it to the gate.

I'll be as brief as possible reporting the goings-on of the baseball game because anybody who cares to know about it already does. And, as much as I might want to, I'm not gonna turn this into a sports blog. Verlander pitched. You ought to know his name because he's having an historic season, and doing it as a Tiger. Everyone in Detroit loves him, and there will probably be a lot of kids named Justin again. People drive a long way to see him play and pay lots of money for shirts with his name on them.

But he gave up a few runs. And the Tigers struggled to hit the Indians pitcher. Until the sixth, down 4-2, they loaded the bases, scored a run, and then Victor Martinez hit a grand slam to put the Tigers ahead 7-4. Even in the Indians stadium, there were enough Tigers fans there to be just as loud as the Indians fans. Justin Verlander won his 22nd game.

The first Indians fan that we saw that day was a guy who walked by us and said, “Good luck in the playoffs, guys.” We, of course, marked ourselves with Tigers gear, as any good and brave fan does in an opposing ballpark. We told him thanks and talked to him a bit, he was actually a really nice guy. All sports fans ought to be good ambassadors like him. We met another lady walking into Five Guys later on who said, “Sorry about your shirts.” But even she ended up being really nice too, and we admitted to each other we'd rather see the other team in the playoffs over the Sox or Twins. I'm still deciding whether or not that's true.

Regardless, it looks like it will be my team that will be in the playoffs. And since we got to see them win, the drive home was considerably more enjoyable.

Some heroes of the day:

Victor Martinez

Justin Verlander

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