Tuesday, January 14, 2014

"Don't Forget The Motor City"

Comerica Park
Detroit, Michigan
July 10, 2013
Chicago White Sox Vs Detroit Tigers

Day Six, Wednesday, July 10: History, Motown, Slow-Cookin' and the Detroit Coney Challenge:
Downtown Detroit

I yawned, stretched and wondered if it was safe to come out from under the covers. The light from beyond the blankets told me it was morning, but I needed to be sure that the "remains" of last night's Packo's after-game meal were not still lingering in the room.

Slowly, carefully, I stuck my head out from under the blanket. I was quickly blinded by the bright light that was coming through the window on which we had forgotten to pull the curtains.

"That does it," I thought. "I definitely have to get up now. It's too light in here."

"FRRRUUUMMMP," I heard from behind me.

"For the love of God, Ryan, enough," I hissed through clenched teeth.
"It wasn't him," I heard Tony say, from across the room.
"Good Lord, not you too?" I half questioned, half stated.
"It's just the morning foghorn. There won't be another," I was told.
"I sure as hell hope not; you're next to the shower."

Once again, I was the first one up. It's always seemed to be my lot in life to not be able to sleep late. I feel like I'm losing out on the day if I don't get up by 8:00, on most days. Needless to say, it's caused some interesting "discussions" back at home. Here, though, I had no such problems. I could get up, shower, then prod the others along, so we could start our day's adventure and actually keep to a schedule, which was going to be necessary, as we had a lot ahead of us before we even saw the ballgame, or got in the car after, for the four-to-five-hour drive to Pittsburgh.

After getting out of the shower, I went to get Ryan up, but Rob had other plans.

"Let him sleep, I'll shower and then go get us breakfast. I saw a McDonald's when we pulled in and while I'm doing that the others can get up, clean up and get the car packed."

I graciously accepted his offer and an hour later we were all cleaned up, packed and scarfing down Egg McMuffins on the way to the car, for our short trip into Detroit. We had chosen Southgate, Michigan, to spend the night because it was about twelve to fifteen miles outside the city, cheaper and would keep us from having to search through the city for our hotel around 1 AM. It was the perfect choice.

"So, what's the first stop?" Nick asked. "Are we taking the tour of Comerica?"
"Unfortunately, no," Rob told him. "No tours on game day, so we'll walk around the outside, take some pictures, then get our Tigers gear, so we don't have to do it tonight."
"What time are we going to have lunch?" Ryan wanted to know.

We all just looked at him, dumbfounded.

"You can not be hungry again," I said to him.
"I could eat," was his response.
"You sure he doesn't have a tape-worm?" Tony wanted to know.

We pulled into the parking lot directly across from Comerica Park and walked to the front of the building. The first thing that strikes you is the architecture.

Home Plate Tiger
Sitting directly in front of the Home-Plate Gate is a huge tiger statue, possibly twenty-five feet high, sitting on his haunches, with his giant paw looking to swat downward at whatever he is "toying" with.

"Look at the size of that thing," Tony said.
"It's huge," Ryan responded.

We decided we needed a picture with the tiger, so we stopped a gentleman and asked him to take the photo for us.

Behind the tiger sits the gate itself , with the team name in a semi-circle and the logo between the words Detroit and Tigers. Underneath that are two black and white photos, one of the Tigers' famous broadcaster, Ernie Harwell, the other...

Tigers Watch From Above
"Hey, look up there," Nick said, pointing.

At the top of the park, flanking either side of the gate, looking down ominously, are two more pairs of tigers,
looking ready to pounce.

"Makes me feel like they are hunting me," Ryan said, laughing nervously.
"You could be lunch," Rob told him.
"That reminds me," Ryan said, again. "I'm hungry."
"Later for you," I told him. "We have some things to do first."

Tiger Heads Ring The Park
As we walked around the building, Rob noticed that there were tiger heads, holding a baseball between bared teeth, ringing the walls. The detail was very intricate, whether it  was the whiskers on the jungle cat, or the stitching on the baseballs.

"They really did a great job on the outside of this place," Rob said, turning to me. "If the inside is as good, it'll be the best park I've seen yet."

I agreed, as we came to the Outfield Gate, at the opposite end of the stadium. This is a large, open-aired entrance, which has replica baseball bats protruding from above the gate, as if it were being handed to a player heading up to the plate for his at-bat. As we walked a little farther, we looked inside and saw statutes of some of the Tiger greats of the past.

"That's Ty Cobb," Ryan said.
"How can you tell," Nick asked him.
"The statue is in the pose of one of the famous pictures, where he's trying to spike someone. I saw it in a book. He might have been one of the nastiest, most hated players in baseball history," Ry told us.
"That was before A-Rod," Tony said, laughing.

Cobb's Plaque
As we walked down the street on the left-field side of the park, we came to a plaque commemorating Ty Cobb. The plaque has a likeness of Cobb at the top; underneath are his birth and death years and at the bottom is the inscription: "Greatest Tiger Of All, A Genius In Spikes." This plaque was once located to the right of the door of Tigers administrative offices at Tiger Stadium, but was moved to Comerica Park and placed in the same spot for the new administrative offices.

"Was he really that hated?" Nick wanted to know.
"Absolutely," I told him. "Though, to be fair, he's also one of the top 3 players to ever play the game."
"Who do you think are the others?" he asked me.
"Ruth and Mays," Ryan jumped in and finished my thoughts.
"That's what I think as well," I said.

By this time we had circumnavigated the park, the sun was out in full force and we were starting to get overheated. We quickly ducked into the Tigers' team store, located just outside the Home-Plate Gate, to soak in some A/C and get our stuff, so we wouldn't have to carry it around during the game. The cool store was a welcome relief, and we probably spent twenty more minutes inside than we needed to, but no one was in a rush to go back outside just yet.

After paying for our hats, shirts, scorecards and other assorted items, we headed back to the van for the trek across town. We were now going to visit the hallowed spot the Tigers once called home, the corner of Michigan and Trumbull Avenues.

I am not sure exactly what I was expecting when we decided to visit this historic baseball site. But, it certainly was not what greeted us as we pulled into a side street, directly across from what used to be the front entrance to Tiger Stadium.

The area itself is a microcosm for what has happened to the city. Burned-out buildings, run-down properties and empty commercial buildings ring the site of the once-proud ballpark. Garbage and broken glass are scattered along the street and on the sidewalks. There is a wrought iron fence which outlines the "footprint" of the stadium, and a baseball diamond on the property, but little else to tell you that this was the site of baseball history.

"Are we sure we should be parking here?" Ryan asked nervously.
"Just stay close to us," Tony told the boys.
"I'm thinking we should lock the car, too," Rob nudged me.
"Already ahead of you," I said, pushing the lock button on my key ring.

Rob and Ryan at The Former Home Plate Gate
We walked across the street, up about a half block, and stopped in front of "Plaza Gate A," which used to be the Home-Plate Gate to the ballpark, to take a picture before going in. A wave of despair swept over me, as I wondered how the city could let it come to this. After all, this was a part of history, not just baseball, but of the city itself. When the Yankees left the original Yankee Stadium  it was turned into beautiful new park-land by the team and the city of New York (Heritage Park), which houses well-kempt ball fields, tennis courts and walkways, along with markers, plaques and signage depicting the team's history at various points on the grounds. There was no sign of any of that here. I took a deep breath and walked through the front gate and back into history.

As I walked into the stadium-area, one of the first things I noticed was the grounds themselves. I had been told that for the last three years a volunteer group, calling itself the "Navin Field Grounds Crew," has been trying to maintain the stadium's "footprint," but they seemed to be fighting a losing battle. The land was uneven in some places, dangerously so to varying degrees, with a mixture of grass and weeds that poked up in spots, yet remained barren in others. There were some puddles, garbage and broken glass scattered in the remains of the grass and I had to warn the others to watch where they stepped as we made our way towards the diamond.



The field itself was restored by the "Navin Field Grounds Crew," and sits atop the footprint of the field at the time of Tiger Stadium's demolition in 2009. There is no back-stop, there are no dugouts, bases, baselines or batter's box markers. There are, however, benches in the spot where the dugouts once stood, a pitcher's mound and a home plate. For all intents and purposes, you could have played a pick-up game on this very spot, were you so inclined. We were so inclined.




"Hey guys," Tony called out to the boys. "I have the gloves in the van. Do you guys want to play catch?"

"Absolutely," Nick quickly replied.
"You'll be the only kids in Ramsey to say you've played ball at the old Tiger Stadium," I said smiling.

As Tony went back to grab the gloves and a ball, Nick and I walked around the field taking pictures, while Rob and Ryan went down to the third base area. Rob wanted to get a picture of Ryan replicating the famous photo of Ty Cobb, sliding into third, spikes up, which my little baseball historian was all too happy to do.


Left Field Line
Right Field Line
As I walked around the perimeter of the infield, taking pictures, I noticed how decrepit the neighborhood really was. There was nothing but empty lots out over the left field fence, left-center showed what appeared to be a deserted warehouse and a "Jesus: Your Only Way To God" billboard, while right and right-center looked like a deserted industrial area. It was very hard to fathom that this was once a vibrant downtown area, where men, women and children would spend lazy summer afternoons and electric fall evenings, cheering on their favorite ballplayers. It was the equivalent of a man or woman who has fallen on hard times, but yearns for their youth, which was filled with excitement, energy and glamour.
View to Center
When Tony returned with the gloves, he handed one to each of the boys and we all smiled as we watched them run off to "field grounders" at second and first base. I started to tell the other guys how I felt, standing here taking pictures. They all agreed that it was a depressing scene and we all wished that the city of Detroit had done something to honor the legacy of this once majestic ballpark. It would have been nice to see it converted into a park-land shrine, sort of like what New York had done for Yankee Stadium. Anything but this.

 It was at this time that we took notice of a gentleman, standing on the mound talking, while a film crew taped his monologue. He had been there all along, but we hadn't paid much attention to him until now. He noticed us watching him and talking quietly, after all we didn't want to interrupt what he was doing, and when he was finished he came over and introduced himself.

His name was Steve Hood and he was taping a TV show, "Detroit Wants 2 Know", which would be discussing how this empty, historic plot of land showed exactly what was wrong with the city of Detroit today. He told us that this was the largest undeveloped piece of property in the city, and how he thought it was a shame that something as historic and meaningful to millions of people could be allowed to reach such a state of disrepair as this. We said we were just discussing that very thing and told him what they had done for Yankee Stadium, and that we thought something like that should be done here as well.

After talking for about five minutes about what was going on in Detroit, he asked us where we were from. When we told him he laughed and replied that he grew up in Bergen County, New Jersey, as well, and that he had spent many afternoons at "Palisades Park Amusement Park" as a kid, but had eventually moved to the Mid-west and had come to love the area.


The Boys Playing on Tiger Stadium Infield
"Hey, would you guys mind if we filmed the kids playing ball?" he asked.
"Not at all, why?" Tony and I wanted to know.
" I think it would be the perfect ending to this week's show. We're talking about the history of this place and it would be a great view to see these two boys playing ball, on this diamond, to show everyone what could be once again. We'll get a few shots for the show and roll the closing credits over them actually playing."

Needless to say, Nick and Ryan thought it was a great idea, and as the cameras rolled they pretended to be Major Leaguers once again gracing the infield of Tiger Stadium. As promised, a week later, I got an e-mail with a link to the show and, true to his word, the boys were featured on that week's episode of "Detroit Wants 2 Know."

As Steve and his crew were packing up, his camera man told us that as a side job he ran the video board at Comerica Park, and asked if we would like to be featured on the scoreboard between innings of that night's game. The boys thought this was yet another great idea, so we gave him our names, our seat locations and asked when we should look out for it. He told us around the third inning, thanked us for our time, allowing them to use the kid's footage for the show and to remember to watch the video-board that evening.

"The Corner"
As the others walked back to the van, I ran across the street to get a picture of the famous Michigan and
Trumbull Ave sign that depicts the intersection where, once, Tiger baseball met history. As I gazed back across at the site of the old ballpark, I felt that same wave of sadness that had enveloped me earlier. The neighborhood, the stadium, the people, had all seen better days. Like most of the city, this particular area was better left in memories of high skies, sunny afternoons and excited fans from another era.

Driving away from where Tiger Stadium once stood was an eye opener. We passed from city block, to city block, through some of the "seedier" sections of Detroit.

"Um, where are we headed now?" I heard Ryan nervously ask from the back.
"The Motown Museum," Rob told him.
"Is it in a nicer part of town?" Nick chimed in.
"It looks it, from the pictures," Rob assured them.

The Motown Museum
Sure enough, after a few more miles, the urban blight and decay gave way to some nice brick homes and green front lawns. As we pulled the van to the curb, two houses stood before us. The one on the right was a two-story brick house, while the one connected to it, on the left, was a white, two-story home, with a big plate glass front window, flanked by two blue doors. A simple sign in the front yard read, "MOTOWN MUSEUM."

The Motown Museum was founded in 1985, by Esther Gordy Edwards, the sister of Motown Records founder Gordy Berry and the former senior vice president of Motown Records, and was declared an historic site by the state of Michigan that same year.
Rob and Ryan at the Motown Museum

When the recording company moved to Los Angeles in 1972, Ms. Edwards stayed behind to maintain the
corporate office at "Hitsville U.S.A." (the white house I described above), but found herself constantly interrupted by fans that wanted to see Studio A (the original recording studio where the majority of the hits were made). It became apparent that there would be no shortage of interest, so using her personal collection of Motown memorabilia she had acquired over the years, Ms. Edwards (with her brother's blessing) set out to preserve the legacy of Motown Records.

We stopped to take a few pictures outside the buildings, and then proceeded inside to join a tour that was just beginning. Ryan looked around curiously.

"Am I going to know any of this music?" he wanted to know.
"More than you'll believe. If you enjoyed the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, you'll like this too," Rob assured him.

Being satisfied with Rob's answer, we joined our group and headed upstairs for the start of the tour.

Music History
Our tour guide was an enthusiastic young man named Glen. Now, Glen was extremely knowledgeable, engaging and knew his Motown history. He guided us through the life of the Berry family and how Gordy came to create and expand a musical style that would shape the direction and history of the music world. We were treated to rare photos of artists such as, Marvin Gaye, Tammi Terrell, The Four Tops, The Isley Brothers, Gladys Knight and the Pips, The Supremes, The Temptations, Stevie Wonder, The Commodores, The Jackson 5 and many, many more, both at work and at play. We were shown the albums, 45's, stylish outfits and the story behind possibly the most influential recording company in music.

Glen took us under the famous Motown echo chamber and showed us how the sounds we have all come to know and love were created and then transferred to the recordings. He led us on an hour-long journey, which had us laughing, joking, singing and clapping our way through music history. We were treated to behind-the-scenes stories and anecdotes of the performers, as they made the music that shaped our lives.

The two highlights of the tour were the upstairs apartment where Gordy Berry lived, which has been preserved in its original 1960's decor, and Studio A, which is the original recording studio where hits like "My Girl" and "Stop in the Name of Love," were recorded. Also in Studio A is the control room where the hits were mixed, adjusted and finalized before being turned into multi-platinum records.

As if what we had already seen wasn't amazing enough, as the tour was concluding Glen let us in on a little secret: his father was Stevie Wonder. I'm sure he's had his share of doubters in the past, so he showed us video of himself and Stevie, as well as playing a voice mail that Stevie had left on his phone.

"That was amazing," Nick said as we were walking out.
"I can't believe how many songs I knew," Ryan chimed in. "And Glen was great, he made it so much fun."
"I knew you'd enjoy," Rob said smiling.
"Enjoy?" Ryan shot back. "That might have been better than the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame."
"How so?" I asked.
"There was a lot I wasn't interested in, there. But everything was interesting here and Glen made it even more fun."

Rob just smiled; he knew he had just opened another musical door that Ryan was most certainly going to wander though and explore.

"Lunch time," I said as we piled back into the van.
"MMMMMM, Slow's," Tony laughed. He had been waiting for this for days; honestly, we all had.
"I know what I'm having," Ryan told us, in breathless anticipation.
"How could you possibly know that?" Nicky asked.
"I saw it on 'Man Vs Food' and looked up the menu last week," he said, proudly.
"Only you," Tony laughed.

It took us about 15 minutes to find Slow's and get the car parked.

Sign Outside "Slows"
"Look," Nick laughed. "Read that street sign."
"WARNING CAR BREAK-IN AREA," Rob read.
"Only in Detroit," Tony laughed.
"I think we better find another spot," I told them, rounding the block.

Eventually we found something across the street from the restaurant, parked the car and raced to the front door. I was starving, and the aroma of cooking meats was guiding me towards the front door as my stomach growled. As we walked in the front door we were overpowered by the wonderful smell.



"Is this heaven?" I asked no one in particular.
"No, it's Detroit," laughed Ryan, bastardizing a line from our favorite movie, "Field of Dreams."
"Wise ass," I said, looking over my shoulder.
"I'd rather have pig ass," was his quick retort.
"Pig ass?" Nick asked.
"Pork butt, it's a cut of meat," I told him. "Ryan thinks he's being funny."
"It was amusing," Tony chimed in.
"You're not helping," I told him. "Hey, where is Ryan?"

It took us all of about ten seconds to see that while we were talking, Ryan had wasted no time in getting us seated and was perusing a menu, waiting to order. I just shrugged my shoulders, shook my head and laughed.

Slows BBQ
Now, Slow's Bar-B-Q is a restaurant in Detroit's Corktown Historic District, owned and operated by the Cooley family. It opened in 2005 and proudly serves what they describe as a mix of southern, Carolina and Texas barbecue. The restaurant has been profiled, as Ryan noted, on the Travel Channel's "Man Vs Food" and "Adam Richman's Best Sandwich in America," coming in second with "The Yardbird" (a pulled chicken breast, marinated in mustard, served with mushrooms, cheddar and Applewood bacon, all inside a poppy-seed bun).

We walked over to the table where Ryan was sitting and joined him. By now we were all starving and the aromas coming out of the kitchen were ridiculously overwhelming. We quickly ordered some drinks (I had the Stone Ruination I.P.A., Tony had a Great Lakes Engine 20 Smoked Pale Ale and Rob tried the Saugatuck Neapolitan Milk Stout Nitro, while the boys grabbed some sodas), and then dove into the menus. In the end, Rob decided on a plate of  Texas Beef Brisket (certified Angus beef brisket, dry rubbed, smoked heavy and sliced thin), with baked beans and mac and cheese; Tony had The Big Three (a combo of all three barbecued meats: pulled pork, pulled chicken and sliced brisket), with potato salad and coleslaw; I had "The Reason" (pork butt, smoked slow and pulled, bathed in sauce and topped with our signature coleslaw and dill pickle strips, sans pickles), with baked beans and apple sauce while the boys each had "The Triple Threat", or as I like to call it, "the heart attack on a bun" (a full pound of Applewood bacon, pulled pork and ham stacked high, on a poppy-seed roll) with mac and cheese, baked beans, black beans and cornbread.

As we waited for lunch to be served, we started to discuss all that we had seen today. Everyone agreed the empty lot that once housed Tiger Stadium was heartbreaking, but The Motown Museum was a lot of fun, and that Glen was fantastic as our tour guide and enhanced the whole experience.

"I can't wait to see...," Ryan started, but stopped in mid-sentence.

We all looked around and noticed that the waitress was bringing two enormous trays of food in our direction.

"It's here," was all Nick could say, in a hushed, reverential, tone usually reserved for houses of worship.
"Oh my God, look at all that food," Tony said.

The waitress and her helper carefully put the plates out in front of us and stepped away. For the first moment, all we could do was stare, in wide-eyed wonder, at all the overflowing plates laid out in front of us. For a split second we all looked at one another, then all Hell broke loose as everyone dove into their lunches.

After we each took a bite or two, Rob suggested we share, buffet-style, which was a great idea. We cut up pieces from our own individual plates and spooned the side dishes for one another, then passed them around, so everyone had a little bit of everything on their plates.

BBQ Brisket Platter and Mac and Cheese
The brisket was tender and juicy, with just a hint of the dry rub spices, and a flavorful smoky taste that you get when the barbecue is done just right. The pulled pork was juicy, yet not too wet, with a caramelized coating that held in the flavor and gave you a "zing" as you bit into it, while the barbecued chicken had a distinct dry rub flavor, but oozed juices and was cooked to just the right point where it would have started to dry out if it were in any longer. All of the meats were left "untreated" as they come out of the kitchen, and by that I mean that they are not sauced in any way, just the natural smoked, barbecue flavors. Once on the table, the diner has his/her choice of regional barbecue sauces with which to flavor their meal. The available flavors are "North Carolina" (vinegar-based), "Apple" (tangy/tart with a hint of fresh picked apples) , "Mustard" (a bold sauce, think deli-style mustard), "Spicy" (a bold Texas-style with a lot of heat) and "Sweet" (KC-type, tangy). We tried each one and Nicky like the "Carolina," Ryan preferred the "Apple" and Tony, Rob and I gravitated towards the "spicy."

The side dishes were as good as the platters and the sandwiches. The mac and cheese was cooked to a perfection, with the macaroni holding its consistency, despite being drenched in some of the richest, gooiest cheese and baked so the top was just crisp, yet not burned; it even had real bacon bits floating around to add an extra flavor to it. The baked beans were a Texas-style and had bits of onion and a smoky-mustard type flavor to them, and the applesauce was a perfect blend of pureed and chunks with just a wisp of cinnamon. The coleslaw was rich and creamy, yet still retained a crunch when it was chewed, and the cornbread was hot, moist and not the least bit dry.

Ryan and The "Triple Threat"

Now, there is one sandwich I left out, and that's because it needs a description all its own: the "Triple Threat." As I mentioned above, this sandwich is slightly over one pound, is composed of Applewood smoked bacon, pulled pork and grilled ham, and is not for the faint of heart...or those with a pre-existing heart condition. It also happens to be the best thing on the menu.



Ryan Takes Down The Sandwich
You would think the three different flavors would cancel one another out, but they complement each other to create the perfectly balanced sandwich. The pulled pork is juicy and flavorful, while the bacon adds a smoky, salty crunch and the grilled ham provides a "warm, charred" flavor that blends nicely with the other two. Any of the above listed sauces changes the flavor just enough that each bite is a new adventure in flavor that will be enjoyed by all who eat it. This sandwich was everything Ryan dreamed it would be and he guarded his portion like a hungry wolf cub guards a meal after being without for a good portion of the winter. I can't say I blame him, though; it was that good.

It was here, at Slow's, that a tradition began that will most likely follow us through the rest of our trip. The boys got to have a sip of beer with their food. Now mind you, I am talking a small sip and not a huge gulp. It all started when Rob, Tony and I each commented on how well the meal was complimented by each of our beers and the boys pouted and said they felt left out. After huddling up, we all decided that we would allow them each a small sip of whatever they were interested in. It would make for some interesting conversation.

"The I.P.A. is quite flavorful and hoppy. It has just the right 'bite' and goes well with my sandwich," Ryan told the table.
"I found it to be a bit too overpowering, but it did have a sharp flavor," Nick countered.
"The Engine 20 Smoked Pale Ale was crisp, yet not as strong as the I.P.A.," Nick told us.
"It had a distinct smoky flavor as well," Ryan added.
"That's 'cause it's a smoked pale ale, Dumbass," Nicky shot back.
"The milk stout was creamy and flavorful, but it was a bit heavy," Ryan said, looking around the table for validation.
"I didn't think it wasn't as good as the other two, either," Nick agreed.

The three of us listened intently to the kids trying their best to sound as if they were reviewers, and we couldn't help but laugh.

"They were pretty spot-on," Tony noted, as we walked out the door.
"It scares me how much I agree with them," I said laughing.
"Just shows they listen to the important stuff," Rob nodded, approvingly.

As we waddled to the car, stuffed to the gills from too much good food and beer, it was decided that we should head back towards Comerica and see what else there was around the ballpark.

After parking the car, we started walking around the ballpark area and ran into a U.S. Army Veteran who was selling American Flag lapel pins to help support the local V.A. After purchasing a few pins, the gentleman told us to take a ride on the "people mover," which is Detroit's version of an elevated subway and would give us a "tour" of the city, with the ability to get on and off where ever we chose. It sounded like a great idea to see the city and while away some time, so we decided to take the trip.

The People Mover
The Detroit People Mover is an automated train system that is owned and operated by the city and services the downtown area. These driver-less trains are fully automated, operate on a single set of tracks and have stations set up at various locations throughout the city. The People Mover makes stops at 13 stations (Broadway, Grand Circus Park, Times Square, Michigan Avenue, Fort/Cass, Cobo Center, Joe Louis Arena, Financial District, Millender, Renaissance Center, Bricktown, Greektown and Cadillac Center), and is a one-fare, on/off system, spread out over three miles of tracks.

The total ride was about 45 minutes and allowed us to see the entire downtown area from above. The boys loved the idea of a driver-less train and this was the perfect way to see some sights in a quick, easy and cost-effective manner. The most exciting part of the ride was when we were able to show the boys across the river into Canada, as neither of them realized exactly how close we were to the border.

After coming full circle, we arrived back at or point of origin, Grand Circus Park Station, and I received a phone call from our friend, Jim Boothe, telling us that he would be joining us for the Tigers' game that evening. We just now needed a place to meet up with him before the game.

Cheli's
"Cheli's Chili Bar," Ryan offered. "We could sit down, you could have a beer and I can get a bowl of chili."

We all looked at him as if he were nuts.

"You can't possibly be hungry already," Tony said, incredulously.
"Are ya new?" Ryan said, laughing.
"It's as good as anywhere," Rob said. "Right across the street from the ballpark, easy to get to and we could grab a brew."

I just shrugged my shoulders in agreement, called Jimmy back to tell him where to meet us, and we headed over to Cheli's.

"Hockeytown"
Cheli's Chili Bar is a sports bar/restaurant located across the street from the outfield gates of Comerica Park, owned by former Detroit Red Wings defenseman and N.H.L. Hall of Famer, Chris Chelios. The fare is typical pub food; i.e., burgers, sandwiches, appetizers, soups and salads, but it is known for its chili, which is served with beef, chicken or veggetables. There is also a wide variety of local craft beers, as well as many domestic and imported drafts and bottles. The walls are adorned with plenty of memorabilia from all of the Detroit teams, but primarily the Red Wings. There is also a small back room with arcade-style video games that the kids gravitate to (and ours were no exception).

The boys asked for a handful of quarters, which we quickly turned over and they launched themselves towards the video games.

" Don't forget the chili," I heard, as he called back over his shoulder.

I laughed, ordered a round of beers and a bowl of chili, and we sat back and waited for Jim to arrive.

Jim, Rob and I
About fifteen minutes later Jim arrived, wearing his Tigers home jersey with Prince Fielder's #28 on the back. Ryan, Rob and I had met Jim a few years prior at a Springsteen concert in New Jersey, and had been friends ever since. He is to the Michigan sports scene what Ryan and I are to the New York/New Jersey one, much to the chagrin of his wonderful girlfriend, Darci. He lives and breathes for the Tigers, the Lions, University of Michigan and Michigan State University, and will make many a friendly wager on the out-come of games. In fact, in one "famous" instance we made a bet on the outcome of the Yankees-Tigers playoff series; I lost and had to post a picture of myself in Tigers gear. If there is anything you need to know about Michigan, Jim is the man that would have all your answers. He'll tell you where the best places to visit, eat and drink are; if you need to know something about any of the sports teams, or their players, he's an encyclopedia of knowledge and besides all that he's a hell of a guy. In fact, he was my sounding board on everything we were going to do or see from the time we went to the Toledo Mud Hens game (they are, after all, the Tigers' farm team), until we were leaving for Pittsburgh, after the evening's ballgame. It was only natural that he join us for as much as he could.

After introducing Jim and Tony, we ordered him a beer and sat down to talk about the history of Tigers' baseball. Ryan and Nicky came back every few minutes so Ryan could scarf down a bowl of chili, but for the most part they stayed over by the video games, waging a friendly "cut-throat" competition to see who could best the other at each machine.

Tigers History:

The Tigers have a long and storied history in the baseball world. The ball club was founded in 1894 as part of the "Western League" and today are the oldest one-city, one-named franchise in the American League. There have been many rumors on how the team got its name; one was that it came from the orange stripes worn on the team's back socks, while another says that a local sportswriter compared their ferocious style of play to the Princeton Tigers football team. However, according to Richard Pak's 1998 book, "A Place For Summer: A Narrative History of Tiger Stadium," the name originated from a Detroit military unit that fought valiantly in both the Civil War and the Spanish American War. The franchise asked permission, which was granted, and has been known as the Tigers ever since.

Boulevard Park:

The team originally played at Boulevard Park (also known as League Park), located on East Lafayette (Champlain St., at that time), between Helen and East Grand Boulevard. Today, this spot houses an Episcopal church (Church of the Messiah), some residential homes and a vacant lot.

Bennett Park and Burns Park:

 The next year, 1895, owner George Vanderbeck decided on a new home for his team (Bennett Park), at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull Avenues. The team would move there for the 1896 season and stay in that location for the next 104 years. The ballpark sat about 5,000 fans in its inaugural season, but constant expansion brought that number to 14,000 by the time it was re-constructed after the 1911 season. The first game in the new park was on April 13, 1896; it was an exhibition against a semi-pro team known as the Athletics, and the Tigers won 30-3. The first regular season game took place against the Columbus Senators fifteen days later, with the Tigers winning that as well, 17-2.

In 1900 the Western League renamed itself the American League, but it was still considered a minor league until the next year, when it broke with the National League and declared itself on par with the National League, competing for players, fans and cities. The Tigers played their first game as a major league team against the Milwaukee Brewers, on April 25, 1901. Going into the ninth inning the Tigers were behind 13-4, but staged a miraculous rally which drove them to a 14-13 win. The team would go on to finish in third place in the eight-team league that year.

During the 1901 and 1902 seasons the Tigers were forced to play their Sunday home games at Burns Park because of the "Blue Laws" that forbade Bennett Park from being used. Burns Park was built by, and named for, the Tigers' first owner, James Burns, and constructed on his own property. The first game ever played there was on April 28, 1901, when the Tigers defeated the Milwaukee Brewers, 12-11. The park was abandoned after the 1902 season, when the Blue Laws were repealed and the team was allowed to play Sunday games at Bennett Park.

For the next few years there were rumors of the team leaving Detroit for Cincinnati or Pittsburgh, but they never came to fruition, and by 1903 the two leagues had agreed to peacefully co-exist. This would put the American League on the same professional "major league" footing as the National League and the original eight franchises were located in Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee, New York, Philadelphia and Washington.

For the team's first few seasons as a major league entity, they would finish anywhere from third to seventh place. The fortunes of the franchise would begin to turn with the 1905 season and the acquisition of one player, Ty Cobb.

Ty Cobb
Cobb, who would come to be regarded as one of the best players in the history of the game, was born in Narrows, Georgia, in 1896. He played his first years of professional baseball all over the south, for teams such as the Royston Rompers, the Royston Reds, the Anniston Steelers and the Augusta Tourists. He would describe himself as being "...a sadistic, slashing, swashbuckling despot who waged war in the guise of sport...", and his reputation for being the nastiest player ever to have laced up the spikes would follow him for the rest of his life.

Like him or hate him (most players, including his teammates, hated him), Cobb added a much needed spark to the Tigers lineup. His contract was purchased in August of 1905 and the 18-year-old Cobb became a regular, doubling in his first at-bat against Jack Chesbro of the New York Highlanders. By the next year, 1906, Cobb would become the full-time center-fielder and hit .316. This would be the lowest average Cobb would compile for the rest of his career, finishing with a lifetime .366 batting average over 24 years.

After finishing sixth in 1906, the Tigers would own the American League for the next three years. They would finish with records of 92-58 (1907), 90-63 (1908) and 98-54 (1909), to reach three straight World Series, where they would play the Cubs twice and the Pirates once.

Cobb in 1907 World Series
In the 1907 World Series the Tigers squared off against the Chicago Cubs, who had returned to the Series after losing the year before to the Chicago White Sox. The Tigers may have been the best in the American League, but they were no match for the National League Champion Cubs, who dominated the series with pitching. The Tigers were so over-matched they only managed to score six runs over five games, with the Cubs wining four, and one game (Game One) called a draw due to darkness. Cobb hit a putrid .200 (4-20) and didn't drive in a single run over the course of the five games.

1908 saw the Tigers in a dogfight with the Cleveland Naps, whom they held off by half a game, to clinch their second American League Championship and return to the World Series for a re-match with the Cubs. Cobb would again pace the team, with his second straight batting title (.324), and be the team's MVP, but the results of the World Series were the same as the year before; Chicago winning in five games. Cobb would hit better in this series (.368), but the team would only score 15 runs over the course of the five games, with all of them coming in the first three. The 1908 World Series would become famous as it would be the last one that the Cubs would ever win. Cobb vowed he would do better and lead the Tigers back in 1909.

Cobb and Wagner At 1909 World Series
True to his word, Cobb had another banner year in 1909. Not only did he win his third straight batting title, with an average of .377, but he won the Triple Crown in home runs (9) and RBI's (107), while leading the Tigers to their highest win total yet, with 98. It was hoped that a new opponent, the Pittsburgh Pirates, would yield a different result and the series did go seven games. It was a see-saw affair, with the Pirates taking Games 1, 3 and 5, and the Tigers countering in Games 2, 4 and 6. The seventh, and deciding, game was played at Bennett Park and the Pirates would score twice in the second and fourth innings, three times in the sixth and once in the eighth, en route to an 8-0 shutout. Pirates star Honus Wagner would have a standout series, batting .333, with six stolen bases and seven RBI's, while Cobb, in his last ever World Series appearance, would hit .231, with six RBI's.

Over the next two years the Tigers would valiantly fight to get back to the World Series, but would come up short each year. They would finish third in 1910 and second in 1911, even though Cobb would once again win the batting title in each of those years and the A.L. M.V.P. in 1911. Try as he might, Cobb would never again be able to bring the Tigers to the lofty heights they reached from 1907-1911.

Navin Field:


During the 1911 season, new owner Frank Navin had decided that he wanted to rebuild and configure Bennett Park for the next year. The fan-base was constantly growing and Navin wanted to give them a ballpark that was befitting the growing interest in his team, so he acquired more land around Bennett Park, demolished the existing structure, replaced it with a steel and concrete stadium that would seat 23,000 fans and named it after himself, Navin Field.

The new stadium was opened on April 20, 1912, the same day that Boston opened Fenway Park. The park, with its cozy confines, would be conducive to higher scoring games and would become known as a "band box" by the local writers. The playing dimensions were 340 to left-field, 365 to left-center, 440 to center, 370 to right-center and 325 down the right field line. The stands were also closer to the playing field to allow the fans get closer to the action.

Though the "new" stadium was beloved by the fans, it did nothing to improve the Tigers' on-field play. The team muddled through the next few years finishing in sixth place twice and fourth in another. Cobb's play was still second to none, and by 1915 he had won nine straight batting titles, including back-to-back years over .400, in 1911 and 1912, but the team languished.


Bobby Veach
The 1915 Tigers team was a powerhouse, winning 100 games and sporting possibly the best outfield in M.L.B. history. Ty Cobb (in right), Sam Crawford (in center) and Bobby Veach (in left) finished first, second and third, in RBI's and total bases, but the team could not overcome the Boston Red Sox, who finished the year with 101 wins and beat the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series. That year, Cobb also set a record with 96 stolen bases, which would stand until it was broken by Maury Wills, of the Dodgers, in 1962.

Between 1916 and 1921 the Tigers continued to be a middle-to-lower-end-team, even though Cobb remained a marquee player in the league. They would climb no higher than third (1916), and fall as far as seventh (1918 and 1920), and after the 1920 season owner Navin made the hated Cobb the team's player-manager.

The 1921 Tigers were a hitting machine, collecting over 1,700 hits and having a .316 batting average, both American League highs for the year. However, the old adage that good pitching beats good hitting would come back to bite them in the backside, as their team ERA ballooned to almost 4.50 and they allowed over nine runs 28 times. For all their offensive firepower, the Tigers finished in sixth place, six games behind the New York Yankees and their emerging superstar, Babe Ruth.

Ty Cobb and The Babe

As Ruth's popularity, and his home run totals, increased, so did Cobb's hatred for him. The Babe was everything that "The Georgia Peach" wasn't; popular with fans and teammates. Cobb saw Ruth as a threat to the way the game had always been played, the small-ball, move the runner over, type, style, as opposed to Ruth's swing-for-the-fences power game. It seems the thing that most offended Cobb was that despite his lack of conditioning and ever-growing strikeouts, the Babe grew more popular than anyone ever had.



Between 1920, when Ruth was sold to the Yankees, and 1926, when Cobb left Detroit, Cobb waged a personal war against Ruth on the diamond and in the press. Cobb would be considered the better all-around player, which he would continually tell any of the newsmen who would talk to him, but the Yankees, and Ruth, won more games and World Championships. During this six-year period, the Tigers would finish anywhere between second and seventh and never return to a World Series, while the Yankees, and the Babe, would finish first five times and win two World Series.

After the 1926 season, Cobb retired from baseball amid allegations of game-fixing by a former pitcher that he managed, which Cobb denied vehemently. After an investigation by Commissioner Landis, Cobb was cleared of any wrong doing and was allowed to return for the 1927 season, with the understanding that he was to be a free agent and could sign with any team; he chose the Philadelphia A's.

Cobb's last two years, 1927 and 1928, were spent with the A's, who fared no better than Cobb's Tiger teams, in besting the Yankees. Both years the A's would finish second, while the Yankees would win the World Series and Cobb fumed.

Upon retiring, Cobb would hold 90 records, some of which still stand today, such as, a career batting average of .366, youngest player to amass 4,000 hits and score 2,000 runs, most batting titles with 12 (in 13 years) and most steals of home (54). Though his legacy has been overshadowed by his nasty temperament, he received the most votes on any Hall of Fame Ballot (including Ruth), with 222 out of 226 possible. Today, many pundits will make a compelling argument that Cobb was the best to ever play the game.

In the immediate aftermath of Cobb's leaving (1926-1933), the Tigers were led by future Hall of Famers Mickey Cochrane (catcher), Hank Greenberg (first base) and Charlie Gehringer (second base), but never finished higher than fourth, in 1927. That would begin to change in 1934, when a resurgence would begin.

Mickey Cochrane
In 1934, the Tigers would take first place in the American League, besting the hated Yankees by seven games. They finished with a record of 101-53, which was the best winning percentage in team history, and were led by player/manager Mickey Cochrane (who won the A.L. MVP with a .320 batting average, a .428 on base percentage, 32 doubles and 76 RBI's), Hank Greenberg, Charlie Gehringer, Billy Rogell at shortstop, Marv Owen at third, Goose Goslin in left and Eldin Aucker on the mound. They would outscore their opponents 958-708 and lead the league in attendance, with almost 920,000 fans coming out to see them play. As the American League representative in the 1934 World Series, the Tigers would play the St. Louis Cardinals, known to Fans as "The Gas House Gang."

The Cardinals were led by pitching sensations Jay "Dizzy" Dean, and his brother, Paul "Daffy" Dean, and left-fielder Joe "Ducky" Medwick, and finished with 98 wins, two games ahead of the New York Giants. The Tigers were the favorites, but no one expected the Cardinals to be a push-over, which they weren't.

Through six games the teams traded wins, with St. Louis taking Games 1, 3 and 6 and the Tigers winning 2, 4 and 5, which set up a deciding Game 7, in Detroit.

The Cardinals scored seven runs in the third innings and added two more in the sixth, to run the score to 9-0. By the top of the seventh, Tigers fans, enraged at the score and a hard close play at third the inning before, started pelting Cards' left-fielder Joe Medwick with fruit, vegetables and anything else they could get their hands on. The game had to be stopped and Medwick was removed for his own safety. The final score was 11-0 and the Tigers had once again failed to capture a World Series crown.

After losing in 1934, the Tigers were determined to finally break through and win the World Series the next year. Though they returned many of the same players, the year started out poorly as the team was 2-9 after the first 11 games of the season. By the end of June the Tigers were barely above .500 (33-29), but they went on a tear in the season's second half that catapulted them to a second straight American League Crown (three games batter than the Yankees), and World Series appearance, this time against the Chicago Cubs.

The Cubs, who had won 21 straight games in September, had clinched the National League Pennant, four games ahead of the Cardinals and with a 100-win season were considered the favorites to win their first World Series since 1908. Things went Chicago's way with a 3-0, Game One shut out and the Tigers looked to be in dire straits after Hank Greenberg broke his wrist in Game Two and was lost for the remainder of the series.

The Tigers, however, rallied around their fallen star and reeled off wins in Games 2, 3 and 4, to take a 3-1 series lead. Chicago fought back, winning Game 5, and taking a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the sixth, in Game 6. The Tigers fought back with a run in the bottom of the inning, to tie the game, and neither team scored in the seventh or eighth.

In the top of the ninth, the Cubs' Stan Hack led off with a triple, but was left stranded there after Tiger's starter Tommy Bridges record the next three outs. In the bottom of the inning, the Tigers brought home their first World Championship when Goose Goslin drove in the Series-winning run with two outs. After five trips to the World Series the Tigers finally had their championship.


                        
Though the Tigers hoped to build off their 1935 World Championship, they once again fell to second place behind the Yankees in 1936 and 1937. The final two years of the 1930's saw them again finishing in the lower-middle of the American League and out of the World Series, though one thing would change during this time period: the name of the stadium, in 1938.


1935 World Series Champions


Briggs Stadium:

After the Tigers won the World Series in 1935, owner Frank Navin passed away from a heart attack and plumbing magnate Walter Briggs Sr. took control of the team. Though he decided against doing anything right away, in 1938 he changed the name of the ballpark from Navin Field to Briggs Stadium. This he felt, gave the facility, and the team as well, a title of importance as they were now playing in a stadium, as opposed to on a field.

Hank Greenberg
1940 saw the Tigers return to the top of the American League standings with 90 wins, though they did have to hold off Bob Feller and the Indians in a tight pennant race that went down to the final days of the season. The roster had a few holdovers from the 1935 Championship team, such as, Greenberg, Gehringer and pitcher Lynwood Thomas "Schoolboy" Rowe, but George Robert "Birdie" Tebbets and Billy Sullivan Jr. were now behind the plate, Rudy York was at first, and Dick Bartell and Michael "Pinky" Higgins were at short and third, respectively. They would face the Cincinnati Reds, who were making their first trip back to the World Series since the 1919 notorious "Black Sox affair."

The Reds came into the series having beaten out the Brooklyn Dodgers for the National League crown, by 12 games, and were anchored by star pitchers Paul Derringer and William "Bucky" Walters, as well as All Star Ernie Lombardi. This did not stop the Tigers from winning Games 1, 4 and 5, to take a 3-2 lead in the series. Cincinnati tied the series up though, with a 4-0 shut out in Game 6, which set up yet another World Series-deciding Game 7.

The Tigers scored first, with a run in the third, and nursed that lead into the seventh, when the Reds scored twice to take the lead. Try as they might, Detroit could not push across any more runs and, once again, lost a World Series in seven games.

As in other years, the Tigers would fall back to the pack over the next four seasons, finishing fifth in 1941, 1942 and 1943. They did find themselves in a pennant race in 1944, with the St Louis Browns, but finished the season in second place, one game back.


Hal Newhouser
Though they didn't know it at the time, 1945 would be the Tigers' final "hurrah" for over two decades. The Tigers had a strong team, led by York and pitchers Paul "Dizzy" Trout and "Prince" Hal Newhouser, which was bolstered by the return of Greenberg from World War II. Though Greenberg was the heart of the team, Newhouser, the A.L. MVP in 1944, would win 25 games and secure his second straight MVP (first pitcher to ever do this) and Trout, who would win 18 games to go with the twenty from the year before, were the workhorses that carried the team to the World Series, where they would face the Chicago Cubs.

The Cubs, on the strength of 98 wins, had edged out the Cardinals for the N.L. Pennant and were anxious to win their first championship since 1908, when they had defeated the Tigers, as well as repay the Tigers for their 1935 World Series loss. Before Game One, Stan Hack, who had led off the Cubs' ninth inning of Game Seven with a triple, only to be stranded at third, was seen observing the field. When asked what he was looking for he responded; "I just wanted to see if I was still standing there on third base."

6six and the Tigers winning Games 2, 4 and 5, which would set up yet another deciding Game 7. As a side note, the famous "Curse of the Billy Goat" originated at this World Series, after Game 4. The Curse was placed on the Cubs franchise after Billy Sianis, the owner of "The Billy Goat Tavern," was asked to leave Wrigley Field because the odor of his goat, which was at the game, was bothering the other fans. A disgusted Sianis was said to have shouted at Cubs officials, on his way out the door, "Them Cubs, they ain't gonna win no more." To this day, the Cubs have never been in a World Series, let alone won one.

Whether it was the "Curse of the Billy Goat," or just  a stronger Tigers team remains open for debate, but the Tigers scored six runs in the first two innings, en route to a 9-3 white-washing of the Cubs and their second World Series Championship. In this series, the Cubs won two out of three games in Detroit, but would drop three of the four home games in the "friendly confines" of Wrigley Field. The Tigers celebrated their championship in style, with a lavish team party back home in Detroit that lasted through the night. Management pulled out all the stops in celebrating this World Series and it was a good thing they did, as the Tigers would not return to the Fall Classic for another twenty-three years.

The next half decade was a frustrating five years for the franchise; in 1946 and 1947, though the Tigers fielded very good teams, they would finished behind the Yankees both times. 1948 and 1949 saw the team dip to fifth and fourth place, respectively, but they rebounded in 1950, only to finish, yet again, behind New York. Out of all those years, 1950 might have been the most frustrating. The team would finish with 95 wins and a .617 winning percentage, but would find themselves three games behind the Yankees, who would go on to beat Philadelphia in the World Series. The bright spot during these tough years was third baseman George Kell, who would be a ten-time All Star, batting over .300 for eight straight seasons, and a future Hall of Famer.

If the years between 1946 and 1950 were tough ones for Detroit, the rest of the 1950's served as an even bigger disappointment. Despite having players such as Kell, pitcher Virgil Trucks, who threw two no-hitters during the 1952 season (only the third time this had ever been accomplished), and the emergence of outfielder Al Kaline, the team had a dismal decade, finishing with a record of 738-743 and never rising above fourth place (1957 and 1959). The Tigers also suffered the loss of their owner, Walter Briggs, Sr., who passed away in 1952. His son, Walter Briggs, Jr., inherited the team, but was forced to sell it to John Fetzer and Fred Knorr, in 1958.

Al Kaline: "Mr. Tiger"
Despite the failings of the team, Kaline would become the face of the franchise. He would debut on June 25, 1953 and over the next 22 years would compile a Hall of Fame resume. Aside from playing his entire career with the Tigers, which earned him the nickname "Mr. Tiger," Kaline would finish with a lifetime batting average of .307, 3,007 hits, 399 home runs and 1,583 runs batted in. He was also honored with 18 All Star selections, 10 Gold Glove awards, a batting title in 1955 and a World Series Championship in 1968. After his retirement, the Tigers took his #6 out of circulation and in 1980 he was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, in Cooperstown. Today, many Tigers' fans consider him the #1A to Cobb's #1 in team history, and it's easy to see why.

During their "wandering through the desert" phase, the Tigers did come tantalizingly close, in 1961. During this season the American League expanded from eight to ten teams, the Tigers would win 101 games (a 30-win improvement over the previous season), and first baseman Norm Cash won the batting title, hitting .361, while Al Kaline finished second, at .324. Unfortunately, this was the year that Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris assaulted Babe Ruth's home run record and the Yankees won the pennant by eight games. During this year, new owner John Feltzer would change the name of the stadium, and give it its final name.

Tiger Stadium:


1962-1966 saw the Tigers start to build a strong core, with players such as pitchers Mickey Lolich and Denny McLain, as well as outfielders Willie Horton, Jim Northrup and Mickey Stanley. The team would rise in the standings from sixth, to fourth to third place and would post records above .500 each of these years. They were starting to set the table for the next two years.

In 1967, the Tigers fought the Boston Red Sox tooth and nail for the American League flag. Due to rained out games during the season, the Tigers were forced to play back-to-back double-headers against the California Angels in the last two days of the season. Going into the last day, the Tigers needed to win both ends of the double header to force a one-game playoff; they won the first, but lost the second to send the Red Sox to the post-season without having to play a one-game playoff. The Tigers finished the season with 91 wins, one behind Boston, but more importantly they found a strong third pitcher, Earl Wilson. Wilson had been acquired from Boston the year before and would win 22 games in 1967; he would form a "Big Three" with Denny Mclain and Mickey Lolich for the next few seasons. The Tigers were set for a big 1968, and they didn't disappoint.

Denny McLain
1968 was known as the "Year of the Pitcher," and the Tigers had two of the best in the game in Denny McLain and Mickey Lolich. Lolich would finish the year with 17 wins and an ERA of 3.19, but it was McLain who shone the brightest. The big right-hander would pitch 336 innings, post an ERA of 1.96, sport a record of 31-6 and strike out 280 batters, while winning the A.L. MVP and the Cy Young Award.

After losing the A.L. pennant the year before the Tigers were determined to come out strong, which is exactly what they did, posting a 9-1 record to start the season. By the end of the first month they were 12-4 and in early May they took over first place, and would not relinquish it for the rest of the season, winning 103 games. The Orioles would stay close, but in the end they would finish in second place, 12 games back.

The 1968 World Series would see another Tigers/Cardinals rematch, and this one, like the others, would go the full seven games. The Cardinals had beaten out the San Francisco Giants for the N.L. flag and were led by pitchers Bob Gibson and Steve Carlton, as well as position players Tim McCarver (catcher), Orlando Cepeda (first base) and outfielders Roger Maris, Curt Flood and Lou Brock. They were the defending World Series Champions, after having defeated Boston the year before, and were determined to keep their crown.

Game One would see a match-up of aces, as Bob Gibson would take on Denny McLain. In the end, Gibson was too much for the Tigers, as he pitched a complete-game, five-hit-shutout.

Detroit roared back in Game Two, with Mickey Lolich posting a complete-game victory, as the Tigers' bats came alive for eight runs.

Games Three and Four would go to St. Louis, as Gibson handed McLain his second defeat in as many starts and the Cards to a stranglehold on the series. The Tigers weren't worried though, as they apparently had the Cardinals right where they wanted them.

Lolich won his second game of the series with a 5-3, come-from-behind victory in Game 5 and McLain returned to form with his first victory in Game Six, a 13-1 white-washing of the Redbirds, which set the stage for a Gibson vs. Lolich, winner-take-all Game Seven.

1968 World Champions
Both starters were looking for their third victory of the series, with Lolich pitching on two days' rest. Each pitcher matched the other in a scoreless duel until the sixth inning, when Gibson surrendered two two-out hits to Norm Cash and Willie Horton. Jim Northrup then hit a deep drive that Curt Flood misplayed into a two-run triple. Flood, who was known as a fine defensive outfielder, originally started in on the ball and by the time he corrected his mistake, it was over his head. Bill Freehan then doubled in Northrup and the Tigers had a 3-0 lead. They added another run in the top of the ninth, while St. Louis scored one in the bottom of the frame, but it wasn't enough as Lolich won his third game of the series and the Tigers had their third World Championship.

As after previous World Series Championships, the Tigers could not follow up with a return to the Series. 1969 saw them win 90 games, but be completely outdistanced by the Orioles, who finished 19 games ahead. In 1970, the Tigers would finish in fourth place and traded McLain, who had been suspended three times during the year, to the Washington Senators. In return, the Tigers received pitcher Joe Coleman, shortstop Edie Brinkman and third baseman Aurelio Rodriguez, which would come to be seen as a steal for Detroit. In another move, manager Mayo Smith was let go and replaced with "pepper-pot" Billy Martin.

Martin would lead the team back to first place in the American League in 1972, as the Tigers would best the Red Sox by a game. Unfortunately for Detroit, they would face the Oakland A's in the American League Championship Series. The A's were led by Jim "Catfish" Hunter, Johnny Lee "Blue Moon" Odom, Gene Tenace, Joe Rudi and Reggie Jackson, and on their way to winning three straight World Series Championships. They defeated the Tigers in a hard-fought, five game series, where two of the games went into extra innings. This defeat would begin yet another downward spiral for the Tigers that would last until 1983.

Over the next eleven years players and managers would come and go, but the team would remain in the middle, or lower, section of the American League. In 1974, Martin was replaced by Ralph Houk, who was replaced by Les Moss in 1979. Moss only lasted until June of '79 before being replaced by George "Sparky" Anderson, who became a fixture and a franchise favorite over his tenure. Aside from the managerial merry-go-round, the biggest loss for the team was the retirement of Al Kaline, after the 1974 season. Kaline had always been a fan favorite as well as the epitome of how the game should be played. He was irreplaceable and left a huge hole in the fabric of the team.


"The Bird" and Big Bird
Even though the Tigers lost Kaline, the team found a fan favorite as soon as 1976 in pitcher Mark Fidrych. Fidrych, a tall, gangly kid, from Worcester, Massachusetts, made his debut on April 20, 1976 and instantly endeared himself to the Tiger faithful. He was known for his eccentricities' such as talking to the ball, manicuring the mound, throwing back balls that he claimed "had hits in them" and strutting around the mound after every strike-out. Fidrych earned the nickname "The Bird" because of his close physical resemblance to Sesame Street's Big Bird character and earnd an All Star berth in his rookie season as well as winning the Rookie of the Year Award, with a 19-9 record and a 2.39 ERA.

Unfortunately, Fidrych would tear cartilage in his knee during spring training in 1977 and six weeks after coming back he would experience a "dead arm", which turned out to be a rotator cuff tear. This injury would hamper his season, leading to a 6-4 record, and after multiple comeback attempts he would be out of baseball by 1980, finishing with a 29-19 career record and a 3.10 ERA.

When Anderson took over the team, in 1979, he promised the city a pennant within five years and started to build a team that would keep that promise. Though the team still struggled, fans could see the progress being made. With players such as Jack Morris, Lance Parrish, Tom Underwood, Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Chet Lemon and Kirk Gibson, the team steadily improved and in 1983 finished in second place, six games behind the Baltimore Orioles. This would set up 1984 to be a season for the ages.

The first big news of 1984 was the sale of the team, from John Fetzer to the owner of Domino's Pizza, Tom Monaghan. The sale caught everyone off-guard as no one even knew this was in the works.

The team started out on fire, winning their first nine games, and never cooled off. By the 40th game of the season they were 35-5 and would lead the American League East from the first day of the season. Jack Morris pitched a nationally televised no-hitter in the fourth game of the season and closer Willie Hernandez, who was acquired from the Phillies in the off-season, would win the A.L. Cy Young and the MVP awards. The Tigers roared into the playoffs, facing the Kansas City Royals in the ALCS, which they would win in a three-game sweep. The Tigers were headed back to the World Series to face the surprising San Diego Padres, who had come out of the National League West.

The World Series was almost as anti-climactic as the Championship Series had been. Though the Padres were led by battle-tested veterans such as, Graig Nettles, Goose Gossage, Steve Garvey, Carmelo Martinez, Gary Templeton and rookie Tony Gwynn, they were no match for Detroit.

Though the games looked close (there were no blow-outs), the Padres were never really in the series. Game One went to the Tigers, 3-2, but the Padres scored their two in the first and then nothing more the rest of the way. San Diego tied the series at one, with a 5-3 victory in Game Two, but it was all Tigers the rest of the way. The Tigers would take Games 3, 4 and 5 by a combined score of 17-8, which would be highlighted by a memorable confrontation between Goose Gossage and Kirk Gibson.

Gibson vs Goose
In the bottom of the eighth inning, and the Tigers clinging to a one-run lead, Kirk Gibson came to bat with two on and one out. Gibson, who had homered earlier in the game, was a serious threat and Padres manager, Dick Williams came to the mound to talk about intentionally walking the dangerous hitter. Gossage talked his manager out of it, saying he wanted to pitch to Gibson. It was one of the few times in Gossage's career that he would wish for a do-over. Gibson blasted a three run homer into the right field seats to clinch the game and the World Series Championship.

After finishing the next two years in third place, the Tigers would win the 1987 A.L. East, but it would come at a cost. During the 1987 season the Tigers would trade minor league pitcher John Smoltz to the Atlanta Braves, for established veteran Doyle Alexander. Alexander would solidify the Tigers' rotation, posting a 9-0 record, with a 1.53 ERA, but Smoltz would go on to a Hall of Fame career with the Braves.

As noted, the trade would solidify the Tigers' rotation and helped them squeak out a division win over the Toronto Blue Jays with the best record in baseball, at 98-64. This set up an ALCS match-up with the Minnesota Twins.

While the Tigers finished with the best record in either league, the Twins posted the worst record of any of the four teams that made the playoffs. That, however, was never taken into consideration by the Twins, who upset the heavily favored Tigers in five games. Even with the advent of the Wild Card, in 1994, this would be the last time the Tigers could reach the playoffs until 2006.

The 1987 off-season saw the Tigers lose Gibson to free agency, but they still spent much of the year in first place. A late season slump saw them lose the division to the Boston Red Sox by one game. It would be the last time until 2006 that the Tigers would finish as high as second place.

Though the Tigers would have some very good players in the 1990's, Mickey Tettleton, Rob Deer, Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Bobby Higginson , Travis Fryman and fan favorite Cecil Fielder, the team would continually finish between third and seventh place.

There were a few bright spots for the franchise during this time. In 1992, Fielder won his third straight RBI title, while Sparky Anderson won his 1,132nd game as a Tiger manager, passing Hughie Jennings and putting him atop the all-time list. At the end of the 1992 season it was announced that the team would be sold to Mike Illitch, the President and C.E.O. of Little Ceasar's Pizza.

Though the team would finish 1993 with a winning record, 85-77, it would be the last time they would do so until 2006. During this time, they would see Sparky Anderson retire from baseball (after 1995), lose a team record 109 games (1996) and move to the newly created Central Division (1998). The biggest change, though, was moving out of their "home," at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull, after 104 years.

The argument over whether or not the Tigers needed a new facility was not a new one. Plenty of fans were vehemently opposed to anything that moved the team from its location at Michigan and Trumbull, but many more voices were clamoring for a change and a new state-of-the-art facility. In the end, Ilitch decided a change was needed and the team would be moved.

On September 27, 1999, the final game was held at Tiger Stadium. The Tigers defeated the Kansas City Royals, 8-2, and featured the last home run ever hit at the stadium was a Robert Fick grand slam in the eighth inning. After the conclusion of the game, an emotional ceremony featuring Tigers players from the past and present was held. The conclusion of the ceremony had the flag lowered and handed from present day catcher Brad Asmus to Tiger legend Eldin Aucker, leaving not a dry eye in the house.

For the next six years Tiger Stadium remained at the corners of Michigan and Trumbull. It was "converted" into the original Yankee Stadium for Billy Crystal's HBO movie "*61," hosted the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate Game on the 300th birthday of the city (July 24, 2001) between the Motor City Marauders and the Lake Erie Monarchs, and in the summer of 2002 hosted a Tigers fantasy camp.

The site languished for many years before the demolition took place, but on September 21, 2009, at about 9:24 in the morning, the final structure fell. The park that had housed the Tigers from 1896-1999, the Detroit Lions football team from 1938-1974, the Detroit Cougars (NPSL/NASL) from 1967-1968 and Little League baseball in 2002, was left only in the memories of those who had been there.

Comerica Park:

Groundbreaking for the new stadium, which was to be named Comerica Park (after Comerica Bank in Detroit), started on October 29, 1997. The location chosen was 2100 Woodward Ave, across from the Fox Theatre and between two historic Detroit churches, St John Episcopal and Central United Methodist. The park took a little more than two years to finish, and was open for business on April 11, 2000.

On Opening Day 2000, the 39,168 fans who had tickets to the game were treated to a beautiful new ballpark. It was a cold, snowy afternoon and the grounds crew had to actually shovel snow off of the playing field from the night before. When it was time to raise the flag, Eldin Aucker, who had received the flag from Brad Ausmus at the final game at Tiger Stadium, passed it back to the present-day Tigers' players, and it was raised to the rafters in a very moving ceremony.

The game itself was almost an after-thought, with all the pomp and circumstance that was scheduled. There was supposed to be a National Guard, F-16, flyover, as well as a parachutist dropping to the mound, carrying the game ball and a rosin bag, but both of those plans had to be scrapped due to the weather. In the end, the Tigers christened their new home with a 5-2 win over the Seattle Mariners. Fittingly, the winning pitcher was Brian Moehler, who had also won the last game at Tiger Stadium, the year before.

Even though the new ballpark was beautiful, and everyone loved it, it could do nothing to bring about a winning team. Between Opening Day 2000 and the end of the 2005 season, the Tigers compiled a record of 386-585, including back-to-back triple-digit-loss seasons (109 in 2002 and 119 in 2003), it was more than clear that the team needed new leadership and a new direction.

Justin Verlander
After the 2005 season, Illitch replaced manager Alan Trammell with Jim Leyland, who had managed the Marlins to an improbable World Series Championship in 1997. Leyland and the front office set about constructing a roster that would bring the Tigers back to prominence, and on Opening Day 2006 that roster would contain players such as, Ivan Rodriguez, Omar Infante, Brandon Inge, Carlos Pena, Dmitri Young, Curtis Granderson, Magglio Ordonez, Justin Verlander, Jeremy Bonderman, Fernando Rodney and Sean Casey. It woudn't be long before "Tiger Fever" once again enveloped the city.

The 2006 season was a "surprise" campaign for the team and its fans. Impressive rookie seasons from pitchers Justin Verlander and Joel Zumaya, as well as outfielder Curtis Granderson, coupled by stong play from the veterans helped the team shoot to the top of the A.L. Central division. At one point they were 40 games over .500, but a small losing streak chewed into that. On August 27th, the team recorded its 82 win, which guaranteed a winning season for the first time since 1993, and on September 24th, they sewed up their first playoff berth since 1987. One would have thought a division title was in the bag, but when the Tigers lost four out of the last five games of the season they had to settle for the Wild Card, which meant a match-up with the heavily favored New York Yankees.

If anyone thought the Tigers were satisfied just making the playoffs, they were in for a rude awakening. After losing the first game to the Yanks, the Tigers roared back to take the next three, and the series, and move on to the Championship Series against the Oakland A's.

The A's were seeking their first pennant since 1990 and it was a rematch from the 1972 ALCS. This time, however, the Tigers turned the tables on Oakland, sweeping the series, four games to none. In the four games, the Tigers outhit the A's 39-29, outscored them 22-9 and outpitched them to return to their first World Series since 1984, where they would find a familiar opponent.

The young, brash Tigers entered the 102nd World Series as underdogs to the favored St. Louis Cardinals. This would be the third time that the teams had met in the Fall Classic (1934 and 1968), with each team having won one. The Cardinals were led by Hall of Fame manager Tony LaRussa, and boasted a strong lineup, that included Yadier Molina, David Eckstein, Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen, Juan Encarnacion and pitchers Mark Mulder, Adam Wainright and Chris Carpenter.



The Tigers were clearly facing the better team and it showed when St. Louis jumped them, 7-2 in the Opening Game. They did claw back, winning Game Two, 3-1, but then dropped three straight, 5-0, 5-4 and 4-2, to lose the series in five games. Though being upset, the Tigers were excited about their future and had made the baseball world sit up and take notice.

Though the Tigers possessed a formidable lineup, they underachieved for the next four seasons, finishing out of the playoffs each year.

In 2007, they possessed the best record in baseball in July, but lost players to injuries and the team lost a lot of close games down the stretch. In the end they fell behind the New York Yankees, who would win the Wild Card.

2008 saw Detroit bolster their lineup by bringing in Edgar Renteria, Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis, but they began the season with seven straight losses and were never able to get back over the hump. They would finish the season a disappointing 74-88.

2009 started with a bang, as the Tigers jumped out in front of the A.L. Central and held the lead for  most of the year, but a second half slump again doomed the team. On September 1, the Tigers held a seven-game lead over the Twins, but the offense slumped miserably and wound up tied on the last day of the season. The Tigers then lost a 12-inning, 6-5 heartbreaker to finish out of the playoffs. Despite spending 146 days in first place, the Tigers found themselves on the outside for the third straight year.

During the off-season the Tigers reworked their roster by completing a three team trade that sent Curtis Granderson to the Yankees and Edwin Jackson to the Diamondbacks, while bringing back Austin Jackson, Phil Coke, Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth to Detroit. By mid-July the team was a half-game out of the A.L. Central lead, behind the White Sox, but yet another dismal second half doomed them and they finished the season at 81-81, in third place. Though the team was disappointed at yet another lost season, there were a few highlights, such as Miguel Cabrera winning a Silver Slugger Award with a .328 average, 38 home runs and 126 RBI's, which placed him second in the MVP race, Austin Jackson finished second in the Rookie of The Year voting; and Justin Verlander's 18-9 record on the mound. The biggest story by far, though, was Armando Gallaraga's almost-perfect game.

On June 2, the Tigers were at home against the Cleveland Indians, and pitcher Armando Galarraga had gone through the first twenty-six batters in the Cleveland lineup without allowing a batter to reach first base. Justin Donald was the last player standing between Galarraga and baseball immortality and when he grounded to Cabrera, who threw in time to Galarraga; it looked as if the perfect game was complete. But no, umpire Jim Joyce blew the call. Galarraga did retire the next batter, but his perfect game was ruined. To his credit, Joyce publicly acknowledged his mistake and Galarraga forgave him.

By 2011, the fans were getting antsy for the team to follow through on all the promise they had seen flashes of. During the off-season, the Tigers sent Galarraga to the Diamondbacks and let Johnny Damon, Gerald Laird and Jeremy Bonderman leave. They did bolster the lineup with Victor Martinez, Joaquin Benoit and Brad Penny. The team took a few months to gel, but by the All Star Break they were clicking on all cylinders and eventually took over first place in the A.L. Central. On September 16, the Tigers won the Central Division for the first time ever and finished the year with a 95-67 record. Most importantly, they were back in the playoffs.

Detroit entered the ALDA against a familiar foe, the New York Yankees. The series was a see-saw affair that saw the Yankees win Games 1 and 3 and the Tigers taking Games 2 and 4, setting up a winner-take-all Game 5. Detroit scored two in the first and held off a late Yankees charge to take the game, and the series, 3-2. They would next move on to face the heavy-hitting Texas Rangers.

The teams were very evenly matched, with Texas having won 96 games to Detroit's 95, during the regular season. The Rangers were loaded with firepower; Josh Hamilton, Elvis Andrus, Adrian Beltre, Mike Napoli, Ian Kinsler and Nlson Cruz supplied the offense, while Neftali Feliz, Derek Holland, C.J. Wilson and Koji Uehara threw gas from the mound.

The Tigers put up a valiant fight, but in the end they were no match for the Rangers, who would be going on to their second straight World Series, winning 4-2. The games were close, but in the end Texas would send Detroit home for the winter.

As 2012 dawned, the Tigers wanted to not only defend their A.L. Central Championship, but return to the World Series. They felt they had underachieved based on the team's talent and promised to do better. Management, feeling the same way, provided the Tigers with yet another big bat, in the presence of free agent first baseman Prince Fielder. Fielder, the son of former Tiger fan favorite Cecil Fielder, was a huge addition to an already stacked lineup that would soon be terrorizing major league pitchers in both leagues.



Miguel Cabrera, 2012 Triple Crown Winner
Regardless of the lineup, the Tigers once again under-performed, this time in the first half of the season. They were three games below .500 by the time the season reached its mid-point, but a scorching second half found them in a tight pennant race with the Chicago White Sox, and on October 1, they clinched their second straight Central Division crown. It was the first back-to-back divisional titles in franchise history and the first time since 1934 and 1935 that the team made the post-season in consecutive years. A key factor to the team's success was third baseman Miguel Cabrera's outstanding year at the plate. Cabrera would be such an offensive force that he would win the Triple Crown, with a .330 batting average, 44 home runs and 139 runs batted in. It was the first time any player had won the award since Carl Yastrzemski had done so, in 1967.

The Tigers met the Oakland A's in the ALDA and quickly jumped out to a two-games-to none-lead. The A's. however, were not about to give up without a fight and won the next two games to tie the series at two games apiece, which set up a decisive Game 5. The Tigers scored two in the third and four more in the seventh, while Justin Verlander threw nine innings of four-hit shutout ball and the Tigers moved on to the ALCS against the Yankees.

While the Tigers were starting to fire on all cylinders, the Yankees had to fight tooth and nail to reach the Championship, with a win over Baltimore. The Tigers jumped out to a 4-0 lead in Game 1, but the Yankees fought back to tie the game in the eighth. The game, and possibly the whole series, turned for the Yankees in the bottom of the twelfth inning when Derek Jeter broke his ankle attempting to field a ground ball. The Tigers went on to win the game and then went on to maul the Yankees in the next three games, sweeping the series and heading back to the World Series, against the San Francisco Giants.

The 2012 World Series was supposed to be the cherry on the top of the Tigers fantastic series, but the Giants had other plans. After having won the Series in 2010, the Giants were back, led by manager Bruce Boche, N.L. Batting Champion Buster Posey, stud young pitchers, Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain, as well as savvy veterans Barry Zito, Tim Lincecum and Sergio Romo.

The Giants jumped the Tigers in Game 1, scoring six runs in the first five innings and eight altogether. They were led by third baseman Pablo Sandoval's four runs, on three home runs. The Giants chased Verlander in the fourth and easily cruised to the victory, 8-3.

The Tigers fared no better in the remaining three games, losing 2-0, 2-0 and 4-3, and getting swept out of the Series. The Giants held the high-scoring Bengals to six runs, on twenty hits, in four games and sent them home for the winter with their tails tucked between their legs. It was an embarrassing end to a season that was supposed to end with a championship.

By the time 2013 had come around, the Tigers had added Torii Hunter and Bryan Pena as free agents and said goodbye to Delmon Young, Jose Valverde and Ryan Rayburn. The team once again found itself battling for the A.L. Central when we arrived in mid-July, but this time with a new opponent, the Cleveland Indians. On the day we arrived in Detroit, the Tigers held a three-game lead over the Indians and Max Scherzer was the talk of baseball, with thirteen wins before the All Star Break, which was still five days away.


As we finished up our conversation, Ryan came running to the table.

"Time to go, time to go," was all he said.
"Whoa, whatsa matter?" I asked.

Jim excused himself to run to the men's room, as it was apparent Ryan thought it was time to go. I just needed to find out what was the hurry at this precise time. I was afraid of what I was going to find out by asking, and I was right to be. It just wasn't the reason I expected.

Ryan took a deep breath and continued:

"You guys were talking and I had to run to the men's room. After everything I ate, I had to go."
"I don't like where this is headed," I said, looking at Rob.
"Anyway," Ryan continued. "I had to go to the bathroom, so I went in and sat down."

All of sudden two guys with buckets and mops made their way towards the bathroom.

"Oh, I really don't like where I think this is headed," I said, knowing exactly where this was headed.

Just then, Jim came back to the table.

"Whoever was in that bathroom last, killed it," he said to all of us at the table. 
"RYAAAAN," Tony laughed.
"Ryan?" Jim laughed, looking at my son, who was now laughing uncontrollably.
"I had to go," was all he could manage to get out. "I ate a lot."
"I'll get Nick," Rob told us.
"Check please," I said to the waitress, wanting to get out before the guys in the bathroom put two and two together and came looking for us. 

We paid the bill, walked out the door and got in line to get in the ballpark. I never looked back.

Starting Lineup:
Tony, Rob, Jim, Me
Nick, Ryan
Jim Kulhawy
Ryan Kulhawy
Robert Zoch
Tony D'Angelo
Nick D'Angelo
Jim Boothe

Outfield Gate
As we stood in line, we struck up a conversation with the folks behind us and found out we were lucky enough to be attending yet another giveaway day. So far every game we had been to was a promotional night and today was no exception. As we walked in all the adults were given a very nice Tigers cooler bag, sponsored by Miller Lite. 

"Hey, where's ours?" Nicky asked as he walked in but was not given a cooler bag.
"21 and older," the usher told the boys. "It's sponsored by a beer company."
"That's stupid," Nick muttered under his breath.

Ryan just looked at me. I smiled and handed him my bag, as Tony did the same with Nick. The boys were thrilled as they clutched their new souvenirs tight and made sure that everyone could see that they had one.

Ty Cobb Statue
Plaque For Cobb Statue
Our first stop was the left-center-field concourse where the Tigers had
erected a bank of statues to commemorate all of the players whose numbers have been retired by the team. They include Willie Horton, Charlie Gehringer, Al Kaline, Hank Greeneberg, Hal Newhouser and Ty Cobb. Cobb's statute does not have a number, because he played in an era before numbers were worn on the uniforms. Each statue had the player's name on the front and a plaque with stats and something describing their careers on the back.

After spending a few minutes looking at the statues and reading the plaques, we headed down to the bleachers. The teams were taking batting practice and the boys wanted to try and grab a "home run" ball, so we spent a few minutes in a vain attempt, before deciding it was too hot and muggy and that it was time to move on.

Banner For 1980's
Kiosk For 1980's
As we walked down the left-field corridor towards home plate, we noticed
that there were banners hanging from the ceiling, which had a player's photo and the decade he played for the team. Directly underneath the banners was a kiosk that had pictures, memorabilia, stats and stories from the decade that was being featured. The decades went in ascending order and started down on the left-field side and finished up by the right-field foul pole. We all agreed this was a great way to integrate the Tigers' history into the modernity of the ballpark.

As we moved into the third base section of the concourse, we noticed a Ferris wheel whose twelve cars were shaped and decorated as baseballs. I thought it was an interesting concept, but personally didn't like the idea of an amusement park ride in the ballpark. I grew up with the understanding that the ballgame was the focus of the outing and if that didn't keep you entertained enough, you had no business being there in the first place. I apparently have passed that feeling along to my son, because I heard him tell Nick that he didn't understand why kids who weren't interested in the game were even here.

"The Voice of Summer"

Behind the home plate area, in front of the main entrance, stood a statue honoring the late Ernie Harwell. Harwell, known as "The Voice of The Tigers" and "The Voice of Summer," was the team's radio/television broadcaster for 42 years and received many honors and accolades for his work, perhaps his most famous being his 1995 essay, entitled "The Game for All America". As a youngster I remember many a summer evening where, if the weather was just right, I could listen to Harwell call Tigers games on the beach at the Jersey Shore.


After all our trips Ryan knew what was next on the agenda, so I let him take the lead. He went over to ask the usher if would could please go down behind home plate and take pictures of the field and get a group shot. I listened intently as he explained who we were, where we came from and what we were doing to the gentleman, who soaked up their whole conversation and told Ryan that it was his dream to one day do what we were in the process of doing. I stood far enough back so that Ry could take charge, but close enough where I could hear the exchange and step in if needed. In doing so, I heard the gentleman tell Ryan to really enjoy this time, soak up everything that he could and to be thankful that he had a father who was willing to undertake such an adventure. I'll never forget my son's next fifteen words:

"I know, he's really cool and I love being able to do this with him."

I quickly turned away and dabbed at the corner of my eyes that had suddenly sprung a leak.

"C'mon, we can go down to the field," Ryan called to us. "I talked to the man and he said it's OK."
"I saw," I told him. "Good work, it looked like you were polite, friendly and had fun talking to him."
"Yeah, it was pretty cool, but let's get down there. Then we can go eat."

Everyone just shook their heads.

When we got to the bottom of the section directly behind home plate, I started snapping pictures while Jim gave us a brief history on the stadium.

Apparently the original capacity of the park was 40,120, from 2000-2002, and has fluctuated ever since. From 2003-2007 Comerica seated 41,070, which increased in 2008, to 41,782, but decreased in 2009, to 41,255 and has stayed there to this day. The highest recorded attendance was on April 5, 2013, against the Yankees.

Ryan and I behind Home Plate
The view from behind the home plate area is astounding. Inside the park, the dimensions are 345 to Left-Field, 370 feet to Left-Center, 420 to Center, 365 to Right-Center and 330 to Right-Field. Tiger Stadium had long been considered a favorable ballpark to hitters, but Comerica is much more expansive and favors good pitching, so much so that in 2003, the club moved the left-center field fence in from 395 feet to 370, in order to facilitate higher scoring. Two years later the bullpens were moved from the right field area to the now empty left-center field area and 950 new seats were added to the spot where the bullpens once were.

Left Field View
Video board
On the left-field side of the stadium is a gigantic scoreboard and video
board. On top of the board are two gigantic tiger statues that flank the team's name, written in gold and black script. Every time the Tigers score growling can be heard throughout the stadium, and with every home run, and after every victory, the eyes of the statues glow a deep orange.

Also in left-field is a brick wall, below the statues of the retired players, that houses the names and numbers of each player except for Ty Cobb. Since uniforms did not bear numbers in Cobb's era, a blank space is above his name.

Behind the center-field wall is a fountain sponsored by G.M., which has water jets that flow at various times throughout the evening and behind the center-field wall the backdrop is the city's downtown area, highlighted by the Detroit Athletic Club building.
View To Center Field
In the right-center field area there is a brick wall, like the one in left-field, with the names of famous Tigers' players and personnel on it. Some players, like Cobb, played in an era before numbers were worn and represent Harry Heilmann (1914-1929), Heinie Manush (1923-1927), Hughie Jennings (1907-1920), Sam Crawford (1903-1917) and George Kell (1946-1952). There is also a name and number (11) for manager Sparky Anderson and Jackie Robinson (42, retired league-wide), and just the name Harwell, for the beloved broadcaster.

Right Field
As you look towards right field, you can see the "Pepsi Porch," which serves as a picnic deck, located between the 100 and 200 levels, and a section of seats known as "Kaline's Corner," which is in honor of the area that Al Kaline patrolled in Detroit for many years. Also in right-field is an LED scoreboard, which was added in 2007.



"Why is there a strip of dirt between home plate and the mound?" Nick asked.
"That's the "keyhole," Jim told him. "That was normal in old time ballparks and it's our way of honoring that heritage."
"Do any other stadiums have that?" Ryan asked.
"Only Arizona, I think," I told him.

After asking a young lady to snap a few pictures of us all behind home plate, we walked back up to the concourse as Jim continued to give us a history lesson on his "summer home."

Though Comerica was one of the leagues "younger" venues, it has been used for more than just baseball. Many entertainers, such as Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Bon Jovi, Paul McCartney, Jimmy Buffet, The Rolling Stones and Dave Matthews have all performed here. During concerts, there is no seating on the infield diamond and the stage is set against the center-field wall.

Aside from the concerts, Comerica was set to host the leadup festivities to NHL's premier outdoor event, "The Winter Classic," on New Year's Day 2013, but a labor dispute forced the cancellation of the event. The "Hockeytown Winter Festival" was rescheduled for December of 2013, and would include public skating as well as minor league and NHL Alumni games.

After finishing our "tour" of the ballpark, in the right-field concourse, Ryan once again reminded us that he was hungry, so we set out to discover the culinary delights of Detroit baseball.

Concessions:

As with all ballparks, Comerica has its share of ballpark food staples, such as hot dogs, popcorn, peanuts, cotton candy, pretzels, soda and beer. But, as always, we are on the lookout for the local cuisine that is indicative to the city we are in. Luckily for us, we were here with "Mr. Michigan" and it was his job to steer us to the local culinary treats that Comerica has to offer.

As you walk around the ballpark a variety of aromas assault your nose. There is the "Asian Tiger," which specializes in oriental foods, the "Brushfire Gil,l, which serves up burgers, chicken sandwiches, turkey legs and Kielbasa; "Chicago Hot Dogs," for any kind of wiener concoction you can dream up; "Little Caesar's," for pizza; "Mexican," for tacos, burritos, fajitas, nachos and taco salads; and "Sliders," where you will be served made-to-order mini-burgers with a multitude of toppings, beer-battered onion rings and different variations of french fries.

If dessert is what you crave, you can find "Ice Cream," which specializes in gourmet ice creams and cookies, Icees and root beer floats; "Dippin' Dots", for astronaut-style ice cream, banana splits, gourmet cookies and brownies; and "Lemons and Ears," which serves hand squeezed lemonade and tasty elephant ear pastries.

When desiring an adult beverage you needn't look more than 20 feet ahead of you, because at every glance there are beer stands that serve a wide variety of domestic and imported brews, as well as specialty carts that house the local craft beers. It seemed to me that there were no "stand-alone" craft beer stands, but Jim explained that was because they were constantly changing. I did notice a few stands named "Frozen Daquiries", which served their namesake, as well as Pina Coladas, wines and margaritas.

If you wanted a more upscale way to attend the game, or host an event, at Comerica, there are quite a few lounges and clubs that are available for you to choose from. The Tiger Club, Tiger Den, Champion's Club, Beer Hall Cigar Bar and Witherell Bar are all available for your pleasure. Most, if not all, of these upscale, posh venues are not open to the public, so be sure to check out their availability prior to your game or event.  
"C'mon, I'm starving," Ryan pleaded with us.
"It's no wonder, considering how you wrecked that bathroom," Rob chided him.
"What should we be looking for?" I asked Jim
"Winter's Sausage, definitely," he told us. "It's Michigan-made, so you don't get more local."
"Sold, American," Ryan said, scanning the horizon for the nearest stand. "There," he said, pointing.

Winter's Sausage is a family-owned business from Eastpointe, Michigan, that has been making renowned deli products since 1951. Founded by German immigrant Eugene Winter, the company uses old-world recipes and care in crafting all their meats and products. Aside from being a local company, Winter's is the official sausage of the Tigers, which was just another reason that this was going to be our ballpark food. For our meal I chose the smoked Knackwurst, which is also known as a knockwurst here in the U.S.; now all I needed was a local beer and we'd be all set.

Once again, Jim would be our guide in finding the perfect Michigan-crafted beer. After looking high and low we settled on two styles, Arbor Brewing Company's Strawberry Blonde and the Centennial I.P.A. from Founders Brewing Company. Having Michigan-made food and drink, we headed upstairs to sample our treasures and await first pitch.

Our seats were upstairs on the third base side of home plate, but closer to the plate than third. The view was amazing and as I looked all around this gorgeous park it occurred to me that this might be the best one we had been to so far. The sightlines were fantastic, the view of the playing field left no spot unseen and the feeling of proximity to the field, though in the upper deck, was second to none. I sat back, took it all in and decided this would be the perfect time to break into dinner.

Winters' Sausage and Founders I.P.A.
The sausage was perfectly cooked, with a slight charring to the skin, yet not burnt. As I bit into it a slight
"pop" could be heard. This comes about because this type of sausage tends to swell when cooked and the casing becomes pressurized. At first bite, the smoked pork, veal and garlic flavor overwhelmed my tastebuds and provided the perfect blend to the grilled peppers and onions crammed underneath. I looked over at Ryan and laughed; he had not exactly been savoring his sausage, as I had. In fact, his was nearly gone and there was a dab of mustard at the corner of his mouth. I laughed and reached for my beer; if that was as good as this sausage, I was in for a real treat.

The Founders I.P.A. did not disappoint. It had a cloudy, rich, cooper-color and a full-bodied taste. It was hoppy, yet not overtly so, and was the perfect blend of maltiness and grapefruit-like bitterness. It might have been the perfect match for the sausage, but I wouldn't know until I tried a sampling of Tony's Strawberry Blonde.

"Hey Tony, how 'bout I trade you a bite for a sip?" I said, pointing from the sausage to his beer.
"Done," he said passing the beer my way, as I sent the food back to him.

Now, I am not a huge fan of sweet beer, Boston Beer Works' Bunker Hill Blueberry Ale being the exception, but this was nice. It had a strawberry aroma and flavor that didn't overwhelm the actual beer. It was smooth and quite distinctive, a definite contrast to the bitterness of the I.P.A. I also associated it with a lazy summer afternoon on the beach or at the lake, as strawberries are a summer fruit and it had a light flavor.

In the end there was no contest, as far as I was concerned. Though I did really like the Strawberry Blonde, the I.P.A. was a better companion for the sausage, peppers and onions. I put my arm around Ryan's shoulders and knew it didn't get much better than this.

The Game:
First Pitch

"Time to PLAY BALL," Ryan shouted as the National Anthem ended and the Tigers' Rick Porcello finished up his warm-up pitches.
"LETS GO TIGERS," I shouted in unison with both boys.
"We need a hometown win tonight," Nick said. "We lost the last game in Cincy, lost the game in Columbus, lost the game in Cleveland and the one in Toledo, too."
"That's OK," Jim told him. "You saw the Tigers win in Cleveland."
"But we were rooting for the Indians," Ryan reminded him. "We always root for the home team, unless the Yankees are the vistor, or we're in Fenway."
"Yeah, but your loss was my win," Jim laughed, pointing at his Tigers' jersey.

In the blink of an eye, Porcello set the White Sox down 1-2-3. He got Alejandro De Aza to ground out to first and Alexei Ramirez and Alex Rios to both ground out to short.

As the Tigers came to bat in the bottom of the first Ryan turned and announced he was "feeling" a Prince Fielder home run. Jim was sure he meant Miguel Cabrera, but Ryan insisted it would be Fielder.
After Austin Jackson flied to center, Torii Hunter singled between shortstop and third base, bringing Cabrera to the plate.

"I'm telling you, he's bombing one," Jim, again, told Ry.
"Nah, it'll be Fielder," was the kid's confident response.

When Cabrera popped out to second, Ryan gave Jim a smirk and a laugh. Up to the plate strode big Prince Fielder and you could see Ryan actually lean forward in his seat, waiting for what he believed was the inevitable.

The first pitch was a ball, down and away, but on Axelrod's second offering Fielder's bat cut through the strike zone with a lightning quick stroke and you could almost feel the seismic vibration of the leather meeting the wood. The sound that followed was one that true baseball fans love to hear, that loud, sharp crack that tells you that the ball has met the bat in precisely the correct spot and the only question left is where the ball will land.

"IT'S GONE," Ryan shouted, a split second before the rest of the crowd realized what had just happened.

Jim just looked over, shook his head and laughed.

"I won't doubt you again," he said.

I laughed, Ryan hugged me and we all decided that high-fives were in order, including the gentleman in the seat directly below us.

The Tigers did no more damage in the first, but it mattered not. Ryan had called his shot and that's all any of us cared about.

The White Sox got on the board in the second, cutting the lead in half on a Conor Gillaspie homer with two outs, but Porcello pitched out of any further trouble to end the inning.

The Tigers got the run right back in the bottom of the second. After getting the first two outs of the inning, Axlerod gave up a single to Ramon Santiago and then a long triple to Austin Jackson, which took the wind right out of the White Sox sails. The Tigers were back up by two and looking for more, which they would get in the third.

After Porcello set the Sox down in the third, the Tigers quickly struck again. Miguel Cabrera singled to right, but was out trying to stretch the hit into a double. Jim looked like he might blow a fuse over the bonehead play, especially after Fielder and Victor Martinez singled, and Jhonny Peralta walked to loand the bases.
"We'd have had a damn run if he'd have just stayed at first," Jim fumed.

"Moron," the guy below us (we'd found out his name was Jeff and he came to almost ever game), said.
"It'll be fine," Ryan assued them both. "We'll get at least two this inning."

The next batter, Andy Dirks, popped out to the catcher for the second out of the inning and it looked like Ryan's prognostication luck  had run out. But when Alex Avila singled to drive in the two Ryan had predicted, all was right in Tiger-land again.

"You might just have to move here and become a Tigers fan," Jeff told Ryan.
"No thanks, but I'll root for them when the Yankees aren't playing," he assured everyone.
"I'd prefer if you had this kind of insight for the Yankees," Tony told him.
"Me too," I agreed.
"Don't you have a beer to drink?" Ryan asked, with more than a hint of good natured sarcasm in his tone.
"Nope, I'm done," I told him, smiling.
"Well, I think I hear one calling you, between innings," he shot back.
"I like the way you think," I said as the Tigers made the final out of the inning.
"You could always bring me back something to eat, too," he said, making his ulterior motives known.
"After next inning," I told him. "We're supposed to be on the scoreboard now."

Just as I spoke those words the camera operator began panning the crowd. I had always been told that the people of Detroit loved the Tigers, but it really was amazing to see how passionate these fans were. Fans of all ages, sizes, shapes and colors were decked out in Tigers jerseys, shirts, hats and a few twenty-something young men were bare-chested, with tiger stripes painted on them. I looked over and saw Ryan and Nicky roaring along with the rest of the crowd, huge smiles decorating their faces in between fits of laughter. This was exactly why we had decided to root for the home team in almost every ballpark; we were now firmly entrenched with the fans and sharing their passion and loving every minute of it.

"Hey, guys," Rob called out above the din. "Look!"
"There we are," Nick shouted, which only made Ryan roar louder.
"He told us he'd do it and there we are," Tony said, as the camera lingered on us for a good five to ten seconds.

The boys were laughing, pointing and mugging it up for the camera, while the adults had as much fun watching them. The amazing thing was that the fans in Comerica continued the uproar long after the camera was off and the game had resumed. The happiness, however, would not last long.

After a first batter strike-out, Jeff Keppinger and Conor Gillaspie both singled, putting men on first and second. When Dayan Viciedo made it three in a row, to score a run, and Gordon Beckham's sacrifice fly brought in another the fans let their unhappiness be known. Porcello got out of further trouble, but the damage had been done and the score was now 5-3.

Neither team would score from the bottom of the fourth through the top of the sixth, which made it the ideal time to go for a beer. Tony had offered to get the boys some ice cream, so off we went in search of some treats for everyone.

While standing in line for the beers, a young blonde lady in a Tigers jersey noticed my USA Baseball shirt, with "Jeter" on the back, and asked me where I had gotten it. She seemed surprised when I told her "back home in New Jersey," but she explained that she was used to seeing Derek Jeter paraphernalia because he grew up in Kalamazoo, Michigan. We got to talking and I told her about our trip, where we had been and what we had done so far. She told me she would like to offer up some Michigan hospitality and buy my beer for me and I was certainly not going to refuse a beautiful woman who wanted to buy me beer. After she purchased the beverages we walked back towards my seats, talking about how great a time we had had in Detroit. I thanked her again, she gave me a hug, said to enjoy the trip and disappeared into the crowd. I walked back up to the seats smiling at my good fortune at having had yet another fantastic encounter with a stranger, all brought about by a love of baseball. This was becoming a common occurence in the many cities we had visited, yet another great byproduct of this trip.

My being lost in the moment lasted until I got back to the seats and was reminded that I had been sent out on a quest for more than one beer.

"Crap, I completely forgot," I said, sheepishly.
"Suckered by a pretty girl?" Rob asked. "No worries, it happens to all of us."
"I bet she was blonde," Ryan laughed, shaking his head.
"With big boobs," Rob added.
"Shut up, both of you," I said, turning a deeper shade of red.

All of a sudden Tony returned with the ice cream.

"Where's the beer?" he asked.
"Blonde girl," was all Ryan said.
"Big boobs," Rob felt the need to add.
"I'll be right back," I muttered, heading back out to grab their beers.
"Nah, you'll just owe us, sit and watch the game," Rob said laughing.
"You're letting him off easy," Ryan told him.
"'S' all good," Rob told him. "There'll be other chances for beer later."

The Tigers erupted for three runs in the bottom of the sixth, which set the crowd into a frenzy once again. After a Ramon Santiago walk was sandwiched between an Alex Avila ground out and an Austin Jackson strike-out, the Tigers again went to work. Hunter singled, which chased Axelrod and in came Ramon Troncoso; then Cabrera, Fielder and Martinez all singled, which plated three runs and upped the score to 8-3 and it looked like the rout was on. Unfortunately, the White Sox still had some fight in them.

In the top of the seventh the Tigers made a pitching change, replacing Porcello with Bruce Rondon, but the White Sox struck back quickly, once again quieting the fans. Viciedo started the inning off with a ground out, but four pitches later Gordon Beckham parked a slider over the left field wall to cut the lead to 8-4. Rondon struck out the next batter, but after walking De Aza he uncorked back-to-back wild pitches, which sent the runner to third and sent the crowd into a fit of rage. When Alexi Ramirez doubled, to make the score 8-5, I was sure a lynch mob might just storm the mound, but order was restored when Rondon got Rios to ground out and end the inning.

I had to admit, these fans were really into the game, hanging on every pitch and living and dying with each ball put in play. No one could ever accuse them of not paying attention. Another check mark on the good side of the ledger for Detroit.

After changing pitchers for the bottom of the seventh, the White Sox set the Tigers down 1-2-3, while Detroit did the exact same thing in the top of the eighth. The Sox again followed suit in the bottom of the inning, with the results being the same. We headed to the top of the ninth with the Tigers still holding on to an 8-5 lead.

In the top of the ninth the Tigers brought in Joaquin Benoit to finish the game, but he didn't exactly endear himself to the fans by walking the first batter. After getting Beckham to line out to center and Tekotte to strike out swinging, Benoit again sent the fans into a fit of rage as he walked another batter, bringing the tying run to the plate. You could feel the tension build in the ballpark for three pitches, and then Ramirez grounded out to third and the ballgame was over. The Tigers had survived and the fans let out a happy exhale that could be heard in Ann Arbor.

Final Score:
Tigers 8, White Sox 5
Porcello (W) 6-6
Benoit (S) 8
Axelrod (L) 3-6

Post-Game Wrap up:

We walked quickly to the exit, surrounded by a happy throng of Tigers fans who seemed to have forgotten how close the game actually was. In actuality, it was a great game, high-scoring, back-and-forth offense and the Sox never threw in the towel, even when down by five. We stopped at Fan Services so the boys could get their certificates for being at Comerica for the first time, and headed out to the car. We had a long drive ahead of us; Pittsburgh was listed at four and a half hours away, but first there was one last stop to be made.

"I'm hungry," Ryan announced to the unsurprised group.
"Yeah, I could eat too," Nick agreed.
"Isn't it kind of late?" Tony wanted to know.
"Yeah...for stupid questions," Ryan said, reciting his favorite line from "Cheers".
"The Challenge?" Rob asked, looking at me.
"The Challenge," I said, smiling.
"I'll meet you there," Jim told us, knowing exactly where we were headed.

We hopped into the cars and drove two miles from the ballpark. Here, we  would take the "Detroit Coney Challenge."

To understand this particular challenge it must first be explained that a Coney Island is a special kind of Greek-American restaurant, which has its menu centered around the "Coney Island" type of hot dog. Traditionally, this is a naturally-cased dog, served on a warm, steamed bun, slathered in mustard, chili and onions. There are other foods on the menu, but I am not sure that anyone actually orders anything else. To hear it, the story is a fascinating one.

Back in 1903, Gust Keros came to America from Greece, and unable to find full time work began selling chili dogs at the corner of Michigan Avenue and Lafayette Boulevard. In 1917 he decided to open this type of restaurant, on Lafayette Street, in the downtown area. It was then that American Coney Island was opened to the public. Shortly after opening the restaurant Gust brought his brother to America and he opened a rival restaurant right next store, calling it Lafayette Coney Island.

For almost 70 years the families worked/challenged one another, 25 feet apart. Both restaurants had been passed down through the generations until Bill's family sold Lafayette, to the employees, about 25 years ago. To this day there are people who are so loyal to one particular restaurant that they will not step foot in the other.

 The "Detroit Coney Challenge" is considered either a late-night food connoisseur's dream or a nightmare, depending on the strength of stomach. We had seen the challenge on an episode of "Man vs Food" and immediately decided it was a must; Jim wholeheartedly agreed. He was one of those folks that had a definite opinion, though he would not tell us which one he preferred, so as not to influence us one way or the other.

On first inspection American had less people waiting to get in, which said something to me right away as the place was about two miles from the ballpark and should have been much busier. We walked in and were told to grab any table that was open. Someone came right over, put out glasses of water and told us a server would be with us right away; apparently their definition of "right away" was different from ours. After sitting there, being ignored, for about ten to fifteen minutes, Tony got up and walked to the counter to ask if anyone would actually take our order, which was surprising as the place had more than a few empty tables and it wasn't as if they were particularly busy. During this time we talked about the city, the ballpark, the game, the fans and the "brilliant" idea of plying five people with chili dogs before a four-and-a half-hour car trip. The waiter finally came to take our order and we each decided on one Coney dog. After all, we had to save room for more, next door at Lafayette.

When the dogs were delivered to the table they looked delicious. Ryan attacked his as if he had never seen a meal before, which surprised me because he had been savoring his meals more, it had seemed. Then again, this was a chili dog, it was after 11 P.M. and there wasn't much savoring being done by anyone.

All American Coney Dog
After biting into my dog I was quite impressed; the bun was warm and buttery, the dog itself had a nice "snap" to it when bit into, the chili was a bit watery, but good, there was a hint of spice, but the flavor didn't overwhelm the meal and the onions were finely chopped and had a sweet flavor to them. We all finished in less time than it took the server to bring them from the kitchen to the table but that didn't matter, as everyone agreed it was a very good chili dog. We still had one to go, but All American was exactly as had been advertised. We paid our bill, gathered our things and headed next door for the second of our dogs.

As we opened the door to Lafayette, we noticed there was still a line to get a table and that we would have to wait a little bit. We didn't mind as we weren't interested in sitting at the counter, so we made our way towards the back of the restaurant and waited for an open table. After about five minutes we noticed a group of people starting to get up to leave, Ryan instinctively moved a bit closer to the table so he could grab it for us. Once the table was vacated and the people had moved away from it, he made a bee-line for an empty seat to stake our claim; unfortunately so did another patron.

In what felt like slow motion the man, who looked tome to be in his mid-forties, shoved Ryan just as he was getting to the chair and sent him sprawling into a group of girls at the next table.

"I was here first," the guy turned and said to Ry. "Next time have better manners."
"What the fuck is wrong with you?" I said loud enough to turn heads. "How 'bout you push one of us aside, instead of the twelve-year -ld?"
"I told you, we were here first," he said in a nasty tone.

This was not the way to get me to come down a notch, after watching him knock my kid into another table. To his credit, Ryan got up, dusted himself off and told me not to worry about it, but I was far from done. Just then the rest of this guy's party came in and weren't entirely sure what was going on.

"Is there a problem?", one of the guys' friends asked him, while looking at me.
"Yeah, there is," I told him. "That jackwagon thinks it's ok to knock down a twelve-year-old so he can grab the table ahead of him and he picked the wrong people to do that with."
"That's not at all what happened," the jackwagon, himself, answered.
"Really? Then how the hell did my son end up in that young lady's lap?" I asked, getting madder by the minute.

I could feel Rob, Tony, Jim and Nick moving over behind me, and I think Rob might have even put his hand on my elbow, but I wasn't about to back down.

"C'mon, I can't wait to hear your version of how this boy ended up knocked ass-over-tea-kettle when you were shoving past him to get to the table," I said, probably louder than I needed to.

It was starting to get uncomfortable in the restaurant and I could feel folks looking at us, but I didn't care. My son had been accosted and this guy would be next unless some sort of apology was issued. At this point it wasn't even about the table, it was the fact he had put his hands on one of our party and what made it even worse was that it was one of the kids. He didn't make things any better with his next comment:

"He must have slipped," he laughed.

Another word and I might have gone across at him, but a female voice spoke up and when she did you could see all the bravado go out of him.

"He didn't slip, you jackass. You pushed him and he landed on my sister, you're lucky they both didn't get hurt and you're even luckier that all of them don't kick your ass."

It was one of the girls at the table Ryan had fallen into. They had been watching the back-and-forth and had finally had enough of this guy's stupidity. Another of the young ladies turned to Ryan.

"Are you ok, sweetie?" she asked.
"Yeah, but a little embarrassed," he told her. "Sorry I landed in the middle of your dinner."
"Don't worry about it, it wasn't your fault. Do you come here a lot?"
"This is my first time," he told her. "We're from New Jersey and here for the Tigers game."
"Well we're just about done, but we can finish on the way out. You take our table and let us show you some real friendly Michigan people, now that you've seen the jerks." she said.
"No, you finish," Ryan insisted. "We can wait."
"Cute and good manners, your mom must be proud." She teased him.

Ryan blushed, we thanked her and you could see the other guy shrink down in his seat ater the exchange. The young ladies left us the table and rumpled Ryan's hair on the way out. I made sure to grab the seat that put me in direct eye contact with the troublemaker, he wasn't getting away that easily.

Everyone decided on one Coney, except for me, as I had to have two and a giant plate of chili fries for the table. Jim joked about living dangerously with all the chili we were consuming, considering the long drive ahead; we all laughed and waited for the food to be delivered. The wait was non-existent as the server brought out the plates within two minutes of us placing our order. I was impressed.

Lafayette Coney Dog
The dogs seemed a little bigger than the ones at American, but if they were it wasn't by much and they were a tad less grilled, which I preferred. The bun was warm and soft, while the dog had that classic "snap" sound when bitten into. For some reason the mustard had its own distinct flavor that was not overwhelmed by the chili, which was thicker and meatier than the sauce at All American. The onions were not chopped as fine, but rather chunks, and added an extra "bite," which I thought added yet another layer of flavor to the whole medley. The french fries were cooked to perfection, just hot and crisp enough to crunch, but not a burnt one to be found anywhere on the plate and the chili on the top added a perfect meaty blend to the starch of the potatoes.

Balancing Acts
As we walked out of the restaurant the waiter asked if we wanted to see a cool trick, so of course we said yes. He asked the boys if they could figure out a way to make 13 nails balance perfectly on top of one nail, standing straight up in a board. After ten minutes of unsuccessful attempts he managed to do it a way that no one would have thought of, yet made perfect sense. He then challenged us to balance two forks atop a salt shaker, using two toothpicks. After another five minutes of head-scratching he managed to again astound and amaze us. Needless to say it gave us all a lesson in thinking outside the box, and the boys a new trick to amaze the cafeteria with in the upcoming school year.

In the end, we all agreed that Lafayette Coney was the winner in this "Battle of The Detroit Dogs." The chili was heartier and the sharp onions gave the meal more of a bite, and a flavor, than the sweet onions over at American Coney. Jim was happy and he agreed with our assessment, but he was sure he was going to be sorry for eating late-night Coneys tomorrow morning.

After leaving the restaurant we said goodbye to Jim, who had been the perfect host, and hopped in the van. I was more than a little jealous that within the next hour he would be fast asleep, while I would be less than a quarter of the way to Pittsburgh. Nick, however, didn't even last that long. He stretched out across the back seat, put his pillow on Ryan's legs and proceeded to fall asleep by the time we hit the highway.

"That was a great day," Ryan told the rest of us. "Detroit was a fun city, and the food was good."
"I think this might be my favorite park, so far," Rob told us.
"Why?" Tony wanted to know.
"It had the perfect blend of modern amenities, yet it worked in the team's history to give it an old time feel," he said, after thinking for a moment.
"I still wish they had done something more with the footprint of Tiger stadium," I said, wistfully.
"They probably will, someday," Ryan said after a moment of quiet. "At least I hope they do."

We all sat in silence for about ten minutes, reflecting on the day and being a bit overwhelmed with the drive ahead of us, when a sound broke the late night stillness.

"FRUUUUUMP!"
"Jim, that better NOT be what I think it was," Tony said, in a half-joking, half-worried voice.

"Challenge accepted," I just laughed.
"I warned you about him," Ryan said, laughing. "This is going to be a long ride."
"Damn you, Detroit Coney dogs," Rob said, in his best made-for-televison voice.

"FRUUUUUMP!"

"Whoo, my stomach is in revolt," I laughed, evily.
" Don't say I didn't warn you all," Ryan laughed, as he put his pillow against his face.
"Damnit, Jim," Tony choked."
"This is going to be a long night," Rob surmised.

Truer words were never spoken. We only had four hours to go...

Next Stop:

July 12, 2013
Pittsburgh, Pa
PNC Park
New York Mets Vs Pittsburgh Pirates