A memorable day in the ‘D’
Being a sports fan in Michigan is a blessing. We have professional teams in all four major sports, championship winners in the two most popular college sports at two renowned universities and a NASCAR. It’s an advantage that most sports fans around the country can only dream about.
And thanks to those advantages, I was able to have an incredible day with my wife Holly, while enjoying a day of sports I won’t forget.
In the span of 15 hours, we saw the Detroit Tigers come from behind and hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth inning, and the Detroit Red Wings win the first game of their opening round playoff series in convincing fashion. Most important for me, I got to enjoy these moments with Holly and friends that we don’t get to see nearly enough.
After dropping our daughter off at Grandma’s house, we headed to Detroit for a 1:05 p.m. start for the Tigers vs. the Texas Rangers. I scored second row seats in right field for just five bucks a ticket. After taking in the first three innings, we took a stroll around the park and enjoyed all the features that Comerica Park has to offer.
We found some different seats for the last half of the game and sat back for an amazing finish. With the game tied at 2, third baseman Brandon Inge came to bat for the Tigers. Full disclosure: I am not an Inge fan. But I looked at my wife and told he was going to hit a home run. On the very first pitch, Inge planted the ball in the left fields seats, and we jumped to our feet.
That ending would have been enough to make my day, but we still had the opening game of the NHL playoffs to attend that evening. So we made our way down to Greektown for an early dinner and drinks. And even though our service was terrible, our spirits were still high as we met up with friends before heading to Joe Louis Arena.
The atmosphere inside the arena was electric long before the game began. In the 20 years I’ve been going to the Joe, I’ve never seen the fans that rabid. The energy was coursing through my veins (along with a few cocktails), and I was ready for the game to begin.
A rough start didn’t detour the fans from keeping the Wings inspired. They kept chanting and cheering, and once forward Todd Bertuzzi dropped the gloves for a fight midway through the game, there was nothing stopping the winged wheel.
With the Wings holding a 4-2 lead late in the third period, I finally got to take part in singing “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” during a Wings playoff game.
The game was over, but there was still fun to be had in Detroit. We headed back to Greektown casino for a little gambling before hitting up Five Guys for a late dinner.
Our day was finished, and as I have thought about it, I doubt I will ever have another day quite like that. But that’s one of the beauties of Detroit: I will have many opportunities to try and top it.
But here’s the point: No other city in the country can offer that sort of day. Few other cities have the four major sports teams, but none of them have Greektown and gambling.
Here’s to hoping the Wings make a deep run into the playoffs because I already have seats for the Tigers in May, and I’m itching to spend another day in the “D.”
Cabrera, Tigers drop the ball
Julian H. Gonzalez/Detroit Free Press/MCT
The Detroit Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera, left, with Vice President/Assistant General Manager Al Avila, right, interperting for him, speaks with media for the first time about his recent DUI arrest at the Tigers’ spring training complex in Lakeland, Fla.
When news broke that Detroit Tigers all-star first baseman Miguel Cabrera was arrested last month for suspicion of drunk driving and resisting arrest, Tigers fans feared the worst.
The serious nature of the charges led many to believe that Cabrera was going to miss the start of the season due to possible jail time or suspension.
Instead, Tigers management has decided not to discipline Cabrera and for the most part, and turn a blind eye to the entire situation.
Almost immediately, manager Jim Leyland came to the defense of Cabrera and made it clear that the team would welcome back Cabrera with open arms. Teammates also were quick to say that while disappointed, they were excited to get him to spring training.
This is both disgusting and shameful. Cabrera’s actions have been completely ignored and treated as if he merely got a speeding ticket.
Cabrera was found by police two hours from his home, sitting in his smoking vehicle swigging scotch on the side of the road. This sort of behavior cannot be excused and, more importantly, cannot be left in the on-deck circle until the end of the season.
The Tigers needed to send a message to Cabrera that until his off-field issues are settled, he would not be accepted into the clubhouse.
His drinking problem, and it is clearly a problem at this point, has caused distractions for himself and his teammates twice in the last 17 months.
Fans certainly remember his October 2009 arrest that occurred during the team’s playoff push. After a night of partying (with members of the opposing team), Cabrera was arrested for domestic violence against his wife.
His actions then let the team down and he vowed to not let it happen again. Now, as the Tigers prepare for a new season, he has once again struck out, this time before the season begins.
Management clearly knows they cannot contend for a playoff spot without Cabrera. And that is exactly why they need to punish him. Cabrera needed to learn the lesson that he is not above the law or above the rest of his teammates. He should have to deal with consequences of letting his team down again.
To keep him on the field is a lose-lose situation. If he performs well, it feeds into the argument that as long as he delivers, his drinking doesn’t matter. If he struggles, his issues will certainly come into question.
The man needs to get his head right and get a handle on his issues before he even thinks of stepping into the batter’s box again.
Cabrera needs to deal with this issue now, no matter how long it takes to get his mind straight. The man clearly needs help, and baseball aside, that should be his first priority.
He is only 27 years old, with a long career ahead of him. But more importantly, he is a father and a husband and that should take precedent over baseball.
And shame on Cabrera, the Tigers and their fans if they think that baseball is more important than his health and family.
NEW PIECES HELP FILL TIGERS PUZZLE
But did they really cover all their bases?
Julian H. Gonzalez/Detroit Free Press/MCT courtesy photo
Detroit Tigers pitcher Joaquin Benoit throws in the bullpen on the first day of workouts for pitchers and catchers at spring training in Lakeland, Fla., on Feb. 14.
By taking a look outside, it’s hard to imagine that baseball season is right around the corner. But for the Detroit Tigers, players have begun reporting to spring training in preparation for the 2011 season.
The boys of summer started their training at the team’s spring facilities in Lakeland, Fla. on Feb. 14.
There will be a few new faces around the diamond when the Tigers start working towards an American League Central Division title.
Catcher Victor Martinez was the prize free agent signing in the offseason, the Tigers inking him to a four-year, $50-million-dollar contract. Martinez will be splitting time at catcher and as the designated hitter.
Manager Jim Leyland has projected to have Martinez batting fifth, behind slugger Miguel Cabrera.
Pitchers Brad Penny and Joaquin Benoit signed deals to come pitch at Comerica Park this season. Penny will be a key component in the starting rotation after arriving from the St. Louis Cardinals. Benoit comes to Detroit to shore up a bullpen that struggled in the second half last season. Benoit will be the set-up man for closer Jose Valverde.
While the new faces will no doubt be counted on to contribute to the team, the returning faces will be the real measure of how the team performs in the regular season.
Cabrera was an MVP candidate last season, and while a repeat performance from last season isn’t probable, he will be counted on to anchor the lineup offensively. While his defense at first base continues to improve, his true value will remain what he does with is bat, hitting cleanup.
Outfielder Magglio Ordonez returns after missing most of the second half of last season with an ankle injury.
Ordonez turned 37 last month, and coming off of a leg injury is cause for concern. He will bat in front of Cabrera in the number three spot, where he has excelled in the past.
Fellow outfielder Austin Jackson is coming off a stellar rookie campaign in which he was nearly named AL Rookie of the Year honors. Jackson will play center field and bat leadoff. Jackson is still a work in progress, and must cut down on his strikeouts while improving his on-base percentage. The Tigers cannot afford for Jackson to have a “sophomore slump.”
Brandon Inge and Jhonny Peralta will return at third base and shortstop, respectively. Neither will be expected to put up All-Star-type seasons, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be able to add something to the lineup, especially on defense. Inge is a Gold Glove-caliber third baseman, and Peralta had a solid run with the Tigers last year after being acquired from Cleveland.
Pitching will be a huge factor as to whether or not the Tigers reach the postseason. Ace Justin Verlander will lead a starting rotation that features Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello, Phil Coke and Penny.
The big question will be whether or not Scherzer and Porcello can return to form. Both have shown signs of being a dominant pitcher, but have lacked the consistency needed in the big leagues.
While the Tigers have yet to play an inning, they’ve already created a buzz in Detroit. This is a baseball town, and if this team can get everything together, it may be playing well into the cold months of October.
Tigers look to fill gaps
JULIAN H. GONZALEZ COURTESY PHOTO
Detroit Tigers prized rookie right fielder Brennan Boesch made a diving catch to get out Tampa Bay Rays Jason Bartlett and then threw to second base to double off the runner Matt Joyce to end the inning in Detroit in August. The Tigers won, 3-2.
Who’s coming in, and who’s headed out? Those are the big questions for the Detroit Tigers heading into the offseason.
The Tigers finished the 2010 season with an 81-81 record and missed the playoffs for the fourth straight season. The season gave fans reasons to believe that with the right off-season moves, the Tigers can once again become a force to be reckoned with in the American League.
First baseman Miguel Cabrera had an MVP-type season. Cabrera finished the season ranked second in the AL in batting average (.326), third in home runs (38) and led all of baseball in runs batted in.
Some new faces made big contributions for the boys of summer. Rookies Austin Jackson and Brennan Boesch supplied much excitement throughout the season. Boesch was named the AL Rookie of the Month in of May and June. Jackson won the award in April, and is a strong contender for Rookie of the Year honors.
Relievers Jose Valverde and Phil Coke helped solidify the bullpen, with Valverde being named an AL All-Star. Max Scherzer also contributed with a solid season as the No. 2 pitcher in the rotation.
Injuries held the team back from pushing hard towards the playoffs. Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen, Brandon Inge and Joel Zumaya all missed significant stretches of time throughout the year.
General Manager Dave Dombrowski is now faced with the task of adding and subtracting players in order to improve the young team.
Tiger mainstays Inge, Ordonez and Bonderman are all scheduled to become free agents, with Bonderman not likely to return to Detroit. Inge and Ordonez are expected to be back, but only if they are willing take a pay cut.
Improving up the middle must be the top priority for Dombrowski. The Tigers need an upgrade at catcher and shortstop to be sure. Dombrowski has stated publicly that Alex Avila will be the catcher next year. And Jhonny Peralta may return to fill the gap at shortstop if the team picks up his $7-million option.
The bullpen is also in need of help. While Valverde and Coke were solid, the rest of the bullpen was shaky at best. Holding a lead was a big problem that needs to be addressed in order to ensure an improvement next season.
Big names that should be available include Carl Crawford, Cliff Lee, Adam Dunn and Victor Martinez. All will come with big price tags, but would instantly improve the lineup.
Lesser-known players such as Alex Gonzalez and John Buck could provide relief at a very affordable price.
Ownership has stated the team will continue to spend money generated by the nearly 2.5 million fans who visited Comerica Park this season. The Tigers finished the year ranked 15th overall in attendance, a number that would surely improve with a better roster.
It’s now up to Dombrowski to spend wisely and shape the 2011 roster to win. Otherwise, he and Manager Jim Leyland may not see what the 2012 team looks like.
Opening Day in Detroit is about so much more than baseball
The Detroit Tigers played host to the Cleveland Indians on April 9, and won 5-2. Rick Porcello earned the win, pitching five innings, and Magglio Ordonez was the offensive star.
But Opening Day for the second-largest crowd in Comerica Park history was about so much more than a baseball game for those who gathered in downtown Detroit.
Fans arrived early, skipping work to celebrate on what for generations has been an unofficial but widely recognized holiday in Detroit. Before 10 a.m., parking lots were filled with tailgaters, while bars and restaurants were overflowing.
The streets came alive with laughter and screams of excitement. Inside, the stadium was more of the same.
Howard, 63, from Detroit, was attending his first Opening Day. Dressed warm, with a Tiger jacket that resembled the 1984 logo, gloves and classic Tiger ball cap, he was soaking in atmosphere.
The elderly black man was there by himself, but he quickly made friends. Before the end of the first inning, he was striking up conversation with a Michigan State student sitting beside him.
“(Austin) Jackson is going to be good this year,” Howard leaned over to explain to the young college student.
It didn’t take long for Howard to learn the bathroom problem that comes with Opening Day. With people hitting bars prior to the game and purchasing $7 beers at Comerica, many find themselves jockeying for position at the urinals.
“You have to wait at least 15 minutes. People were getting violent in there, ‘hurry up and piss,’ they were hollering,” Howard said with a laugh.
Back in his seat in the upper bowl down the third baseline, Howard was making more friends. After meeting a younger white woman, the woman jokingly explained to a Hispanic family sitting a few rows back how Howard and she were cousins.
Meanwhile, a group of young men met and joked around with the Hispanic family. After the long game and several attempts to get them to pay for last call, the young men said their good-byes to their new Hispanic friends and left.
“It was a pleasure,” Howard said to his new friends following the game.
All this wonderful, impromptu camaraderie would never have been possible without Opening Day, when Howard and the rest of Section 342 were able to connect through conversation.
Baseball talk. Smiles. Laughter. And invitation to friendship in downtown Detroit. The Tigers had a good day on the field, but for many of us it was even better in the grandstands.
Tigers Opening Day: Fun off the field
By the calendar, March 20 was the first official day of spring. But for many people in southeastern Michigan, spring does not begin until April 9 — the Opening Day for the Detroit Tigers this season.
This year, it’s on a Friday, and as usual fans are expected to turn out en masse to enjoy the festivities.
While going to the actual game is part of the fun, it is the party that surrounds Comerica Park that many look forward to. Whether it is a yearly tradition or your first time, finding that perfect place to watch the game can be difficult.
Here are a few tips to help make your Tigers tailgating experience enjoyable.
- Arrive early. Most bars and restaurants open at 7am so get to the D before then.
- Know where different parking is available. The casino parking garages are a nice place to start
- If you’re under 21, find out which places allow all ages.
Some possibilities for a little pre-game warm-up:
349 Monroe St.
Open at 7 a.m. to everyone 21 & over
Three floors with big screen TVs; outdoor canopy with hot dogs, burgers, fries ; full menu inside bar
(313) 964-0007; http://oldshillelagh.com
DETROIT BEER COMPANY
1529 Broadway St.
Open at 8 a.m.; all ages welcome
Three floors, first two floors have regular seating and the third floor is standing-room only; full menu inside restaurant and hot dogs and burgers on the third floor.
(313) 962-1529; http://detroitbeerco.com
THE ELWOOD BAR AND GRILL
300 East Adams Ave.
Open at 7 a.m. to everyone 21 & over
Wrist bands required to get in. First come, first serve for wrist bands; full bar and menu; live band; full security and bathrooms provided on-site.
(313) 962-2337; http://elwoodgrill.com
1326 Brush St.
Open at 8 a.m. to everyone 21 & over
Offers a full bar and menu.
(313) 963-3500; http://detpub.com
2233 Park Ave.
Open at 7 a.m. to everyone 21 & over $5 cover; bands and DJs; limited food and a full bar are available.
(313) 963-4040; http://centaurbar.com
TOWN PUMP TAVERN
100 West Montcalm St.
Open at 7 a.m., all ages welcome
Cover starting at 9 a.m.; hamburgers, hot dogs, fries, pizza and a full bar are offered.
(313) 961-1929; http://thetownpumptavern.com
Tigers looking to roar in new decade
The last week of spring training is crucial for how the regular season will unfold for the Detroit Tigers. Big holes still need to be filled, and a few spots are still left on the roster for young players to make the big-league roster.
As the final cut-day inches closer, players sweat out over finding a red card (not making the team) as shown in the movie “Major League.” While the 25-man roster and some pitching problems are up in the air, other players are starting to know their roles.
Barring some major surprises, here’s what the lineup could look like when the Tigers finally play meaningful games next week:
|Projected batting order||Pos. |
The Tigers finished with the fourth-worst batting average in the American League in 2009. Dave Dombroski went out this off-season trying to get improve the stagnant offense.
Replacing Curtis Granderson and Placido Polanco won’t be an easy transition but young gun Jackson seems up to the challenge. Jackson is hitting at eye-popping .375 with three triples and a bomb.
The acquisition of Damon will give the top of the lineup another player who will get on base like Jackson. Too many times last year, Ordonez, Cabrera and Guillen came up with the bases empty.
Damon and Jackson will both find their way on the bases, giving the big bats opportunities to rack up RBI’s.
On the mound, the Tigers are also a work in progress. By far the Tigers biggest question entering the season is how the starting rotation will pan out. With only a week left before Opening Day, even Jim Leyland doesn’t know who will step up and follow Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer.
Surprisingly, Dontrelle Willis is the one who has been most impressive during his outings in Lakeland. Although he should, with his mammoth contract. But who really expected him to have the second best ERA in camp by a starter? Nate Robertson also proved the lefty can still get outs with a 3.68 ERA.
Jeremy Bonderman and Armando Galarraga have ERA’s ballooning over nine in spring training. If that continues, manager Jim Leyland will start going through three packs of smokes a day instead of two.
Detroit will desperately need Scherzer to step in to fill Edwin Jackson’s shoes. Jackson was an All-Star last year in Detroit before he was traded this winter.
Here’s what Leland is hoping for a starting rotation as the season is set to begin:
When training camp opened, the bullpen had the biggest holes, but Joel Zumaya re-emerged with Bobby Seay and newcomer Phil Coke to give the appearance that the set-up crew could become the strength of the teams in the late innings before Jose Valverde comes in to close.
It’ll be a transition for Valverde who’s coming from the National League, but he hasn’t allowed a run yet this spring. He’ll try to carry the momentum to the regular season.
Obviously, Zumaya will need to focus on his health. But Seay is a proven left-handed specialist. Perry has shown his potential with his dominant fastball and slider. His only fault last year was control, and this spring he has only walked one batter.
The bullpen will need another arm or two that could incude southpaw Fu-Te Ni or one of the starters who couldn’t make the rotation.
For now, the only sure bets to make the bullpen are:
|Bobby Seay ||LHR|
Leyland and general manager Dave Dombroski both need to figure out what the last tweaks of the roster will be. Besides utility man Ryan Raburn, outfielder Clete Thomas, infielder Ramon Santiago and catcher Alex Avila, who’ll be the reserves? Who’ll get the last few bullpen spots? Most importantly who has earned the fourth and fifth spots in the starting rotation?
Many questions remain, with only one week left to reveal the answers.
Johnny Damon acquisition: Fair or Foul? – Counterpoint
Before the 2008 season, Tigers General Manager Dave Dombrowski acquired Jacque Jones to play left field. Jones was 33 years old and came off two-straight seasons hitting a .285 batting average.
Last month, former Yankee and Red Sox outfielder Johnny Damon signed a contract with the Detroit Tigers. He’ll be expected to play mostly left field. Damon is 36 years old and just came off a season when he hit a .282 batting average.
Wouldn’t you think Dave Dombrowski would learn? I mean, he has acquired old man after old man. Guess what Dombrowski, when a player is past the age of 33, and his level of play is declining; it’s past his prime.
The signing of Johnny Damon was an absolute mistake.
Jones didn’t last as a Tiger for two months. He hit .165 in 24 games and was cut outright at the beginning of May. The Tigers faithful hope Damon’s future will be better than Jones’ was.
The one positive out of the deal was that it’s only for one year. It was first announced that Detroit offered him a two-year deal. Wrapping up players to long-term deals has bitten Detroit in the rear too many times in Dombrowski’s tenure.
Nate Robertson, Dontrelle Willis and Gary Sheffield all collected nice checks from Tigers owner Mike Ilitch last year. The problem was the two pitchers barely threw, and Sheffield played for the New York Mets.
Still, what’s the point?
Detroit’s replacing an old left fielder who plays weak defense, but still has some life in his bat with… an old left fielder who plays weak defense, but still has some life in his bat. Damon has a weak arm and now, at the age 36, less range than ever in his career.
Carlos Guillen (old shortstop playing outfield),was obviously a weakness in left, but if Dombroski was looking to improve fielding he could have done much better, even from within the system.
Ryan Raburn threw nine players out from left field in only 43 games last year; Damon threw six out in 128 games. Raburn can also hit, last year in 113 games he hit 16 bombs with a .291 average.
Raburn’s eight years younger, too. His numbers should be inflating while Damon’s deflate.
Yes of course at the surface it looks like a great move. Damon is a fun-loving guy who always has a smile on his face. What will happen when his wife leaves Lakeland, Fla., and finds herself in Detroit? She has already acknowledged she doesn’t want to live there.
But Damon has professed an odd love of Detroit. We’ll see how long Tiger fans return that love once the season starts.
Matt Thompson is the sports editor of The Washtenaw Voice—and he also has a better outfield arm than Johnny Damon.
Unforgettable trip to spring training a distant memory
Warm Florida sun shines down through palm trees as you’re enjoying Detroit Tigers baseball. There’s something about seeing the boys with the Olde English D on their caps, eating some seeds, catching a sun tan and enjoying watching some major-league baseball players tune up in preparation for a long, enjoyable summer at Comerica Park.
There’s something about spring training baseball.
Two years ago, I blew off a week of my senior year in high school to go on my brother’s college Spring Break. Loving the game of baseball, we went to Lakeland, Fla. to watch our Tigers. Leaving at midnight during the middle of a snowstorm maybe wasn’t our best decision, but we did. After doing a 360 on Southbound US-23 — thanks, black ice — it dawned on us that we had forgotten the tickets we had bought online. About 20 minutes into our trip, we turned around.
Our fabulous mother met us halfway with the tickets in the middle of the night, even though she had to work the next day. That also meant she saw for herself how bad the roads were – but after some pleading and fast-talking, promising we’d get there and back in one piece, she let us go.
And after about 20 hours of driving, we escaped the Michigan winter and entered the world of palm trees, orange juice and sunshine. Staying in a cheap hotel, my brother Brad and I were ready for some Tiger baseball, and we weren’t the only ones. Thousands of fellow snowbirds came south to see them, too. It was like being in Michigan with all the Tigers following.
Brad and I finally made it to Joker Marchant Stadium, winter home of the Detroit Tigers.
We saw Miguel Cabrera’s first at-bat as a Detroit Tiger and Todd Jones throwing in what would be his last spring training. This kind of baseball was unlike any game I’d ever been to, including the Mud Hens. Pitchers would get done throwing and run around the warning track — in the middle of the game!
We even helped Jacque Jones warm up in left field before an inning, throwing back and forth over the fence. Before the game, we found ourselves running into Tigers General Manager Dave Dombroski. After games, we ran into Curtis Granderson. During games, we could play catch just beyond the outfield in the grass.
Although most of the trip we had to be frugal, dining from fast-food menus, when we splurged we did it right. Unable to find a Buffalo Wild Wings in a 30-mile radius, we stumbled into Hooters across the street. When we sat down for some wings, Tigers closer Fernando Rodney noticed our apparel and said hi.
After taking pictures and telling him he has to be healthy for Opening Day, Rodney began to make fun of two drunks about to fight. Who would have thought? Rodney sipping on wine at Hooters and cutting it up with us about some drunks.
After watching the Tigers play two meaningless games (though memorable for us), we went on to visit family (and free beds) for the rest of the week-long trip.
We got an autographed baseball, but that was worn out from playing catch before we even got back to Michigan. We didn’t care about a signature on a baseball, but getting time to meet some of our Tigers and enjoying a couple days of Michigan-like summer in the middle of a Florida winter was priceless.
Today, I look back clothed in jealousy of that trip. Now, strapped for cash and stressed with college and work, I’ll be lucky to even visit my brother, Brad, during Spring Break. He’s living in Virginia now.
For a few days, we had lived like kings playing catch with Tigers, eating and laughing with them. Right now, I’d settle for just playing catch with my brother and sharing some of our memories of our amazing trip.