Every American knows that Opening Day of the professional baseball season on home field is an unofficial official national holiday. The day honors a sport that does as much for beer and hot dog sales as it does to breed silly metaphors and obsessive personalities. A single homer has been known to uplift the whole city for months. Pro baseball even has its disadvantages, but we'll be damned if we can think of any.
Be that as it may, old-timers might recall how great that day was at grand old Tiger Stadium down on Michigan Avenue, but Comerica Park, with its perfect sightlines, is the modernized way to watch a ballgame — a sweet thing 'cause if the Tigers are to do better than last season, they'll likely go, as Old Blue Eyes would say, as Ohio's Eric Carmen would say, all the way.
Detroit's community of musicians has within it many a baseball fan, and some of the very best were only too happy to share a tale or two. We couldn't get Coop to sing about too many beers and make fun of silly metaphors ... he did that years ago.
I was 7 years old. I lived in downtown Detroit, and there wasn't a lot of grass. Every day we would play baseball in a sand lot with an old baseball covered with black electrical tape. One day my dad got tickets to a double header: the Detroit Tigers versus the Cleveland Indians at Briggs Stadium. This was a real major league baseball game, and I had never been to a real game. The stadium was enormous. It had real grass. The players were taking batting practice when we got there, and I remember thinking the echo of the bat hitting the ball was the greatest sound I'd ever heard. It was Jim Bunning against Herb Score in the first game. Al Kaline — my hero — went 4 for 4, and the Tigers won 5 to 2. The second game was Frank Lary pitching for the Tigers, Rocky Colavito hit 2 home runs, and Harvey Kuenn hit 2 home runs.
Tigers won 7 to 4. Throughout both games, I didn't ask for a hot dog, a soda, or ice cream. I just didn't want it to end. It is one of the greatest memories I have with my dad: the doubleheader win for the Tigers.
Ralphe Armstrong (bass player — Aretha Franklin, etc.)
My greatest memory of the Detroit Tigers was when Willie Horton got the game-winning hit, the day Denny McClain won his 30th game over the Oakland A's. In that same game, Reggie Jackson hit two home runs.
Photo by: Robert Matheu
I was asked to sing the national anthem by the late Ernie Harwell, to open a doubleheader between the Tigers and the Kansas City Royals. I was allowed to sit in the owner's box. It was sweet. I could literally reach over the wall and touch the field. I could hear the batter breathe out air. I could almost feel the ball slap into the catcher's mitt. I had a straight-line view from my seat to first base. Unfortunately, the Tigers lost both games. I also threw out the first ball on a game that the Tigers won (probably because I wasn't singing). But sadly for the catcher, after my pitch, he had to get sand out of his eyes.
Liz Wittman (Lettercamp)
I grew up in Cleveland, so my favorite memory involves the Cleveland Indians ... so don't yell at me. I remember going to my first baseball game. My parents took my little sister and me to see the Indians. My mom told us that we should bring our gloves in case a fly ball came our way. My sister and I prepared ourselves with baseball caps and our best baseball gloves. We rode the RTA (public transportation in Cleveland, believe it or not!) and blabbed to anyone unlucky enough to sit around us that we were going to see the Indians play. We trekked through downtown with our gloves on one hand and a parent on the other. We were told all the rules: Don't wander, stay close, don't walk away with strangers and, most importantly, pay attention to fly balls hit into our section. I don't remember who the Indians played or who won but I remember all of the smells, the singing and the strangers around us who cracked jokes with my parents — jokes I didn't understand but laughed along with anyway. I remember eating hot dogs, cotton candy and tasting a sip of beer my dad snuck to me when my mother wasn't looking. I didn't take my glove off for a second. The ball never even came near us, not even once. That didn't matter, my sister and I laughed and sang and yelled as loud as we possibly could. It was an awesome day. Now, when I go see the Tigers play and I see little kids with their gloves and wide eyes it gets me right here [pointing to heart].
Dick Valentine (Electric Six)
I went to Berkley High School, and though I didn't play for the high school team, I did play in the Berkley Dad's Club league every summer. The teams were made up of 14-, 15- and 16-year-olds. When I was 16, I was playing shortstop in a game where we had one of our 14-year-olds pitching for some reason. The kid's "fastball" couldn't have been clocking at more than 40 mph, seriously. It was embarrassing. A friend of mine from my grade was batting for the opposing team and I watched in utter disbelief when upon waiting on the first pitch, he just dropped his bat, reached out and caught the pitch with his bare hand, threw it back to the pitcher and trotted to first base. Absolutely incredible.
Honorable mention goes to a time when I was in Little League, around the age of 9 or 10, and we were daring each other to eat chewing tobacco. The first kid who took the dare swallowed a gulp and immediately went over to the bench and laid down, then blurted out, "I can't hear anything!"
I played baseball as a kid, and I can still remember the smell of hot dogs and beer at the old Tiger Stadium on Trumbull. But everything I love about baseball in Detroit can be summed up in two words: Ernie Harwell. I had the opportunity to hear him speak at an event hosted by Mitch Albom a few years back. I listened with amazement at his expressions of faith and his love for the game. Truly inspiring. His life and his legacy are a gift to us all. We love ya, Ernie. Go Tigers!
Tony Asta (Battlecross)
I remember going to old Tiger Stadium when I was a kid — my dad and I went quite often. The commute to the city was a spectacle in itself. Passing the old buildings along the twisting freeway of cement and bridges, the excitement of the game and the anticipation of fun times with my dad kept me on my toes until we arrived at the Corner. We had to share a bag of peanuts no matter what, because to us it just wouldn't be the full experience without America's favorite delicious treat. This was the '90s, and although they weren't the best Tigers team, guys like Travis Fryman, Lou Whitaker, Cecil Fielder, Alan Trammell and Kirk Gibson knew just how to pump us all up. At home the voices of Ernie Harwell and Frank Beckmann over the TV and airwaves wrote the soundtrack to my childhood. That decade of Tigers baseball reminds me so much of my childhood, the innocence, the simplicity. Sometimes I miss those hot summer nights.
Blaze Ya Dead Homie (Psychopathic Records artist)
The year was 1984, the place Michigan Avenue and Trumbull Street, aka Tiger Stadium, the event was my first ever live MLB game. The song "Bless You Boys" was blasting on all the radio stations and the name was plastered on every T-shirt. I even had one myself. We arrived early to check out batting practice. All my favorites of the time were there. I saw Gibson, Whitaker, Trammell, Lemon and Parrish all taking swings. I scrambled for the ones clearing the fence. Everyone brought a glove even if you were in the upper deck, because chances were that the ball would get out that way. My father and grandfather introduced me to the game, and I've been hooked ever since.
Vinnie Dombroski (Sponge, Crud, Orbitsuns)
Best recent memory was going to a game with my son Steve who was about 20 years old at the time. He always insisted on wearing flip-flops everywhere (we would go to the Thanksgiving parade freezing our asses off and he would have flip-flops on with two pairs of socks). Anyhow, we parked a couple of blocks west of Woodward Avenue, and a nice Detroit "chuck hole" took a bite out of the young lad's big toe. It bled like mad. We went directly to the first aid station at the ballpark but missed the first inning. After about six innings we looked at each other and were like, "This game is a sleeper; no one is hitting the ball." Little did we know we were witnessing baseball history as Verlander went on to pitch a no-hitter against Milwaukee on June 12, 2007.
The toe healed up fine.
Don "Doop" Duprie
(Doop & the Inside Outlaws)
I played baseball in high school and our team was pretty good but we played in a terrible league. Every once in a while, we would play a team outside the league that was really good and they would usually destroy us. So one day we played a school called Carlton Airport who were really, really good. They had a great well-manicured field, super nice uniforms, great equipment and great players and coaches. I had to pitch that day, and I threw very slow, but I have a pretty decent knuckle ball. Long story short, they must have been off that day or not used to a guy throwing in the mid-60 mph range but I threw a 1-hitter and we lost. In the 8th inning, a guy got up and hit a bomb off of me that probably still hasn't landed yet. We didn't score any runs on them so that's the way it goes. Even though we lost, I still felt pretty good.
Josh Malerman (High Strung)
I think we were camp counselors, I'm not sure, but the High Strung's drummer, Derek Berk, was playing left field and there was this steep slope of a hill beyond him. Some bearded maniac crushed the ball and Derek went after it, jumped horizontal to the grass, and vanished beyond the hilltop like that. It was hilarious. I thought he either died or leaped into a strange dimension. But he came up with the catch!
Also, in the bleachers at Tiger Stadium, Derek and I sat near a sloshed fan who was heckling the Twins' players, but confusing their names. There was Chili Davis and Shane Mack and this guy, slurry and blurry, was howling, "Chili Mack! Chili Mack! You ain't shit, Chili Mack!"
My dad had season passes to the Tigers during the '60s. I can remember one time going with my older sister Patti. We took the bus, met a couple of cute guys at the game, went to their apartment afterward (too young for anything naughty), and listened to Peter, Paul and Mary, making me an instant fan. I screamed, cheered and had a hot dog with everything on it. Also, I remember when the Tigers won the pennant. We went downtown. It was absolutely crazy. People were screaming, running riot, jumping in and out of cars — just nuts. I will never forget it, how the city came together and just celebrated, any differences forgotten. To this day, the singing of the national anthem makes me cry a river. Long live Detroit! (I have never left.)
J.C. Miller (Black Jake
& the Carnies)
My then-girlfriend-now-wife and I followed the 2006 season from Chris Shelton's fantastic April to Brandon Inge's check-swing strikeout in October. Though we really couldn't afford it, we bought tickets to game 3 of the ALDS to watch Kenny Rogers have a go at Randy Johnson and the Yankees lineup no one thought Detroit could beat. It was the Tigers' first playoff game at home since 1987 and, from the first pitch, the crowd was absolutely nuts. The energy only grew as Rogers mowed through the opposing batters and the Tigers scored five runs on the future Hall-of-Fame pitcher. By the end of the game, the Tigers had shut out the Yankees 6-0 and we were all hugging and high-fiving people we'd never met but, in that moment, understood completely. What I'll remember most though was the roar of the crowd as Rogers walked off the mound in the 8th inning and tipped his cap to the city that had waited so long for that kind of excitement. My wife and I already have our tickets for opening weekend (April 8, if anyone thinks they'd recognize me without my suspenders on).
Kory Kopchick (Citizen Smile)
[Citizen Smile frontman] James Brown and I attended Oakland University and, for our first few semesters, we were able to schedule our classes at the same time, thus giving us the same lunch break. After eating lunch and playing a few arcade games, we would then leave the Oakland Student Center and head outside to engage ourselves in a game of hacky sack. In 2006, the Tigers were a team that was rebuilt and on its way through the playoffs. James and I became caught up in the "Tiger Fever," and their success quickly became the only other thing we would talk about, aside from our band. This proved to have extremely interesting results in our normal lunchtime routine. Rather than enjoying our lunches at a leisurely pace, shooting a few bad guys in an arcade game, and then hacky-sacking it up, we began to scarf down our food at an unhealthy speed and skip the arcade games altogether. Why? Because we were the first humans on this planet to discover and create what is now and will forever be known as Hacky Sack Baseball. That's right: Hacky Sack Baseball. This invention consisted of one of us pitching the hacky sack to the other, who swung at it in full force with a bat-sized tree branch. Actually, that's all it really was at first. However, as the Tigers advanced further in the playoffs, our game of Hacky Sack Baseball became much more complex. Soon, we were able to make all four bases out of shrubbery and a pitcher's mound out of dirt. The more we played, the more people would stop, watch and eventually join. What started off as one guy throwing a hacky sack to another guy with a stick turned into a full-on baseball game, rules and all. Even several of our professors would stop as they were walking by and stare in amazement at our ridiculous creation. And none of this would have ever happened had the Tigers not given us, and the entire city of Detroit, something to believe in. That was — by far — my greatest baseball memory.
Jason Stollsteimer (Hounds Below, Von Bondies)
The 1984 Tigers — chanting "Louuuuuuu" for Lou Whitaker, which I thought at the time was "booooooo." I was 6 years old and I wondered for years why everyone was so mean to him. Love them Tigers.
Frank Woodman (Woodman)
Play ball! Hell, yes — baseball. Springtime, America's pastime, green grass, hot dogs and ice-cold beer. As a musician, you can take a lot of shit for liking a sport. Baseball still has some romance to it. It's most likely the history or probably because it's the only sport I could play. Baseball back in the day had characters, weirdos. My great-grandfather used to call them "farmers." When I first came to Michigan at the age of 11, an uncle took me to the old ballpark to see Mark "the bird" Fidrych. A freaking rock star! Long curly hair, and he talked to the ball. Mick Jagger in cleats. Years later, after attending a White Stripes show at the Magic Stick in March of 2000, my friends and I, with beer courage, snuck into the brand-new park and ran around the base paths. Opening Day indeed. This past summer for my birthday, my family bought me a fantasy night of batting practice against Dave Rozema. My son Derek served as a ground crew member from 2006-2009. So yeah, I love baseball. Play ball!
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