ALL STAR GAME: 2005 WORLD SERIES: 2006, 2012
BEEN THERE, DONE THAT: August 5, 2004 (TEX 2, DET 1); July 21, 2015 (DET 5, SEA 4)
This stadium had "big shoes to fill," since its predecessor, Tiger Stadium, was so dear to the hearts of many Detroit fans. As originally built, it rivaled Coors Field for the claim of having the biggest outfield of any major league ballpark. Only in right field, where the bullpens are located, are normal distances found. Without a doubt, one of the best features of Comerica Park is the spectacular view of the Detroit skyline. The wide open design, with no upper deck seats in the outfield, stands in contrast to most other recent neoclassical stadiums. It is the exact opposite of Tiger Stadium, which was virtually unique among the old baseball stadium in terms of being totally enclosed by two decks. Comerica Park was the first of the neoclassical stadiums to have only two main decks, the second being PNC Park. The fact that it is a "human scale" makes it more pleasant venue for watching a game. The only apparent design legacy inherited from Tiger Stadium was the shape of the grandstand in the area close to the diamond: the two wings of the grandstand are perpendicular to each other. This creates slightly more foul territory than in other recently-built stadiums. Aside from the small "jog" in right field, there are no artificially induced asymmetrical elements at Comerica Park, and the outfield walls are perpendicular to the foul lines and most of the angles in them are at 45 degrees. From a purist's perspective, it's nice that the stadium was explicitly designed to accommodate the layout of adjacent streets. Adams Street passes just beyond the center field wall, and sidewalk pedestrians can crane their necks to catch a glimpse inside. The grandstand in the left field corner is angled in a few degrees, reflecting the non-parallel alignment of Brush Street, on that side.
Though a little on the plain side in terms of design, there are actually several unique features that make this stadium a worthy successor. One nice touch is (or was) the in-play flagpole, positioned at the corner in deep left center field, like at Tiger Stadium and Minute Maid Park. Another is the home-plate-shaped dirt area around home plate, and the dirt path to the pitcher's mound, like the one in Chase Field. Just outside the stadium there are plenty of fan amenities and amusements for kids. The rear eight rows of seats in the lower deck around the infield consists of wooden seats with small tables between them; that area is called the "Tiger Den." For the convenience of handicapped fans, there are two sets of "zig-zag" ramps (one near first base, the other near the left foul pole) from main concourse down to the lateral walkway, where there is ample room for wheelchairs. The huge, gaudy scoreboard would have made Bill Veeck proud, and the statues of Tigers at the entrances add a lot of "zing" as well. An open concourse encircles the entire first deck, and it is possible to walk all the way around the stadium without losing sight of the game. In center field there is an enclosed area with darkened windows (for the batters' sake), and behind the bullpens in right field there is an elevated "Pepsi picnic area" with umbrella-covered tables. One design quirk, which was probably intended to make Comerica Park seem more old fashioned, is the detached second deck on the first base side. It's about 15 feet lower than the rest of the upper deck, since there is only one level of luxury suites on that side. This is rather like the disjointed upper decks at Griffith Stadium, except that there was no compelling reason for this, since the whole stadium was built at once. This upper-deck gap has since been imitated by Great American Ballpark and a few others. As with several other recent stadiums, the dugouts at Comerica Park are enormous. (Why take away valuable room where you could put in more high-revenue box seats?) Another gripe: The end of the upper deck near the left field corner obstructs the view of the left side of the scoreboard for many fans. Perhaps for aesthetic reasons, the upper deck built at an oblique angle, terminating at points coinciding with the "creases" in the first deck below.
Moving into the brand-new ballpark may have been a little traumatic for the Tigers, since they were one of only three teams with new stadiums to have completely bypassed not only the era of cookie-cutter doughnut clones (as several teams did), but the mid-20th Century era of modern stadiums as well. (The other such teams were the Chicago White Sox and the New York Yankees.) As with the other latter-day neoclassical stadiums, however, attendance at games in Comerica Park fell below expectations, and the new home just didn't give much spark to the Tigers' playing success. The economic development spinoffs that had been achieved in Cleveland and Baltimore are just now beginning to be realized, especially since the opening of the Detroit Lions' new home, Ford Field, which is located just across the street. Like St. Louis, Detroit is a proud medium-sized city with a rich baseball heritage that plays a vital part in maintaining a sense of community. In hard times such as these, that function is as important as ever.
In hopes of generating more home runs and reviving the Tigers' fortunes, an inner fence was installed in left field prior to the 2002 season, reducing the distance to the power alley by about 25 feet. This reduced the amount of fair territory from about 118,900 square feet to about 113,700 square feet. For the next three years, that area beyond the fence remained empty, devoid of any function whatsoever. Unfortunately, that took the flag pole out of play, and it did nothing to help the team. Indeed, in 2003 the Tigers were on their way to setting a record for number of games lost in a season, but managed a face-saving winning streak in late September, ending up at 43-119. The acquisition of catcher Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez gave them a much-needed boost in the early months of 2004, but it didn't last. In 2005 the Tigers moved the bullpens from right field to the empty space beyond left field, and built climate-controlled booths to keep the relief pitchers comfy throughout the baseball season. Evidently, the seats from the seven rear rows were used to fill in the space formerly occupied by the bullpens, because those rows now consist of bleacher benches. Later on, two small sections of seats were built underneath the scoreboard beyond left field. In 2014, the Pepsi Porch area behind the right field seats was renovated, with new table-top seats.
In 2006, the Tigers earned a wild card berth, their first postseason appearance since 1987. Remarkably, they went all the way to the World Series, where they lost to the Cardinals, 4 games to 1. In both 2011 and 2012 they won the American League Central AL League pennant in seven years! Miguel Cabrera led the offense, becoming the American League Triple Crown winner since 1967. The San Francisco Giants swept the Tigers in the World Series, however.
SOURCES: Lowry (2006), Pastier (2006), Rosen (2001), Washington Post, Google Maps