Tiger Stadium provided me so many childhood memories. My Dad and I would go to our Upper Reserved seats in section 424 on the first base side and watch Whitaker, Trammell and The Boys play. We’d be right on top of the action in seats cheap enough to allow for multiple summer trips. We’d both enjoy a couple of Ballpark Franks from a vendor who would slather the mustard on with a tongue depressor, Dad would have a Stroh’s or two, and I’d keep score in my Official Tigers program. We’d get there a little early and check out the nearby souvenir shops, watch a little batting and infield practice, and maybe catch that week’s This Week in Baseball on the monochrome scoreboard in centerfield. Those 4-hour blocks are some of my fondest childhood memories. It felt like home.
Cut to 1997 and Mike Illitch, who really ought to be considered a patron saint for what he did to help revitalize downtown Detroit, finalized the public funding deal he needed to help him build a new ballpark necessary to stay competitive with other teams’ revenue streams. This would mean the end of old Tiger Stadium. Most of us were bummed. We know the old girl couldn’t last forever, but it was hard to see her go.
When Comerica opened in 2000, we were struck by how different the new park was. It was almost the polar opposite of the one we used to love. Because she was so different, we shunned her and picked at her relatively small flaws instead of appreciating her beauty and amazing attributes.
Old Tiger Stadium was fully enclosed, creating its old little world. The new park felt really open, allowing one to catch some action without a ticket from the sidewalk and letting in the Detroit skyline. Tiger Stadium had decks literally on top of one another, making the upper deck so close, you felt you were in play, but leaving the lower deck with terrible obstructions due to the overhang. The new place had very little overhang, comparatively, making the upper deck feel much further away than we were used to, but allowing people in the lower bowl the opportunity to see a pop fly. Tiger Stadium was a hitter’s park with short porches. Comerica Park, especially when it first opened, was a cavernous pitcher’s park. Tiger Stadium was a gritty park for a blue collar city with trough urinals, cramped concession ways, several decades of grime, and a distinctive “baseball smell”. Comerica Park was a beautiful place with ivy and brick and a Ferris Wheel and a carousel and luxury suites and wide concessions.
As such, unlike almost every other new ballpark that opened in the past few decades, Comerica Park was not immediately universally loved by the locals for no other reason other than it wasn’t Tiger Stadium.
But with time we begin to gain perspective. Instead of grumpily saying, “it’s not like the old one”, we start realizing “Hey, this place is pretty good.” We then see other new parks and realize that ours holds up quite well with theirs. We take our OWN kids there, who do not have Tiger Stadium as a reference point, and they love it. We start making memories in the new place, seeing a Magglio Ordóñez walk-off home run in the ALDS, a perfect game that wasn’t, and a Triple Crown season from Miggy. And we marvel at how pretty the Detroit skyline can look. Or how nice it is to have more amenities. Or that the new place is still quite egalitarian, eschewing things like club levels or moated areas behind the plate. And we suddenly realize, “You know what? We’ve got one of the best parks in baseball.”
Exterior aesthetics 9/10; Interior & Concourse Aesthetics 10/10; Sightlines & seating 8/10; Amenities & entertainment 9/10; Flow 5/5; Celebrating history 5/5; Scoreboards 4/5; Grand entrance 5/5; Sense of place 8/10; WOW Factor 25/30. Total 88 points divided by 2 for 44.
This is the best of the so-called red brick retro parks that followed Camden Yards. If this place was in a major media market, we’d probably hear more people romance it.
- While the Detroit skyline is not New York’s or Chicago’s, it does have some interesting architecture. The ballpark aligns so that the Renaissance Center, arguably Detroit’s most famous building, and several other interesting structures are in view. It’s maybe the third nicest of the urban backdrops after Pittsburgh and St Louis.
- The batter’s eye, made up of green ivy and shrubbery with water features, is one of the nicest
- The exterior architecture is amazing. There are 5 tiger sculptures guarding the entrance to the ballpark, and 33 tiger heads adorning the brick façade around the ballpark. There are even two tigers atop the scoreboard whose eyes light up red when the Tigers hit a home run. The main entrance with the 15-foot Tiger statue makes for one of the best grand entrances in baseball.
- There’s liberal use of Michigan Pewabic Pottery tile around the park, bringing a nice local touch to the decor
- The Tiger’s Den seats would be my ultimate retirement season ticket: lower bowl, extra wide seats with a small table to hold your food, in the shade, close to concessions
- There is no club level. There’s the lower bowl, two levels of suites, and the upper deck. This keeps the upper deck closer than most of the new parks (even if it’s much further away than old Tiger Stadium’s).
- Kids of all ages can be entertained with the Ferris Wheel, the Tiger Carousel, a batting cage set to a challenging 50 mph, and a speed pitch. These amenities are spread throughout the park and don’t interfere with the baseball unless you seek them.
- As opposed to a museum, the Tigers have a series of displays throughout the lower concourse celebrating past greats throughout the decades. In lieu of a monument park, they have statues of 6 past greats in the outfield visible from the seats. The park does a great job celebrating the team history by integrating it into the design rather than forcing hardcore fans to a specific museum area.
- A renovation to the concession area has added some visual style with brick facades around the stands that match the exterior design. It’s one of the nicer looking concession areas in baseball.
- The Coppercraft Distillery bar is one of the best social areas in any MLB park with comfy seating and a nice bar area
- The lower bowl seats seem to have a gentler incline than others. This pushes you further away from the action in the back rows. It can also be an issue if a tall person sits in front of you
- The concourse by the statues gets quite narrow and limits flow if one is circulating around the park from the outfield
- It’s the only park with a strip of dirt between the pitching mound and home plate. Why they brought this old-timey feature here when it wasn’t part of their old-timey old park is a bit of a mystery.
- It replaced a beloved stadium, and thus won’t get the credit it truly deserves
There’s a decent selection, but nothing that stands out.
Little Caesar’s Pizza is fairly ubiquitous, which makes sense given the owners. I actually like their “deep dish” pizza, but don’t like the significant stadium mark up. Detroit is also big on Coney Island dogs: a natural casing wiener smothered in chili, onions and mustard. They sell those here (they’re OK) as well as a Coney deep fried egg roll and even a Coney pizza slice.
Other options include Bahn Mi sandwiches, Al Pastor Dogs, street tacos, brisket platters, and topped mac and cheese. Detroit is also home to very large Middle Eastern and Greek communities, and this shows up in some of the better concessions including the Greek Salad, the Chicken Shawarma, and my personal fave: the hand-carved gyros.
Michigan is home to some of the best craft breweries in the country. The Tigers have been slow to adopt some of those hometown brews but have been doing a much better job in recent seasons. Selection may be limited to 5 or 6 stands throughout the park, but what’s there is absolutely top notch.
Enjoy suds from Michigan-based breweries like Bells (offering 10 different styles including HopSlam, Two Hearted IPA, and a Pineapple Jalapeño Oberon) and Founders (offering 4 styles including the Canadian Breakfast Stout). Smaller Michigan brewers also have a presence such as Arbor Brewing, Witch’s Hat, Dark Horse Brewing, Arcadia, Atwater Brewing, and Motor City Brewing. Occasionally, you can get Old Nation Brewing’s absolutely amazing M43 hazy IPA, perhaps the best single beer offered at a ballpark. There’s always a great rotating selection at the Michigan Craft bar in rightfield; you can throw a dart at the selection board and end up with something good. You can also get some nationally acclaimed craft brands like Alaskan Ale and Deschutes. Canadian macro brand Labatt’s is available from vendors and throughout the stadium.
As a bonus, the stadium’s premier social area is now sponsored by Michigan craft distillery Coppercraft who pour their acclaimed whiskey from that bar.
Downtown Detroit is not nationally known for being a destination, but it has improved significantly over the years. There are plenty of spots around the ballpark worthy of a pregame visit in a scene that’s not dissimilar to Cleveland’s or Phoenix’s or Baltimore’s. It may still be a little gritty in spots, but the traffic on game days mitigates that.
If you park to the west of the stadium, there are a few options on the way from your car to the stadium including the Town Pump Tavern, Cliff’s Bells, State Bar and Grill, Hockeytown Café and a Detroit outpost of Tin Cup (which took over former Red Wing Chris Chelios’ old place). To the south of the stadium lay a few decent places including The Detroit Beer Co, Punch Bowl Social and Downtown Louie’s. To the east lie Eastern Market and the Greektown area, both walkable to the park and are home to several restaurants. And as the area around the Little Caesar’s Arena continues to develop, there will be options to the north of the stadium as well.
A Tiger game costs right around league average. Good lower bowl tickets behind the plate can usually be had for much less than in other markets. For some reason, Tiger fans often eschewed the seats behind the protective netting for seats over the dugouts (which used to not be behind netting), probably in the hopes of getting a ball. With the entire lower bowl now netted off to protect fans who are looking at their phone instead of the game, we’ll see if that odd tradition continues.
This is the Motor City: you’re likely driving. Traffic is generally better than it is in most American cities, and if you’re willing to park in one of the further afoot $10 Olympia “official Tiger” lots (often unpaved gravel lots that look sketchier than they are), exit after the game is really easy as well. Public transit is likely not an option unless you’re staying somewhere in Downtown Detroit in which case the People Mover can get you close. If coming in from New Center or the Amtrak Station, the new Qline tram also runs down Woodward all the way to Larner St. downtown, with a stop right by the ballpark. And a few bars outside the immediate stadium area offer shuttles if you really want to go local.
Early season games can be cold. Summer games can be humid. Rain can be a factor, and there is a limited amount of space to stay dry given the open air concept of much of the auxiliary concession and amusement areas. But it gets 17 more days of sunshine annually than Cleveland, hence it made it to a 2.
The Tigers have been my favorite team since childhood. I identify with the Detroit sports fan. For all intents and purposes, I learned what fandom meant from Detroit baseball fans. Heck, I even appreciate the mascot Paws and his costume is so janky, it looks like it was part of a grade school assembly skit.
There have been years, including the recent ones, when the team has been brutal. In an economically-challenged city like Detroit, spending money on a perpetual loser is hard to justify. Plus we have the Lions for that. So I forgive the recent dip in attendance; when this team was doing well, the place got awfully full.
I know that that 20,000 Tiger fans can create as much an atmosphere as 35,000 fans in other cities. The fans have an edge and are quick with insulting nicknames: I was at a game when a fan taunted visiting pitcher Shawn Estes with a simple sign that read “Estes has no testes” (that still makes my inner 15-year-old boy laugh). It’s a crowd that starts the 2-strike clap without the help of the video board. It will stand an applaud the pitcher if he’s walking into the dugout after the 7th or 8th with a pitch count over 100, knowing he’s probably coming out. To Jim Joyce’s dismay, it’s a fan base with a long memory, with many still talking about the 1984 team in the present tense with passion and pride.
The players’ home uniforms are the closest thing to formal wear in sports: clean, sharp, timeless. Starting the game with a little “Detroit Rock City” over the loudspeakers will get you in the mood. And if rallies need starting, they can go to some of the ultimate jock rock riffs from Michiganders Kid Rock, The White Stripes or Eminem.
While there’s still a little of the Detroit workingman vibe, it’s also a family-friendly place. What other ballpark has both a carousel and a Ferris Wheel inside the park, tucked away as diversions for younger fans? When my daughter was younger, she gladly came with me to the park because she knew she’d get a couple of rides out of it.
You’re at a place that Ernie Harwell called his last Tiger’s home game and where he is immortalized with a statue. You’re at a place where some hot dog vendors give customers a hard time if they ask for ketchup. And you’re at a place that eventually won over a hard scrabble group of fans who didn’t want to leave their last home.
It’s a beautiful place in downtown Detroit.
OTHER THINGS TO DO
Three fun eateries in the D:
- Slows Bar BQ (Corktown. Great BBQ in Tiger Stadium’s old hood)
- Buddy’s Pizza (Downtown. Home to the original Detroit-style square pizza)
- American Coney Island (Downtown. My choice for the best of the downtown Coney joints)
Three places to imbibe before the game:
- Hockeytown Café (Ballpark. Still the busiest game day bar. Classic multi-story sports bar.)
- Town Pump Tavern (Ballpark. Tin ceilings and wood walls and a less bro-like atmosphere)
- Old Shillelagh (Greektown. Venerable Irish pub with occasional live music and a shuttle to cut out the short walk to the ballpark)
One bar in the area worth hitting:
Nemo’s (Corktown. Famous old school bar that used to be right beside Tiger Stadium. Good memorabilia. You can park in their lot, grab a bite and a few drinks, then ride their shuttle over to and from the park.)
Three craft breweries in the area worthy of your time:
- Motor City Brewing Works (Midtown. Fresh brews and brick oven pizza)
- Jolly Pumpkin (Midtown. Detroit outpost of Dexter, MI brewery. Great place for sour ales.)
- Atwater Brewery (Riverwalk. Large taproom offering classic styles.)
Three fun tourist attractions in the area:
- Motown Historical Museum (New Center. See the modest studio where some of the 20th Century’s best music was recorded)
- Henry Ford Museum (Dearborn. Indoor-outdoor museum stuffed with notable Americana including the Kennedy limousine, the Wright Brothers’ shop and Edison’s Menlo Park laboratory)
- Detroit Institute of Arts (Midtown. One of the largest art museums in the country)
It originally struggled to gain acceptance because it was replacing a beloved home stadium. Hell, it took me a while to warm up to it for that exact reason. But Comerica is becoming beloved to a new generation of Tiger fans. With its many Tiger sculptures, beautiful skyline view, and great amenities, it’s a Top 10 ballpark and should absolutely be part of anyone’s Midwestern swing.