When the Detroit Tigers first left Tiger Stadium for Comerica Park in 2000, it seemed like they went on a road trip from which they never returned. It took a very long time for countless Tigers fans to become used to the Tigers new home. It seemed so antiseptic. For many, it was akin to visiting a shopping mall or an amusement park.
The first five seasons at Comerica Park were not pretty. In terms of attendance, it was the worst opening of a new ballpark in decades. Unlike the fanfare most new stadiums receive, Comerica Park was met with anxiety and irritation caused by the abandonment of Tiger Stadium and the team’s lackluster play.
But time heals all wounds — and so does a winning ball club. The ice began to melt in 2004 when the Tigers signed Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez. Coming off of a 119 loss season and near financial bankruptcy, the Tigers were able to build some excitement with the addition of the full fledged all-star catcher.
2005 was a splash in large part because of the hosting of the All-Star Game. The Tigers used the once-in-a-lifetime event to force those wanting to attend to buy regular season ticket packages. In a single year, the team’s season ticket base more than doubled. By that time, the Tigers were actually playing respectable baseball. Magglio Ordonez had joined Pudge and some young talent was beginning to blossom.
By 2006, the Tigers had developed a roster with true talent and the empty seats at Comerica Park were beginning to disappear. Jim Leyland joined the club as its manager and a new sense of purpose was instilled in the team. Veteran pitchers Kenny Rogers and Todd Jones were brought on board to shore things up and rookie Justin Verlander wowed the baseball world with great control and dominance.
But All-Star Games and individual feats don’t mean much in a baseball town like Detroit.
If there was a turning point in Comerica Park’s young history, it was the miraculous post-season performance of the ’06 squad and the American League Championship they won. It was the first time in 19 years that the Tigers won the pennant — and everyone who ever called himself a Tigers fan was back on the bandwagon.
Despite its slow start and a rough transition, Comerica Park can now be proclaimed a success. Ticket sales now exceed 3 million fans per year — at the highest prices ever charged. A new generation of Tigers fans have embraced all the intricacies of the park that once seemed awkward. And the place now seems seasoned and broken-in. It has become a fun and exciting venue in which to watch a ball game.
It’s hard to believe, but in 2009, the Tigers will begin their tenth season at Comerica Park. Here’s hoping it’s one to remember.