Opening Day in the city of Detroit has always been special.
It is the anticipation of warmer weather (hopefully) arriving just around the corner.
It is the expectation of success for the Tigers in the new baseball season (no matter how bad they may have been the year before).
It is the sound of the crack of the bat, the shout of the beer man, and the roar of the crowd on a sunny afternoon.
Who can be a Grinch on opening day?
The Tigers have had some exciting home openers in their history.
But the first one may have been the best of them all.
It was April 25, 1901. The Detroit Tigers were one of the flagship members of the brand-new American League. The team played at rickety wooden Bennett Park, at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull.
The roster was sprinkled with names like Pop Dillon, Doc Casey, Ducky Holmes, Sport McAllister, and Davey Crockett. It also featured three guys named Kid (Kid Gleason, Kid Elberfeld, and Kid Nance). The manager was 33-year-old “Gentleman George” Stallings.
The opener was originally scheduled for the 24th, but heavy rain caused a postponement until the next day. The weatherman eventually cooperated, and a bright, sunny afternoon made it a perfect day for a ballgame, despite the still-soggy infield.
Opening Day was a special event even back then, as a parade that included both the Tigers and the visiting Milwaukee Brewers made its way up Michigan Avenue, before finally ending at the ballpark. (The Brewers, by the way, played only one season in the Cream City, before they relocated to St. Louis and changed their name to the Browns. They moved to Baltimore in 1954 and became the Orioles.)
A total of 10,023 Tiger fans came out for the event (actually they were called “cranks” back then). Pregame festivities included the Brewers marching onto the field, followed closely by the home team, which sported bright red woolen coats. The grandstand crowd cheered, and the Tigers showed their appreciation by doffing their caps.
Civic luminaries gave the usual boring speeches that nobody really wanted to listen to. Stallings, along with James Burns, co-owners of the Tigers, were presented with an oversized silver cup. The City Council President threw out the first pitch. Finally, the Tigers sprinted onto the field, the band played “There’ll be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight,” and the game was ready to begin.
So really, things haven’t changed all that much on Opening Day in Detroit. It is an afternoon of pomp and circumstance, to be sure, but mostly it is a day to welcome back that old friend, baseball, after a long winter of hibernation.
On that afternoon in 1901, Tiger fans saw the comeback to end all comebacks.
Down 13-4 heading into the last of the ninth, Detroit scored ten runs to win its first American League game, 14-13.
One newspaper account the next day called it, “The most magnificent batting rally ever seen.”
Today, we call it a walk-off win. So some things do change.
The victory sparked the Tigers, who went on to win their next four games, by such scores as 13-9 and 12-11 (And I thought they called it the Deadball Era?).
But by season’s end, Detroit had to settle for a record of 74-61, good for third place behind the Boston Americans and A.L. champion Chicago White Sox.
Today, Opening Day in Detroit has taken on a whole new meaning. It is as much a day for calling in sick to work and joining a party downtown, as it is for going to a ballgame. Bars and restaurants around Comerica Park are standing-room-only with revelers who don’t even have a ticket.
That’s a good thing. It means that people in this town care a lot about the Tigers.
So just like cranks at the turn of the 20th century cheered on Kid Gleason, Kid Elberfeld, and Kid Nance, today’s Tiger fans can yell and scream for Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez.
And hope and pray for a thrilling ninth-inning comeback.