Detroit, Michigan September 12th 2009

Google Earth view of Comerica Park and Ford Field, Detroit MI.

1. Downtown Detroit

Following breakfast near the hotel, we decided to explore downtown Detroit. The few glimpses I had yesterday before the game piqued my curiosity, as the glimpses challenged my preconception of the city. Visions of Detroit from the news and the movie 8 Mile danced in my head. In our previous visit to Detroit (in 1999 to see Tiger Stadium before it closed for good), we didn’t venture from from the park, and did not see much of the city.

We found parking near the Joe Louis Arena for $5, which covered our exploration of Detroit AND the game in the evening. Rather than consult a map and plan our day, we instead started near Comerica Park and wandered from there. My initial impression was that downtown Detroit had architecture and building materials similar to those we’ve seen in Newark, NJ and Baltimore, MD.

Fox Theater in Detroit, MI. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The first landmark we encountered was across the street from Comerica Park: the Fox Theatre. One of five Fox theaters built across the US in the 1920s, the ten story theater in Detroit was completed in 1928. The theater portion of the building holds 5,000+ patrons, the largest of the original Fox theaters, and remains the lone surviving theater from the 1920s. Restored in 1988, the third through tenth floors host office space.

Walking along Woodward Avenue toward Michigan Avenue, we saw the Michigan Soliders’ and Sailors’ Monument. A Civil War monument, the landmark was unveiled in 1872, containing the names of all Michigan residents who gave their lives for their country. The monument was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.

The Michigan Soliders’ and Sailors’ Monument in Detroit, MI. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

We walked among the skyscrapers of downtown Detroit on our way to the Detroit River, which serves as the international border between Michigan and Ontario. The buildings reminded me of older cities of the Northeast, both in architecture and age. Though I’d never been to this portion of the city, it definitely had a familiar feel.

As we headed toward the river, we encountered a building that looked very familiar. While this building was not a skyscraper (in fact, it was not even the tallest building in its vicinity), it had a very distinctive shape and coloring. Dubbed the Flatiron building of Detroit, the structure bore an amazing resemblance to its namesake in New York City. Had I not known about the building in Manhattan, I might have missed this gem.

The FlatIron building among the skyscrapers in downtown Detroit. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Crossing the walkway over the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, we encountered the Mariner’s Church. Founded in 1842, it was designed as a mission for maritime travelers of the Great Lakes. Constructed of lannon stone, the design of the church was Gothic Revival (which is seen elsewhere in Detroit). The church was a stop on the Underground Railroad, the final one before former slaves reached freedom in Canada. The church was moved 880 feet to the east in 1955 to accommodate the construction of the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel.

The Mariners Church in Detroit, MI. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

We found ourselves on the Detroit Riverwalk, a concrete walkway which includes parks, plazas and pavilions that afforded a great view of the river on one side, and the skyscrapers of Detroit on the other. Located along the river was the Gateway to Freedom International Memorial to the Underground Railroad. Dedicated in 2001, the memorial commemorates Detroit’s role in the Underground Railroad. Though I was aware that Great Lakes states were active in the Underground Railroad, I had no idea how important Detroit was in the process

Gateway to Freedom International Memorial to the Underground Railroad, Detroit, MI. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Our final stop on our impromptu tour of downtown Detroit was the Renaissance Center. Often referred to as “a city within a city”, the Center is a collection of seven interconnected cylindrical buildings. Perhaps the most famous is the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center; at 73 stories, it is the largest of the seven buildings. It dominates the Detroit skyline, and is visible from a great distance.

We stopped at a cafe near the Center for lunch, sitting outside to enjoy the fantastic weather. On the walk back to the car, we passed over the Detroit-Windsor tunnel before reaching the Joe Louis Area. We barely scratched the surface when it came taking into the myriad landmarks in Detroit, yet I felt we saw so much. There was far more to see in Detroit than I could ever have dreamed.

The Renaissance Center, Detroit MI. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

2. Comerica Park

A giant glove lurked behind the scoreboard in left field. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Walking to the park from the lot near the Joe Louis Arena, we arrived just as the gates opened. Having more time to explore, we wandered around the outside of the ballpark first. Comerica Park is very much an urban ballpark, not far from the skyscrapers to east and northeast. Though there wasn’t much to see in the immediate area around the park, we did get a good look at the giant glove on the back of the left field stands.

Finding our way back to the main entrance, we were again greeted by the huge tiger. As might be expected, the tiger drew quite a bit of attention, and it was exceedingly difficult to get a picture of the feline without people in it. Normally, such things at ballparks do not impress me, but this tiger was very photogenic, and a decided fan favorite.

The stone tiger is certainly a kid favorite. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Once inside, we strolled through the concourse. Getting a better look at ballpark in the sunlight revealed that it had a great baseball atmosphere, one that rivaled the old Tiger Stadium. Opening in 2000, it was one of the “newer” MLB ballparks, which meant it had a slightly smaller capacity (about 41,000). The smaller capacity gave the park a more intimate feeling, which was evident almost immediately,

Like many of the newer MLB ballparks, Comerica Park was constructed to showcase the downtown area. This was evident when we toured the upper deck, where the Renaissance Center dominated the skyline of Detroit beyond center field, which reflected the setting sun to the west. Over the left field fence, the mammoth Ford Field towered over Comerica.

The Detroit skyline from the upper deck at Comerica Park. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

In left field was the massive scoreboard, which was the largest in baseball when the park opened in 2000. Roaming the top of the scoreboard were two large bengal tigers, whose eyes light up following Tigers wins. Walking toward center field, we discovered the Tigers Wall oF Fame. Retired Tigers players’ number adorn the wall in center field (except for Ty Cobb, who did not wear a number). On the concourse above the wall stood statues of the players in action.

Tigers Wall of Fame in center field at Comerica Park. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

We completed our walk at the main gate behind home plate, where we found the Big Cat Food Court. Not surprisingly, there was a wide variety of food from which to choose, with dishes from around the world. Next to the food court was a carousel, featuring bengal tigers for kids to ride. Per usual, my palette dissuaded me from experimenting, and I chose far more typical of a baseball stadium.

From the Big Cat Food Court we went in search of our seats. For tonight’s game, we obtained better seats than the night before. Despite the regional rivalry between the teams, there were still good seats available. Sitting just to the left of home plate in the lower level, we had an excellent view of the field, as well as the skyline of Detroit.

The view from our seats. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The Tigers again hosted the Blue Jays in the second game of a three game set. Starting for the hometown Tigers was 25 year old right hander Edwin Jackson, who was reaching the end of a mostly successful 2009 campaign. On the hill for the visiting Jays was right hander Scott Richmond, who was limping toward the end of a decidedly disappointing season. Given the pitching matchup, and warm and dry evening, suggested that we could in store for an offensively driven ball game.

Sitting very near the Tigers dugout, we caught a glimpse of Jim Leyland, the Tigers manager. Leyland was a baseball legend, having led the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1980s and 1990s. Leyland took the Tigers to the World Series in 2006, where they lost to the St Louis Cardinals. Leyland briefly popped out of the Tigers dugout just before the game, allowing my brother to snap a picture of the storied Tigers skipper

Tigers Manager Jim Leyland. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

As expected, the ball was carrying that night, as Curtis Granderson led off the Tigers first inning with a home run, and the offensive display was on. After the teams traded runs in the second inning, the Tigers scored three runs in the fifth inning, ending the night for the Jays’ Scott Richmond.

However, that ended the scoring for the Tigers, as the Blue Jays’ bullpen shut down the potent Detroit offense the rest of the way. Meanwhile, the Jays scored in the last five innings of the game to earn an 8-6 victory.

The giant scoreboard in left field tells the story. Unfortunately, with the Tigers losing, we didn’t get to see the green lasers from the tigers eyes. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The time of the game was a shade over three hours, which is typical of an American League game. During the content, I became enamored with Comerica Park. The ballpark has old school charm with a new ballpark feel. We would get a chance to see the park in full sunshine tomorrow afternoon, and following what I saw tonight, I couldn’t wait for the series finale.

New Jersey/Canton Ohio, Detroit Michigan September 10-11th 2009

Google Maps showing the seven hour plus drive from NJ to Canton OH.

1. New Jersey to Canton, Ohio September 10th 2009

Our lone 2009 MLB trip took us from New Jersey to Detroit, Michigan by way of Canton, Ohio from September 10th through the 13th. The first day of the trip was dedicated to the drive from central New Jersey to Ohio on Thursday, September 10th. We assumed that we could not expect to get from New Jersey to Detroit, Michigan in one day (though we did exactly that in 1999), so we consciously chose Canton as a destination. Our plan was to stay overnight and visit the Pro Football Hall of Fame Friday morning, September 11th, before heading to Detroit for a game that evening.

The trek itself was rather non-descrip, driving along Interstate 76 for the entirety of the state of Pennsylvania. That route took us from near Philadelphia just after the morning commute across the Susquehanna River in Harrisburg (the state capital), where we could see the nuclear reactor cooling towers of the Three Mile Island facility. Following a short stop for lunch, we got back on the road.

Between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, we witnessed the heartland of America. On one side of the interstate, we saw acres and acres of corn, which was mature and ready to be harvested. On the other side, we saw acres and acres of cows standing and laying among the rolling hills. From that slice of Americana, we passed north of Pittsburgh before crossing into Ohio. After about an hour, we reached Canton, checked into our hotel, and ate a quick dinner before settling in after a long day of driving.


2. Pro Football Hall of Fame, Canton Ohio, Friday September 11th 2009

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Canton OH. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Checking out of our hotel on the cloudless, relatively cool morning in Canton, we headed for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Arriving about the time the doors opened at the Hall, we were able to secure parking adjacent to the museum, rather than have to parking offsite and catch a shuttle bus. Having gotten there early, we had much of the Hall to ourselves, save a crew filming for a local or national news broadcast.

Our visit began in the Hall of Fame Gallery. Home of the plaques describing the current Hall members, it was reminiscent of the busts at the Baseball Hall of Fame. Since the Pro Football Hall of Fame elects new six entrants each year, there are many more members of the Pro Football Hall. Examining each plaque consumed a considerable amount of time, especially since there were a large number of members from the early days with whom I was not familiar.

The Dallas Cowboys exhibit in the NFL Gallery at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Our next stop was the Hall theatre, which showed a loop of famous games and clips. The loop was interesting, but disappointingly short. Following the main presentation, we wandered into the NFL Gallery. The Gallery contained exhibits for each NFL team, as well as multimedia displays telling the history of the game. For the casual and die hard fans alike, this gallery contained the heart and soul of the game, stepping us through time as the game evolved.

In addition to the history of the NFL, the gallery chronicled the American Football League (AFL). Founded in 1960 as a rival league to the NFL, the AFL featured a more wide open offensive game, a sharp contrast to what the NFL had to offer. Despite a more exciting game, the AFL was widely derided among football fans as inferior to the NFL. However, the AFL signed Joe Namath out of Alabama in 1965. Shocked by the signing, the NFL pursued merger talks with the AFL shortly thereafter.

The signing of Joe Namath in 1965 brought instant credibility to the American Football League. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

To my surprise, the gallery contained a small exhibit dedicated to the World Football League (WFL). Developed in the mid 1970s as a direct rival to the NFL, it featured a team in Hawaii, and encouraged NFL stars (such as Larry Csonka and Paul Warfield of the Miami Dolphins) to jump to the new league. Featuring key rule differences, the new league enjoyed a fairly successful first season, but the lack of a national TV contract and overzealous spending doomed the WFL before the end of the second season.

An official WFL football, featuring orange stripes, ostensibly for better visiblity during night games. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Perhaps the most interesting features in the gallery were the wax figures of NFL legends. Life sized versions Jim Brown, Walter Payton and Lynn Swann were among the greats immortalized in the wax museum. Finally, we walked through the Super Bowl gallery, which featured multi media displays of each Super Bowl. Being New York Jets fans, we were attracted to the Super Bowl III exhibit, as the Jets beat the heavily favored Baltimore Colts. That victory legitimized the AFL in the eyes of many NFL fans, and represents the lone Jets Super Bowl appearance.

Walter Payton immortalized in wax at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

All told, we spent more than two and one-half hours in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, including the obligatory visit to the Hall store for souvenirs. Though I consider myself a knowledgeable pro football fan, I learned quite a bit about the game, and enjoyed the exhibits greatly. If you are just a casual fan, and you find yourself in the Canton, Ohio area, you owe it to yourself to visit the Hall. You won’t be disappointed.

Goodbye Pro Football Hall of Fame. Hope to see you again soon. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

3. Canton, Ohio to Detroit Michigan/Comerica Park

Comerica Park, Detroit MI. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Following lunch near the Pro Football Hall of Fame, we hit the road for Detroit, Michigan in order to catch the game that evening against the Toronto Blue Jays. The 210 mile, three and one half our trip took us south of Cleveland, Ohio around the western edge of Lake Erie into the southeast portion of the lower peninsula of Michigan. The trip itself was uneventful, with generally light midday traffic working in our favor.

We reached our hotel south of Detroit off Interstate 75 a couple of hours before the gates opened at the ballpark, allowing us time to relax before the game. Approaching the hotel, our GPS unit informed us that the hotel was a left turn off the interstate, though visually we could see that the hotel was actually to the right of the exit. Back then, the GPS units did not often update their maps, and clearly this unit was out of date.

Arriving at Comerica Park about the time the gates opened, we had little difficulty finding parking. There were five main parking lots around the ballpark (including parking near Ford Field, located across the street), reasonably priced at about $10. Had the main lots been full, there are many parking options within a short walk (generally less than one-half mile) of the stadium, with varying prices.

The Renaissance Center from just outside of Comerica Park.

Like many newer MLB ballparks, Comerica Park was located downtown. Walking around the park, we glimpsed the colossal Ford Field across the street. The domed stadium dominated the skyline in this portion of Detroit, seemingly much larger than Comerica Park. On the other side of the stadium, we could see the Renaissance Center, located on the banks of the Detroit River.

The environment surrounding the ballpark was unexpected. Stories of Detroit has me expecting a war zone, yet downtown Detroit had a distinctive architecture that held a charm that exceeded my expectations. Having caught my interest, we would have to explore downtown Detroit further.

Stone tigers lurking over Comerica Park. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Since we were not sure that would would arrive in Detroit for the start of the 705 pm game, we did not obtain the best seats possible for the game. Instead, we sat in right center, just to the left of home plate. The view gave us a great view of the stadium, as well as an unobstructed look at home plate.

The view from our seats of the 9/11 ceremony prior to the start of the game. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Being September 11th, the Detroit Tigers held a short but dignified ceremony marking the eighth anniversary of the attacks in 2001. To be honest, I hadn’t given the date much thought (outside of a cursory acknowledgement), so the somber ceremony caught me somewhat by surprise. Following a moment of silence to remember the fallen on that fateful day, the players took the field, with the first pitch thrown at 707 pm.

The Tigers opponent that evening was the Toronto Blue Jays, a regional rival, even though there are in different divisions in the American League. The Tigers held a five and one-half game in the AL Central over the Minnesota Twins, while the Blue Jays were mired in fourth place in the AL East, 26.5 games behind the division leading New York Yankees. It was against that backdrop that the Tigers sent left hander Nate Robertson against the Blue Jays starter, left hander Nate Tallet.

This is how the action looked from our seats. The game was better attended that I expected, perhaps since the teams form a regional rivalry. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

With the game featuring back of the rotation starters struggling through their 2009 campaigns, the circumstances seemed ripe for a slugfest, as both teams had power in their lineups. However, the score was close through the first half of the game, with the teams trading runs through the first five innings.

As the evening blended into evening, the wind died down, leading to comfortably cool conditions for the middle of September. With the Blue Jays protecting a 3-1 lead entering the seventh inning, the teams both scored three times in that frame, which ended the scoring for the contest.

A tiger with laser beams for eyes, prowling just to the left of the main scoreboard at Comerica Park. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Toward the end of the game, a light breeze off Detroit River brought a light fog to Comerica Park. The fog allowed for an amazing effect on the laser eyes of the bengal tiger perched on the scoreboard. The scattered light from the tiger’s eyes gave it a more menacing appearance. Fortunately, the fog remained light enough not to affect play, as the Blue Jays took the first game of the three game weekend set 6-4.

Following the game, we experienced little difficulty exiting the area before heading back to the hotel to relax after a long day that started with football and ended with baseball.