A warm and dry late summer day greeted us for the last game of the series at Comerica Park. Having seen much of what we wished to see in downtown Detroit the day before, we ate a late breakfast before heading directly to the park. However, it seemed as though the landmarks in Detroit were not quite done with us.
After parking the car in a lot away from the ballpark, we passed by a church along the way. St John’s Episcopal Church, built in 1859, was constructed in the Gothic Revival style, which we saw throughout Detroit. The belfry, the tallest section of the church, rises to 105 feet. It is the last remaining church on Woodward Avenue, an area once well known for its large number of religious buildings. The church was yet another example of the wonders I simply didn’t expect to find on this baseball trip.
As we arrived at the main gate of Comerica Park, clouds started to filter the sunshine, and there was a noticeable increase in humidity, making the early afternoon feel more like summer than early fall. The warmth and humidity did not negatively impact our exploration of the park, as we wandered throughout the stadium.
Spending more time on the outfield side of the ballpark, we got a better look at the statutes just above the Tigers Wall of Fame. All of the statues showed Tiger greats in action poses, which was much more impressive in person than the images I had seen on the Tigers website. While it was not Monument Park at Yankee Stadium, the statues were a fitting tribute to the Tiger legends.
Walking back from center field toward our seats, we got a great view of the seating area of the stadium. In order to keep the ballpark seating capacity lower, there are just three decks (including the luxury boxes and press area on the middle deck) at Comerica Park. Though not as large as some parks, the stadium had a larger feel from the outfield than from home plate.
Before finding our seats, we headed to the Big Cat Food Court for lunch. There were other food options at Comerica, such as the Brushfire Grill or Blue Moon Brewhouse, but the food court near the main entrance suited our needs quite well. Sunday afternoon games following Saturday night contests are typically not as well attended, which allowed us to procure excellent seats for the series finale. With lunch in hand, we headed to our seats and awaited the start of the game.
The pitching matchup for the Sunday matinee pitted rookies against each other. The visiting Jays sent 24 year old left hander Ricky Romero to the mound. Romero was concluding a very successful rookie season, finishing third in the 2009 Rookie of the Year balloting. His opponent for this afternoon contest was 20 year old right hander Rick Porcello. The Tiger rookie had an equally impressive rookie season, during which he compiled a 14-9 record. The matchup suggested a pitcher’s duel, despite the fact that both offenses were potent.
After a scoreless first inning, the Tigers roughed up Romero for four runs in the second and third innings. Romero settled down following the outburst, finishing his afternoon after six innings, allowing 10 hits while walking three. By contrast, Rick Porcello held the Jays scoreless through three innings before allowing a pair of runs before exiting after six innings. While the pitching matchup was not as impressive as expected, it was clear that both starters were burgeoning starts with bright futures.
Our seats gave us a great view of the playing field. Comerica Park has a strip of dirt between the mound and home plate. Known as a keyhole, Chase Field in Phoenix and Comerica Park are the only MLB parks to feature one. Additionally, the dirt area around home plate is shaped like a home plate. Both of these features are nods to the past, especially the keyhole, which was once a common feature at ballparks.
The Tigers tacked on three more runs in the eighth inning, closing the scoring and handing the Tigers a 7-2 victory. The game time as a very reasonable 2 hours and 40 minutes, in front of an announced crowd of 32,000+ fans. Taking in the ballpark all afternoon, I decided that Comerica Park had become my second favorite MLB Park (just behind PNC Park in Pittsburgh, PA). The combination of old school features and new ballpark amenities made this an ideal place to see a ballgame. Though it is a long drive (or relatively short flight) to Detroit, I hope to return here soon.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 imagined.
2. Comerica Park
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.
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.
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.
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 fare 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 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
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 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.
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 (Thursday, September 10th) was dedicated to the drive from central New Jersey to Ohio. 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
3. Canton, Ohio to Detroit Michigan/Comerica Park
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.
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 (home to the NFL Lions )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.
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.
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 the teams 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.
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.
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 tigers 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.
Day 2 of our Japanese baseball tour moved us to Kyoto. We chose to stay in Kyoto for a few days, since it was the ancient capital of Japan and would afford us an up close view of Japan the way it used to be. My brother chose a hotel close to Kyoto Station, as we would be traveling on the Shinkansen the next three days.
After the rainy and humid conditions in Tokyo, the sunshine in Kyoto was a welcome relief. Following an early breakfast, we went out exploring nearby Kyoto. The hotel was located within walking distance of MANY temples, as well as parks. Walking through local neighborhoods on the way to see the temples, we could not help but notice vending machines nearly everywhere. As we later find out, vending machines are ubiquitous throughout Japan.
About ten minutes from the hotel, we found the grand complex of Higashi Hongan-ji. There are several temples and shrines in the complex, spread out over a few city blocks. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the complex contains the largest wooden tower in Japan, the five story Pagoda. This structure may be one of the most recognizable in Kyoto, and is spotlighted at night.
The largest structure in the complex is Kondo Hall (pictured above). Not accessible to the public (like most of the structures here), the Hall is the centerpiece of the temple. Strolling through the complex, we could almost feel the spirituality. It didn’t take long to see why Kyoto is so popular with tourists and Japanese alike.
Ambling through the complex, we came upon a manmade pond. Within the pond we saw some of the locals, soaking up the late September sun. Having spent more than two hours at the temple, we headed back to the hotel before leaving for Nishinomiya. The visit to the temple had me looking forward to what else we might see in Kyoto in the coming days.
1. Getting to Nishinomiya
Going to see the Hanshin Tigers take on the Yomiuri Giants at historic Koshien Stadium, we would need to take the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen from Kyoto Station to Osaka Station. The trip took roughly 30 minutes, with three stops. After arriving at Osaka Station, we walked across the street to the Osaka-Umeda Station to catch the local train to Koshen Stadium.
Like many train stations in Japan, the Osaka-Umeda Station seemed like a labyrinth of platforms and escalators. While we knew we had to take the Hanshin Line to the stadium, it wasn’t immediately clear where that was in the station. In addition to the Hanshin Line, there was the Hanshin Railway (a private line). The distinction caused some consternation, but once we determined where we needed to get Hanshin Line, we were ready to head to the stadium.
Not surprisingly, the train was packed with Tigers fans headed to the stadium. The trip to Koshien Station took about 20 minutes, with a walk of just a couple of minutes from there to the stadium.
2. Koshien Stadium
Koshien Stadium is a unique ballpark in many ways. It is the oldest ballpark in Japan, having opened in 1926. It is one of only four major league stadiums still in use in which Babe Ruth played (the others being Meiji Jingu Stadium in Shinjuku, Fenway Park in Boston and Wrigley Field in Chicago). Koshien Stadium is the only remaining NPB ballpark with an all dirt infield.
It was against this backdrop that we entered Koshien Stadium. My brother had a QR code for our game tickets, and obtained our tickets via QR scanner at the stadium. Unlike the tickets we had in Tokyo, these tickets were more difficult to read. We asked a stadium employee which gate we should enter, and the answer was not clear. In order to find the gate, we had to nearly circle the stadium.
When visiting the TokyoDome the day before, we were able to walk around from section to section, taking pictures. This was not the case at Koshien Stadium. Security made it clear that we were to stay in our area, which limited our ability to take pictures of the stadium.
The stadium was packed, with a sold out crowd there to see the Tigers take on the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants. Clouds gradually filled in during the early afternoon, and by the 1400 start, skies were overcast, but seemingly no threat of rain. Even with cloudy skies, the beauty of the ballpark shined through. The stadium dates back to the 1920s, and possessed some of the charms of an older ballpark. Koshien Stadium has a feel similar to that of Wrigley Field (before its modernization). However, the stadium did not show its age, being maintained and groomed well. From the first look, it was clear that this was a classic ballpark; a great place to see a ballgame.
Our seats were located near the left field corner, less than 10 rows from the action. We were located next to the visitors section in Koshien Stadium. As we would learn, there is a visitors section in each NPB ballpark, but not all are in the same part of the park. It was interesting to be so close to the Giants fans, who were indefatigable throughout the game. You can experience the Giants fans chanting here.
The game itself was a tight affair, scoreless after 5 innings. The Giants opened the scoring with a run in the top of the 6th, with the Tigers answering in the bottom of the 7th. A single run in the top of the 8th provided to be the winning run for the Giants, who triumphed 2-1. Toward the end of the game, the sun tried to break out, resulting in a very striking cloud pattern late.
The game time was about three hours and 30 minutes. Unlike MLB games, nobody seemed to be concerned about the pace of play. In fact, we saw a fan served a beer with two out in the bottom of the 9th inning. As we left the stadium, we noticed fans still milling around their sections, slow to exit the ballpark. Clearly, NPB fans see the game as more of an event, and these fans were in no hurry to leave.
Koshien Stadium proved to be a classic ballpark, in the vein of Fenway Park and Wrigley Field. My brother commented this was the stadium he wanted to see on this trip, and it was well worth the effort. Should I ever find my way back to Osaka, I’ll do my best to revisit this place.
The train ride back to Osaka was not quite as crowded as the trip to Nishinomiya, a benefit of a lingering fan base. After arriving in Osaka, a quick walk across the street brought us to the Shinkansen and the ride back to Kyoto. Arriving after dark, we walked back toward the Toji Temple to get a look at the Pagoda at night.