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 Opening Day in Review

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PostSubject: Opening Day in Review   Tue Apr 01, 2008 2:35 pm

Opening Day: Royals 5, Tigers 4
Loss doesn't dampen fans' hopes for Tigers
Francis X. Donnelly, Steve Pardo and Jennifer Youssef /The Detroit News

The new superstar, Miguel Cabrera, hit a home run. Fan favorite Brandon Inge threw out a runner at home. And, yes, the team's Achilles' heel, relief pitching, cost them the game.

But this was Tigers' Opening Day, where the final score is almost beside the point.

It's a rite of spring that is equal parts baseball and nostalgia, partying and religious experience. It's olde English D's adorning fans' caps, live rock music in the morning and the aroma of beer wafting from all the bars surrounding Comerica Park.

At Bookie's Tavern, customers were betting that their beloved Tigers were going to make the World Series. At Hockeytown Cafe, hockey was taking a distant back seat to baseball.

Atop the garage of the Detroit Athletic Club, fans watching the game had dreams as big as all outdoors.

"This is the best team we've ever had," said Darryl Johnson, 32, a Detroit printing shop manager. "It's going to a fun year."

Not even the outcome, a 5-4 loss to the Royals in 11 innings, dampened the feeling of the faithful.

The game was attended by 44,934. The outdoor party surrounding the stadium was attended by a cast of thousands.

Around America, Opening Day is one of the sweetest days in sports. It especially resonates in Detroit, where the team has played during three centuries.

Among the throngs outside Comerica, the theme was relief:

Relief that the baseball season is finally here. Relief pitching that is desperately needed by the Tigers. And relief from the dreary weather.

The downtown skyline was covered with a gray mist. The stadium lights were turned on in the middle of the day.

But bad weather on Opening Day is a given, said Bob Jamison, 20, of Oak Park. Given a choice between watching any sport in a warm setting or watching the Tigers in a cold drizzle, Jamison said he'll go with baseball every time.

"We breathe baseball," he said about local residents. "Everybody in Detroit is a Tiger fan."

This annual sports ritual was a virtual city holiday with fans taking off from work and school.

They were celebrating all manner of things: the return of the Tigers, the return of spring, the chance to do something outside after being cooped up for six months.

Radio stations distributed hand warmers but the faithful had other ways of staying warm, like beer.

Dannys follow tradition
The Novacks of Redford have two family traditions.

One is naming everyone Danny. The other is painting themselves as Tigers for Opening Day.

Danny Novack, 27, a truck driver, and his two sons, both named Danny, were covered with orange and black streaks.

It's a great way to get into the spirit of opening day, 27-year-old Danny said.

"Dad, it's like we're rock stars," said 7-year-old Danny, referring to all the looks they were getting from other fans.

The older Danny said three generations of his family have been doing this. "I used to do this with my dad in 1984," he said.

His father's name? Danny, naturally.

Cafe cashes in
Opening Day is such a cash-spewing spectacle that at least one business didn't have to be open to make money.

Daniel Martinez was distributing fliers to let fans know about his plans to have a cafe at 1515 Broadway.

He hopes to open the enterprise in two months, which would allow him to draw some business from all the folks attending Tiger games.

While passing out the leaflets, he was inundated by fans who wanted to use the cafe's bathrooms. He began allowing them to do so, at $2 a pop.

Parking garage has a view
For many people, the point of Opening Day isn't to watch baseball. It's just to come downtown to be part of the celebration.

Warren resident Al White, 45, imbibed the festivities from her perch on the fourth floor of the parking garage above the Elwood Bar and Grill.

For $40, White got a wristband that allowed him access to the bar and a decent, if somewhat obstructed, view overlooking Comerica Park. "It's cheaper than the game," he said. "At least we're still part of the action."

White and his girlfriend, Judy DeFer, also 45, tailgated from the back of his Ford F-150, grilling burgers from a small charcoal grill planted on the concrete floor, and knocked back a few beers.

"I love it," DeFer said. "But I told him I've never drank this early in my life."

Strike has silver lining
In one morning, American Axle worker Pete Baca went from one kind of strike to another.

From 7-11 a.m., he walked a picket line in the monthlong strike against the auto parts supplier. Then he headed to the ballpark.

"It's hard to enjoy with all this going on," he said about the work action.

Some 3,650 workers at the company walked out Feb. 26 over proposed cuts to wages and benefits.

But the company strike had a silver lining, he said. He had never been to Opening Day and he wouldn't have been able to make it Monday if he had been working.

His co-workers stuck on the picket line had to listen to the game on headphones. Several wore Tigers caps and jackets.

'Got Leyland?'
All types of Tigers paraphernalia was selling briskly.

Because of the elements, however, nothing was more popular than sweat shirts and jackets.

CZ's Sports on Woodward was busy since 8:30 a.m., manager Heather Joy said. "Everyone's excited," she said. "People have been waiting all year for this."

The jerseys, jackets and sweatshirts ranged from $60 to $100. One of the items that stuck out was an orange T-shirt that asked: "Got Leyland?"
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