Over the weekend starting May 17, 2012, I went to three different baseball games in three different cities featuring six different teams. There's a story with all of them, and since my trip took me around the perimeter of Lake Erie, I made the three posts a series called the Lake Erie Baseball Odyssey. Click here for Part 1, and here for Part 3.
"Oh, Justin Verlander is pitching.”
I had been looking up the starting pitchers for the evening's game, remembering that I hadn't seen a Justin Verlander highlight on SportsCenter in a few days, and was pleasantly surprised to see that we'd get to see him.
“Who's that?” my sister asked. Here's how I described him:
He's a really good starting pitcher for the Tigers. He throws 100 MPH all game long, so you'll either see him pitch amazingly tonight or this will be the night his arm finally falls off.
One of those two things happened, and since Verlander is pitching against the Indians tomorrow (the 24th), you can assume it's not the latter. And besides that, I got to see another really cool baseball stadium.
Arriving at Comerica Park is a bit of a surreal experience. The way we came in, via I-75, took us right through rush hour traffic, which was intense, and then as we exited the freeway, gave us a stunning view of downtown Detroit. We parked about three blocks away for $5, and the walk to the park was pleasant, albeit a little rushed, as I wanted to see the first pitch. The area around Comerica Park is worth mentioning: it's better than I thought it would be, with a lot of stuff happening around the stadium without the feeling that it's too cramped.
Another cool feature is that the stadium has a rather low profile. The field is below street level, like normal, but the upper decks of the stadium aren't as high as some other modern ballparks so Comerica Park has a nice neighborhood feel.
Upon entering the stadium, we were greeted by something I had never seen before in a Major League ballpark, but more on that later. We rushed upstairs to our seats, reaching them just in time for the first pitch.
Our seats had a great view of the Detroit skyline, scoreboard, and field. It seemed like there was an effort made to provide the best skyline view possible, an effect similar to PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Target Field in Minneapolis, and Progressive Field.
Verlander got the first batter, and then walked the second batter, and as Neil Walker took his base, my dad joked, “there goes the perfect game.” Verlander set down the last two, and the Tigers staked him to a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the inning.
After the first, Verlander settled into a groove. He would retire seventeen in a row before allowing another baserunner.
We decided to walk around the stadium around the fifth inning. My dad and I were aware that Verlander had not allowed a hit, but the rest of our group and most of the stadium hadn't quite figured it out yet. The concourses at Comerica Park are much like most modern ballparks: open, with a view of the field all the way around. There were a lot of great looking food stands, including a nice selection of stands right around the ballpark carousel.
Yep, you read that right.
It was hard to find a bad view from anywhere, and one area I really liked was behind the outfield fence, where you can walk right behind the batters eye cameras to get a straight on view of the field from the center field angle.
At some point, I looked at the scoreboard and noticed the game had moved on to the sixth inning and Verlander still had not allowed a hit. He had cruised from the second, with only one hard hit ball that the left fielder made a nice running catch on. It's only one inning between the fifth and sixth, but the situation escalated really quickly. I wondered if my camera had enough batteries (it had way more than enough), I became concerned that my mild headache would make me black out and I'd miss the no hitter (I didn't), and I tried to remember the whole experience, anxious that I'd forget it all (I wouldn't). And above all, I wanted to get back to my seat so I didn't miss a thing. Once the seventh inning rolled around, we quickly finished walking around and walked back to the seats.
By the time we got back, the rest of the stadium had figured out what was going on, and there was a playoff-level buzz around the stadium. Verlander took the mound in the eighth and mowed down the Pirates, to thunderous applause each time. As he walked off the mound, we (and even most of the Tigers fans) just wanted the Tigers to go down quickly so Verlander could come out for the ninth.
And then Verlander came out for the ninth. The crowd cheered every pitch like it was a playoff game. Verlander got the first batter to hit a grounder to short, and although I held my breath a bit, Peralta threw him out. One out. Two outs away.
Verlander got two swinging strikes from Josh Harrison before Harrison fouled one off and drew a ball. Then Verlander stepped off the mound, took a deep breath, and delivered the 1-2 pitch. Harrison barely got a piece of it, an 87 MPH slider, but a piece was enough and the soft liner dropped just behind second base and skipped into center field.
It was over.
The crowd groaned, knowing they were that close, two outs away, just a couple of feet away, to seeing history. But then, as is the custom, gave Verlander a standing ovation. Verlander recovered and got the next two batters, completing the game and the shutout. It's still the best single pitching performance I've ever seen in person, but I had to ask myself if I'd ever see anyone come that close again.
A local TV crew interviewed Verlander after the rest of the team went into the locker room, and although we couldn't hear the audio, before the interview started, Verlander turned to the on-field camera, smiled sheepishly, and said, “I'm sorry!” Of course, he had absolutely nothing to apologize for, but I liked the gesture. It's always nice to be reminded that not all athletes are just in it for the money. Some of them, and I'd count Verlander as one of them, can't believe they get to play baseball for a living and love every second of it.
There were fireworks after the game, and although I don't really judge ballparks based on fireworks displays, I'll note that Progressive Field has way better fireworks. Comerica Park sort of took them to the center of the diamond, shot them off (low altitude, so there was no danger of hurting anyone), and then everyone left. There was no choreography or pattern to the show that I could see. I suppose any fireworks are better than no fireworks, but the Indians put way more effort into their fireworks than the Tigers, plain and simple.
And so that was my visit to Comerica Park, a visit that I'll never forget for a lot of reasons. Fireworks notwithstanding, there aren't many better places to watch a baseball game on a mild summer evening than Comerica Park. Detroit suffered for a long time, but they have a great stadium, and since Justin Verlander came on board, a great team to match. And since Justin Verlander pitches against the Indians tomorrow, let's hope last Friday night really tired him out.
All of my photos from this game, including some fireworks photos, are available here.