On one of our annual sports trips my friends and I were scheduled to visit Detroit to take in a baseball game. Detroit was only one of 5 or 6 planned stops on this particular trip and isn't really considered a travel destination but I was excited to see the city for 2 reasons. The first reason was that for years I had heard stories about the economic downturn that both Detroit and many parts of the state of Michigan had experienced in recent years. So I was kind of interested in seeing how those circumstances would present themselves once I got there if they did at all. The second reason I was excited to be in Detroit was the fact that we were going to see the Tigers play at Comerica Park, a fairly new stadium that was built in 2000 to replace Tiger Stadium, one of the historic American league baseball stadiums that was built in 1912, almost exactly 100 years before we were in town.
We hit downtown Detroit in the early afternoon and parked my friend Ed's spanking new & surprisingly cool minivan in a lot a few blocks away from the stadium. When we started our walk through the downtown area toward the ball park I don't quite remember what I was expecting to see at the time but I do remember being surprised to see that the streets weren't dirty and there weren't any rundown or boarded up buildings anywhere. As a matter of fact the streets and sidewalks were relatively clean and all the buildings were pretty much intact. The only real evidence of economic distress that I noticed was that almost all the buildings and storefronts were eerily vacant. There wasn't any signage on the buildings or shops, no curtains or shutters on any windows just building after building with empty windows and doors. What made it even more unusual was that there weren't many people on the streets which when combined with the fact that it was close to 100 degrees out that day made downtown Detroit seem as if the city was in a state of suspended animation, lying dormant as if it was waiting for things to get better before showing any signs of life.
After a short while we reached Comerica Park and a couple of things immediately signaled to me that this experience was going to be a little different than most stadiums we have visited. First of all the parking lot directly in front of the stadium was home to a car show that was filled with beautiful classic cars and more unexpectedly the first person I encountered walked up to me and yelled "Eat em up Tigers eat em up!" right at me! Once I realized he wasn't crazy which is debatable or being mean to me I took a good look at him and one glance told me that he was a stadium regular because he was wearing a weather beaten T-shirt with a picture of himself on it that also had his name and his slogan on the front. The most interesting thing is if you look closely at his shirt you can see that he has a personalized website with a url address directly under his logo/picture! So even though he didn't appear to be computer savvy he was definitely a business man. (Oh yeah you know I tried to check out his web page and link it to this but sadly it no longer exists)
Once my encounter with my man Eat em up was over (after I took photo of him and put a dollar in his cup of course) I started toward the entrance to the stadium and immediately noticed the first thing you immediately understand about Comerica Park is that the people who designed it really want you to know exactly what team plays there,
The DETROIT TIGERS with an extreme emphasis on TIGERS.
There are snarling, roaring, clawing tigers everywhere you look, on almost everything you see and they aren't subtle about it.
Tigers Tigers Tigers, everywhere! The most prominent of which greets you at the main entrance
My friends and I have been going on these sports trips every year for a while so we've had the opportunity to visit many stadiums old & new and out of all of us in the crew I'm the one who kind of obsesses over the design and features of each of stadium or arena. When we arrive at a venue I usually leave the group to walk the entire stadium and check out all the features and design elements and try to photograph the things that I think are cool or unique. So once I survived Eat em up and all the menacing tigers all over all the walls and entrances of the park I was eager to get a look at what was inside.
Once inside the very first thing you notice is that the stadium is HUGE! Most newly built arenas or stadiums are designed to try & create an atmosphere or feeling. Some seem like sleek new shopping malls with many different shops, attractions and a variety of concession stands or swanky resturants or corporate sponsored club sections designed to appeal to people who like brand names and exclusivity. Some try to create a Retro experience with simplicity, economy or old school signage, design flourishes and building materials, others try to do all of the above. At first glance its tough to tell exactly what approach the people who designed Comerica were taking. The concourses are huge wide and dark, framed with old school green girders almost like a subway EL station and everything else is kind of plain and simple almost totally devoid of an actual design sensibility. The only real obvious attempt at connectivity was the color of all of the signage, Navy Blue & Orange the Tigers team colors.
Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack.....
At most stadiums they come up with clever names and themes for the concession stands but all the concession stands I saw at Comerica were generic in design and kind of boringly named. The only real brand name I saw was Little Caesar's Pizza which makes sense because Mike Ilitch the late owner of the Tigers franchise founded Little Caesar's Pizza as well.
The Detroit Tigers Franchise is one of the oldest in Major league baseball and like most sports franchises they take great pride in their history and make an effort to display evidence of their success throughout their stadium. Most newer stadiums and arenas have team focused Hall of Fame sections were they highlight their historic teams and star players and proudly display their memorabilia. They also use these hall of fame sections as added attractions that can be seen even if the team is not currently playing in the stadium at the time. I'm not sure if Comerica Park has a Tigers Hall Of Fame inside it but I didn't see one which is a shame. Because even though most of the Tigers' better players aren't household names to sports fans around the country man, is their stadium full of memorabilia! But like everything else about the stadium the way they chose to display that memorabilia is really unique.
All throughout the lower concourse of the stadium they have these huge weird looking structures that are part sculpture, part time capsule and part junior high school art project. They are almost 2 stories high and on wheels which makes them seem even more peculiar. The other thing I noticed was that there were so many of them, At least one for every decade of the team's existence filled with pictures and memorabilia from dozens of teams, players and moments in Tiger history.
Below are a few examples of what I call "Memory Mobiles".
Now don't get me wrong, I love memorabilia so I enjoyed looking at and trying to photograph each structure and the cool stuff inside of them but I found the structures themselves to be kind of crude, outdated, amateurish and quite frankly a little beneath what a professional sports franchise would use to display it's prized memorabilia and rich history. Especially in a stadium that was only 12 years old.
"A man from Hamtramck will go home with that one" a popular Ernie Harwell catchphrase.
As I continued to explore the concourses I came across another statue. The statue of Ernie Harwell the longtime Hall of Fame Tiger announcer who passed away in 2010. He announced Tiger games almost every year from 1960 through 2002 and was one of the most well known and respected baseball announcers in baseball history. I kind of found it strange that the statue was roped off to keep people from getting too close to it because its usually tough to get clear photos of statues in and around stadiums without people getting in the shots but when I was there no one was actually paying attention to Ernie at all.
A lot of new stadiums make great concessions to children and people who aren't quite fans of the game on the field by adding areas where kids can actually play. Video game stations, pitching areas, batting cages, miniature fields and even playgrounds are quite common in most new stadiums but once again Comerica Park went with the unusual.
Comerica Park has BIG CAT COURT a small rotunda with some food shops set around an old fashioned Carousel.
Tiger themed of course.
As I explored further I came across a picnic style eating area outside a barbecue place that was adorned with you guessed it MORE SNARLING TIGERS!
Directly behind the picnic area was an actual Ferris Wheel with compartments fashioned after baseballs. As you can see its pretty corny looking and like the Carousel and the picnic area it was totally empty because of the extreme heat that day.
After leaving the ferris wheel area I decided to head up to my seat. We had seats in the upper deck of the stadium and the heat was starting to get to me so all I wanted to do was grab a cold soda and a Bratz and watch some of the game.
From the old fashioned path leading from the pitcher's mound to home plate to the weird batters box area shaped like a huge home plate Comerica Park is quite different in many ways
The Tigers were playing the Royals and for the life of me I don't remember one detail from the game. I remember watching it but all the game's details escape me as I write this, which is unusual for me. I guess I was just too interested in the ball park and trying to describe it. Looking back now I finally realized what the designers might have been going for intentionally or not. Because Comerica Park's design elements and decor remind me of the Circus.
Circuses are weird, they rely on spectacle and odd performances that people in modern times aren't even sure they want to see until they see it. Their design aesthetic is a mismatch of bright colors, kitsch and disparate things that don't quite seem to fit together for the purpose that they serve. Circuses sort of exist outside of time, are filled with weird old entertainment and traditions that don't quite work today. Thats what Comerica Park feels and looks like to me. A Circus or Carnival that seems old and out of place but you can't place how old it actually is. You're never quite sure if you totally like it or not but somehow you have fun there and end up kind of glad you did see it because you know you aren't likely to see anything quite like it again. For those reasons I enjoyed seeing Detroit and exploring Comerica Park but I'm not quite sure there is enough there for me to go back again. if you are a baseball fan or a fan of seeing stadiums I would definitely recommend seeing Comerica Park at least once because its best quality is that it is definitely unique.
Just like the circus once you you've seen it you've seen it, after that the only real reason to go back is to share the experience with someone who has never been there before which is what I think i'm doing now by sharing this.
Here are some more shots from the game and the stadium
Comerica Park, Detroit, Michigan 7/7/2012