Always a Tiger, Indeed (Opening Day Running Journal)

Ian JohnsonContributor IApril 13, 2010

DETROIT - APRIL 09:  Rick Porcello #48 of the Detroit Tigers deliver a pitch against the Cleveland Indians on April 9, 2010 during Opening Day at Comerica Park in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

So a couple nights ago I'm dinking around on the computer, trying to figure out what my fantasy baseball team's pitching rotation is going to look like this year, when my buddy Paul texts me out of the blue to see if I want to go to the Tigers' home opener at Comerica Park.

"Oh, hells yes," I answer. I've never been to a Tigers game in my life before, and what better place to start than the '10 home opener?

"Scott loses!!! You win!!! And you didn't even know you were playing!!!" is Paul's reply. Nope, I sure didn't. I'm kind of a luckbox that way. To commemorate the occasion, I decided to take copious notes on my iPod and then write my first blogumn since before the '09 NFL season. Yeah, I'm a procrastinator sometimes. (Also, kudos to John Buccigross for coining the term "blogumn." It's pretty sweet, yes?)

Anyways. Here's what happened.

11:50am-ish: We're rolling into Detroit in some kind of sweet Mazda sports coupe convertible thing Paul's driving (I don't know much about cars, but I know that one was awesome). Also, this being spring in Michigan, it's really cold out. Like high 30's cold. There are worse days for baseball, I suppose, and I think they usually happen in Philadelphia in late October/early November. At least it's not snowing. Also, I'm bitterly angry at Tampa Bay, Florida, and Arizona fans right now.

We pass under a street as we're on the highway called "John R" St. This intrigues me for two reasons: (1) There's a street in East Lansing with the same name, so this guy must be pretty popular, and (2) That's just a REALLY weird name for a street. Turns out it's named for this guy, a former Detroit mayor, and he named the street after himself.

To think, once upon a time the only crimes a Detroit mayor would commit were those of extreme narcissism instead of sex scandals and fraud. Also, Kwame Kilpatrick probably isn't getting a road named after him anytime soon. But I digress.

12:00pm-ish : After we pull into the Ford Field parking garage, which has decided to charge $25 dollars instead of the (apparently) usual $10 in order to commemorate Opening Day in its own strange way, Paul hands me my game ticket with a sweet picture of Justin Verlander on it.

Too bad Rick Porcello's starting today. Dear Tigers Marketing Department: you might want to talk to Jim Leyland about how he handles his rotation before you print Opening Day tickets next year.

12:12: Most of the streets around Detroit's stadium district are closed off, so we have to take a detour through Ford Field. It's hosting the Frozen Four this year, which is kinda like the Final Four except a whole lot less people watch it and the University of Michigan even shows up once every few years. (Wolverines basketball ZING!)

"This feels like such a waste of space," comments Paul. It kinda does; the ice rink takes up less than half the football field. But whatever. We're here for baseball.

12:22: I hurriedly take in the sights around Comerica Park. I had no idea Detroit could be so vibrant, even if it is just one tiny corner of the city. Maybe someday the rest of the area will catch up. Maybe. I hope so.

We find our seats, which are in the left field bleachers, a little bit behind the Tigers bullpen. As soon as we sit down, the stadium ticker flashes the Major League leaders in wins for pitchers. Unsurprisingly, everyone's tied at first with one win apiece. Thanks for the helpful update, Comerica Park! Good to see your Department of Redundancy Department is in full swing to start the season.

12:32: After he started Wednesday's game against Kansas City, I was really hoping Alex Avila would be catching today's game. No such luck. Remember the Who's Your Tiger marketing campaign a few seasons ago? Well, it's definitely not Gerald Laird.

12:34: Rick Porcello is stretching and warming up about 200-300 feet away from me. I feel giddy. This seems like a good time to look at Detroit's starting rotation this year: Justin Verlander (the best pitcher in the AL not named Beckett or Sabathia), Rick Porcello (great rookie year last year), Max Scherzer (who should have a great rookie year this year), and Jeremy Bonderman and Dontrelle Willis (who are both primed to have bounceback seasons).

Also, not only are they talented, but they're young. Apparently Detroit's starting pitching has the youngest average age of any rotation in the major leagues. It is a good time to be a Tigers fan.

12:36: Miguel Cabrera just did a few short jogs and looks winded already. I'm glad he got his drinking problem handled in the off season. I'm not so glad he forgot to add "cardio" to his to-do list while he was at it.

12:40: An older gentleman just walked past wearing a Cleveland Indians hat and jacket with a Cincinnatti Reds sweater on underneath. I just chalk it up to senility. In his defense, he DID have the coolest mustache I will probably see all day.

12:42: A smattering of boos during Cleveland's starting lineup announcements. There'd probably have been more, but Cleveland has played itself into irrelevancy the last few years. Remember the 90's, when they were usually good? Seems so long ago. Also, I'm still trying to delete my memories of the Bobby Higginson/Damian Easely/Tony Clark Tigers of the same era. Good Lord, did those teams suck.

12:44: "(Screw) you, Jhonny Peralta, your H is in the wrong spot." Paul. I'm nodding vigorously. I just reread that quote, and I know it's spelled correctly, but it still feels like a typo and is bothering the crap out of me.

12:46: Foo Fighters' "No Way Back" just came on the PA. I love Foo Fighters. "The Colour and the Shape" was my first rock album, and it's still one of my favorites of all time. This seems like a good omen.

12:47: Ladies and gentlemen, your 2010 Detroit Tigers! The training staff is introduced first...I'm blaming the lack of applause on the cold. When the strength and conditioning coach is introduced, Paul quips: "They mean steroid administrator." Will steroid jokes in baseball ever get old? I say nay.

Justin Verlander gets the loudest round of applause (oooooooobviously). Also, Fu-Te Ni sounds like the noise a Jawa makes.

12:51: As Jose Valverde is introduced, I find myself hoping that the other night's blown save was just a fluke and not a case of Todd Jones Syndrome caused by his donning a Tigers jersey.

12:52: "Too bad Jim Leyland can't just hit ninth also," I decide as he's introduced. "Yeah," says Paul. "He'd probably finish the season with a higher batting average than Laird and (Adam) Everett. Combined."

12:58: Is the overhead jet flyby SUPPOSED to happen during the singing of the national anthem? I blame Matt Giraud, American Idol Singer Du Jour and apparently a Michigan native, for embellishing notes early in the song. We get it, you were on TV. Quit with the vibrato and just sing already. Now go back to your stupid Idol tour and disappear from the national spotlight in two to six months like you're supposed to.

And shame on the Tigers for having someone who's appeared on American Idol sing the anthem in the first place. Seriously? Smokey Robinson was busy? Kid Rock? Madonna? Anybody? Bueller? Bueller ?

12:59: Tim Allen introduces five servicemen from various branches of the military who throw out the Ceremonial Five Opening Pitches of the season. I'm not sure when they decided more than one was necessary. Also, apparently Tim Allen's performing at Greektown tonight. That's neat, y'know, if you're into that kind of thing. If I went, I'd tell him how much I loved Galaxy Quest. He'd probably get mad at me for being a smart ass and storm off, even though that movie really is amazing. Whatever. Home Improvement sucked anyways.

1:03: Today's game time temperature: 38 degrees. The crowd cheers. Hurray, we're cold? I don't get why everyone's cheering. Again, loathing fans of warm weather teams right now.

1:04: Air Force Master Sergeant Derek Stancle delivers the game ball to the mound. We can't have disabled children do this? I'd probably have cheered louder. Or better yet, let's just skip this and get to the game already. That particular ball's probably just going to get fouled off during the first inning anyways. Too much ceremony (lest we forget the FIVE Ceremonial Opening Pitches). Let's play ball. 

1:06: As he takes his spot in left field as a member of Comerica's home team for the first time, I can't help but notice how much more tan Johnny Damon actually is in person. Yes, I know this is weird. He's just really, REALLY tan, alright? Like "if he hadn't been to spring training I'd assume it was from a spray-on can" tan. And those sideburns... Ahem. Let's just move on.

1:08: And here's the first pitch! Outside for a ball. Porcello might've needed a few more warm up pitches, methinks. Also, Johnny Damon waves to the crowd, prompting the guy with standing room tickets in front of me to yell "PAY ATTENTION, DAMON! MAYBE YOU'LL RAISE THAT .133 AVERAGE!" And yes, Damon was in the field at the time, but it was still funny.

1:12: Laird guns down the runner trying to steal second. Oh, yeah, this is why he's still Detroit's starting catcher. I guess.

1:15: Two quick strikeouts for Porcello to end the first. Hey, this game might be over pretty soon! We might not catch hypothermia today! Alright!

1:18: Bottom of the first, two quick strikeouts against the Tigers, though Magglio just raised his already astronomical batting average. Glad to see the Mags that got off to a slow start last year has vanished.

1:24: Paul and I decide to venture out to the smoking section while it's still early. (Yes, I know I need to quit, so let's just agree on that and move on.) Apparently, though, you can't take beer out to the smoking section, which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. I recommend to Paul that he slam his beer, although I really don't need to twist his arm much when it comes to beer slamming. Also, I think Porcello just got another strikeout from the crowd roar.

1:31: The Michigan State College of Law used to reside where Comerica is today. There's a plaque that says so and everything. I'm not sure why you need to know this, but you do. Also, the Indians just took a 1-0 lead while I wasn't paying attention. Naturally.

1:36: The line for the men's room is giving me flashbacks to the last time I was at Cedar Point. I am missing the game for all sorts of dumb reasons right now. Eh, first time at the ballpark, I'll figure this stuff out eventually, right?

1:38: ...and while I'm STILL standing in line, a guy in a Jack Daniels racing jacket and Tigers cowboy hat just stolen the "Best Mustache of the Day" award from Mr. Sports Bigamist. Think Sam Elliott in "The Big Lebowski."

1:40: Just saw a "Castle 77" jersey...pretty sure that's a Jersey Foul. (Editor's Note: It is. No player named Castle has ever played for the Tigers.) Seriously, if you're going to get a team jersey, never, ever, under ANY circumstances put your own name and fake number on it. It's bad enough saying "we" when referring to your team, don't go about creating alternate universes where you're wearing the jersey of your favorite player who is also you. That way lies madness.

In unrelated news, two guys in tiger costumes just walked out of the bathroom yelling profanities at the top of their lungs. Alcohol may have been a factor in this case.

1:47: Get back to my seat just in time to see Austin Jackson ground out to end the third. I'm not getting up the rest of the game.

1:51: Damon makes back to back catches on fly balls. I know it's only one game into the Johnny Damon Era in Detroit, but the fans seem to be embracing him so far. Even with his woes at the plate, it's like "Eh, it's Johnny Damon, he'll start hitting eventually." Also, Damon, Inge, Cabrera, and the bat boy are the only Tigers personnel wearing long socks I've seen today. I feel like this is important, even though I couldn't begin to explain why.

So between Damon and Austin Jackson, Detroit fans are bound to quickly forget about Curtis Granderson and...uh...that other guy who played OF for the Tigers last year who wasn't Ordonez. See? It's working already!

2:01: Detroit's offense is anemic today. Cabrera drew a walk in the 4th, but that was it. This game's been a real pitching duel, but I still couldn't tell you the name of Cleveland's starting pitcher to save my life. I'm not buying a program, and Cleveland's away uniforms are nearly impossible to read. If he wins this game, I'll look it up. (I hope I don't have to look it up.)

2:06: Luis Valbuena, 2B for the Indians, wears jersey number 1. And while this may just be me, I feel like of all the major pro sports, baseball is the LEAST appropriate to wear #1. Hockey goalies wear #1. Football kickers wear #1. Shoot-first point guards tend to wear #1 (looking at you, Stephon Marbury and Chauncey Billups). But really, there's just no context in baseball where it seems to fit. Also, Luis Valbuena sucks.

2:07: A passed ball by Laird? Really? The guy who's ONLY in the lineup for defense? This is ridiculous. At least get a hit or something. Anything. Anything at all would be better than what you're doing out there. I don't know much about VORP and other sabermetrics, but I would estimate Laird's is at -1,249 right now. Approximately. Ish.

2:12: Somehow Porcello got out of the jam when I wasn't paying attention. Anyways, here's Gerald Laird and his .000 average at bat. FML.

2:14: The 12 year old girl in the seat next to me (heretofore referred to as 12YOG) hollers "They're scared of Laird," to which Paul replies "Maybe when they're batting."

I, for one, doubt that even this is true. Naturally, he hits a ground ball that gets Inge out at second, so he's now on base and STILL doesn't technically have a hit. Of COURSE he would. He's Gerald Laird. I will now douse myself in gasoline and hope that someone's got a book of matches around. 

2:16: Meanwhile, here's Scott Sizemore's first hit. Things got confusing for a minute, since there's a Grady Sizemore that plays for the Indians. Here's how it went down:

12YOG: Yeaaah, Sizemore! He got his first hit! Alright!

Paul: Stupid kids today! Don't even know what players are on their team anymore.

Me: Actually, there's a Tigers rookie named Sizemore. He just got his first major league hit. Sooooo... who's the (moron) now?

Paul: ...Johnson, if you want a ride home, you should probably stop talking now.

2:18: For a second there, I thought Adam Everett was going to ground into a double play. Instead, he bloops an infield single to load the bases. Next up: Austin Jackson, bases loaded, one out. This seems promising.

2:21: Austin Jackson! RBI single! Bases still loaded! Curtis who!?

2:23: I was thinking a grand slam for Johnny Damon. Instead, it's a broken bat infield fly. That's kinda like a grand slam, except the exact opposite. Hey, at least it wasn't a double play, the way Damon's been batting early this year.

2:24: And then this happened.  4-2 Tigers.

2:27 : There's a lot of cheering in the section in front of me. Something about Michigan lottery tickets, cameras, and Paws the mascot. I'm not really sure what's up, but it seems exciting. Also, I think I just saw a snowflake. I might just move to Miami and adopt the Marlins. They're basically the Tigers' Quadruple-A farm team, anyways.

2:29 : Porcello gives up a single to start the 6th, which means it's time for Phil Coke and his amazing hair/goatee combination. I wish I could find a picture of this. All the pictures I found were during his days with the Evil Empire (aka the Yankees), and Steinbrenner doesn't let his players have any fun at all. Except, y'know, curbstomping the rest of MLB. I imagine that's probably good times.

Porcello's final line: 5.0 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 3 SO, 1 HR, 3.6 ERA. (Oh, so THAT'S what happened in the 2nd inning.) Not a shabby day at all. Verlander/Porcello/Scherzer: the next Maddox/Glavine/Smoltz? It seems to be shaping up that way. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

2:35: Yet ANOTHER passed ball by Laird. I am now firmly convinced Alex Avila should start the remaining 159 games of the season at catcher. I know his bat's better, and apparently his D can't be any worse either. Also, I think I threw up in my mouth a little bit, though that may have just been the hot chocolate I slammed in my sweet Tigers collectible mug.

2:41: Brandon Inge slaps a double, putting runners on 2nd and 3rd for...well...I'm tired of typing his name, so let's just say "my least favorite Tiger." Naturally, he grounds out. Gotta keep the .000 average alive!

2:45: Adam Everett is hitting .429 to start the season? Really? THAT Adam Everett? The shortstop version of "my least favorite Tiger?" Well, isn't that something.

2:49: Approximately 78 foul balls later, Everett flies out. I knew .429 was too good to be true.

2:53: Last call?! I'm not drinking today, and I'm still outraged. It's not even CLOSE to 2 am yet. Apparently no beer sales after the 7th inning, Paul informs me. Good to know. Meanwhile, Phil Coke has walked two straight batters, and my fingers have turned blue. OPENING DAY IN THE D! Gotta love it.

3:00: ...and Zumaya gets the Tigers out of a jam with a fly ball and inning ending DP. He and his 98 MPH fastball seems to be at full strength. Let's enjoy it while it lasts for these next two or three weeks.

3:04: "Walk it by yourself?" Some song called "Cupid Shuffle?" I've never before heard this travesty against all that's good with music. They play this crap at baseball games? Really? Stick to the organ, please, Comerica Park. I'm begging you.

3:06: I still have no idea who Cleveland's starting pitcher or leftfielder are. This is espcially annoying because we're sitting BEHIND LEFTFIELD. Cleveland's away unis are an indecipherable mess. PUT SOME CONTRAST ON THOSE THINGS!!!

3:12: Mags is on fire.

3:15: The sun just popped out, which leads to what has been the loudest cheer I've heard all day. This pretty much amounted to "Yeah, the Tigers are cool and all, but we're going to put our rally caps on so the sun stays out!" Or something.

3:18: The synopsis of this summer's "Major League 4:" The Sizemore twins' teams are in an epic pennant race all year, with a climactic fistfight in a blimp over Comerica.
And I know the Indians were the featured team in the first two movies, but I'm pretty sure Grady Sizemore is the evil villain.

No, this isn't a real movie, and I don't think the Sizemores on these two teams are even related. Shame on you if you thought otherwise.

3:19: Don Kelly came into left field as a defensive replacement for Damon in the top of the 8th. His net defensive contribution was to pick up a plastic bag rolling across the field. Don Kelly: great environmentalist, not much of a left fielder. At least not today.

3:24: Zumaya got himself into another spot of trouble here in the 8th, letting a runner get to third...then promptly goes 1-2-3 to end the inning. And here I thought this would be the season the Tigers' bullpen didn't induce any heart attacks. They should put a warning up for elderly fans whenever Detroit's starter gets pulled. "ATTENTION SENIOR CITIZENS: PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR TELEVISION SETS, AS OUR BULLPEN HAS BEEN SHAKY FOR THE LAST TWENTY YEARS AND WE WANT YOU TO STILL BE AROUND THIS OCTOBER. THANK YOU."

3:31: 1-2-3 inning for the Indians in the bottom of the 8th. The fans don't even boo, as we've all turned into popsicles and just want this game over with. OPENING DAY IN THE D!

3:32: Valverde is in to close, trying to avenge his blown save from two nights ago. Is it just me, or does his pitch delivery look weird? It seems old school, like pitchers from the 60's. He gets Jhonny Peralta to go down swinging. One out. I want to be in a warm car soon, Jose. Don't let me down.

3:39: Austin Kearns has what feels like the longest at bat of the game before he smacks one past Everett and reaches first. Game ending double play. One time, Mr. Valverde. I'm begging you. Please.

3:41: I wanted it to happen, and then it did!  5-2 Tigers, final. Now to a warm car and MC Chris' "Part Six." It's got new Star Wars bounty hunter songs on it. Check it out. Adieu!

(Also, sincerest apologies to Bill Simmons for totally ripping off his style. It's mitigated by the fact that he'd never have done a running diary of this game, though. I think.)


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.