Touching ‘Em All

Posted by Kurt Smith on Thursday, October 31, 2013
Despite my not often paralleled ballpark geekdom, most people are surprised to learn that there are still ten existing major league ballparks that I have not yet visited. Yes, I can tell you all about the tailgating in Milwaukee or the obstructed views in Boston or the game day scene in Wrigleyville, but I still cannot yet share with you how AT&T Park and Safeco Field compare to the best.

Well, Eric Kabakoff can. He’s been visiting different ballparks now for four decades, and he’s seen the character of not just fan bases but local populations across the U.S.

He’s recently written a book about his ballpark experiences, called Rally Caps, Rain Delays and Racing Sausages. Great title, and Kabakoff talks a bit about each ballpark through the book, while sharing his experiences there and some bits about the home team.

Here is an excerpt from Rally Caps about Comerica Park in Detroit. If you’d like to read more excerpts, and learn more about Eric’s book, you can check out the book’s website here. Enjoy!

Detroit Tigers / Comerica Park / 2006

The Tigers had some losing years by the late 1990’s and bottomed out in the early 2000’s, losing an American League record 119 games in 2003. They started to rebuild and hired former Pirates and Marlins manager Jim Leyland to helm the club in 2005. One year later, the fiery team was winning regularly and giving their fans hope again. It was an exciting time when Wendy and I arrived on that Saturday night in August for a game against their division rival Cleveland Indians.

Our seats were just as phenomenal as they’d been the night before in Toledo, about fifteen rows back of home plate on the lower level. I had gotten the tickets from Jay, a colleague in Detroit who also came with his son. I must say, once again, that he’d done a terrific job getting his hands on these. These were perfect seats on a beautiful night in Detroit. Yes, a beautiful night in Detroit. There, I said it. When the sun set and the sky turned a gorgeous shade of blue with a full moon in plain view, the gorgeous scene was far beyond most images commonly associated with the word “Detroit.”

Comerica Park had mostly the usual ballpark food with two notable exceptions. There was their wonderfully appropriate outpost of the Asian Tiger restaurant chain and more than a few outlets of Little Caesars Pizza. The team’s owner, Mike Ilitch, was also the owner of that pizza chain, so its presence there just might have been slightly more than a crazy coincidence. Maybe.

The game itself was a tight one. Kenny Rogers started for the Tigers, which I was not thrilled about since he’d won a World Series ring with the Yankees in 1996 that many felt he had not deserved given his poor play that year. Paul Byrd started for the opposing Cleveland Indians. This was more than a year before the public, or at least the baseball fans segment of the public, learned that he had purchased HGH (Human Growth Hormone) from his dentist. I’m sure that had nothing to do with the fact that he was a baseball pitcher, though.

With the Tigers down by a run in the 9th inning, third baseman Brandon Inge led off with a bunt single. Two outs later and with the tying run on base, the Tigers were down to their last chance and faced the prospect of heading home in defeat. It was then that I noticed many fans were now wearing their hats inside-out. Wendy explained that they were wearing “rally caps.” I didn’t understand why the fans couldn’t just say “Go Tigers” and leave it at that, but witnessing local customs was one of the reasons I wanted to see all the ballparks in the first place. I did not understand it but really didn’t need to. The tradition was not unique to Detroit and periodically showed up in other cities, but Tigers fans are generally given credit for originating the practice back in the 1940’s.

Ivan Rodriguez, a star catcher and possible future Hall of Famer at the time, came to the plate with a chance to win or at least extend the game. Rodriguez’s nickname was “Pudge” even though he had become noticeably slimmer two years earlier just as steroid testing began. Weird. I am not insinuating anything, by the way. I am merely pointing out two probably mutually exclusive occurrences that occurred within close proximity to each other. Anyway, Former Pudge bashed a two-run homer to simultaneously end and win the game for the Tigers and the capacity crowd of 43,000 fans went crazy. The Rally Hats had worked and the Tigers won the game against Cleveland in the most exciting possible way. Well, unless you were an Indians fan.

Tags: ballpark books 
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