When the Detroit Pistons selected Cade Cunningham with the No. 1 overall pick in Thursday’s NBA draft, the Detroit Tigers showed their support with a “Welcome to Detroit” message on the scoreboard at Comerica Park.
Less than two weeks after Cunningham visited the ballpark ahead of his July 20 workout with the Pistons at the team’s performance center, the 19-year-old Oklahoma State standout returned Friday to throw the first pitch before the Tigers faced the Baltimore Orioles.
Cunningham’s future is clearly on the hardwood, rather than the mound — his pitch was more of a soft overhand lob, crossing home more than 6 feet above the plate — but he got the ball to the plate, delivering it to the city’s most recent No. 1 overall pick to make the majors: Casey Mize, who started Thursday night for the Tigers.
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Cunningham waved to the crowd from the mound, and took a moment to soak in the cheers; the 18-year-old has shown some enthusiasm for Detroit already.
“It’s a city that has a lot of things going on and I feel like getting the sports team rolling again would be huge for the city,” Cunningham said July 23 in a pre-draft media availability. “Detroit fits me, that’s the main thing I’m going to try to do is step in and embody the swag that people from Detroit walk with, the people from Michigan in general.
“They have an underdog, go-get-what-you-want feel to them and I like that about the city. If I am able to go in there and be the number one pick, I’m going to try to carry that same swag in how I walk on the court and make the most out of it and wear the red, white and blue for sure.”
The Pistons made four draft picks Thursday: Cunningham (No. 1 overall) in the first round, followed by three second-rounders: Michigan forward Isaiah Livers (No. 42), Iowa center Luke Garza (No. 52) and Florida State center Balsa Koprivica (No. 57). All three second-rounders were in attendance for Cunningham’s first pitch.
Cunningham averaged 20.1 points per game, 6.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.6 steals in 27 games for the Cowboys last season. He earned Big 12 Player of the Year honors, shooting 43.8% from the field and 40% from 3-point range.
Like the Tigers, the Pistons are building back up.
The Pistons haven’t won a playoff game since the 2008 Eastern Conference finals, while the Tigers are winless in the postseason since their 2013 American League Championship Series against the Boston Red Sox. The Tigers last made the postseason in 2014, but they were swept by the Orioles in the ALDS. Likewise, the Pistons have made the playoffs three times since their last postseason win: 2009, 2016 and 2019.
And like the Pistons on Thursday, the Tigers reloaded with No. 1 picks, selecting Auburn right-hander Casey Mize and Arizona State slugger Spencer Torkelson with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 and 2020 drafts, respectively. The Tigers’ rebuild even has an NBA tie: Rookie right-hander Matt Manning, who is scheduled to start Saturday’s game and was on the field for the pre-gamer ceremony Friday night, played basketball as a teen and is the son of a former NBA player.
One night after the Tigers had a 1-1 on the mound and in the minors — Mize pitched seven innings of one-run ball in a 6-2 win over the Orioles and Torkelson posted a three-hit performance for Double-A Erie) — Cunningham received a warm welcome to Detroit by throwing out the first pitch at Comerica Park.
He is next up in the growing list of up-and-comers around town.
Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.