The Tigers have new dimensions and new LED lights for 2023, the ballpark’s first major alterations in years.
Detroit — The walls are closing in on the Tigers.
For the first time since the start of the 2003 season, the Tigers have modified dimensions at Comerica Park — and the new walls appear ready for the home opener, on Thursday. Well, almost anyway.
The Tigers welcomed media from across the region Friday to taste the new eats that will be offered at the ballpark this season, but one of the hotter topics was the outfield renovation. Just last week, the new walls hadn’t been installed, but they were mostly up by midday Friday.
“There are a lot of hard hats running around in Detroit,” new Tigers president Scott Harris said earlier this week, before the season opener against the Tampa Bay Rays.
The center-field wall is moving in 10 feet, from 422 feet to 412 feet. There’s a new fence constructed around the 412 mark, with a gap between the new fence and the old fence, which is at the base of the shrubbery and the center-field camera well. The new fence is 7 feet tall, down from 8.5 feet.
In right-center field, the high wall remains, but a new yellow line has been installed to signal a home run at 7 feet, down from 13 feet. The old out-of-town scoreboard seems to be a casualty of the renovations.
The right-field wall also was lowered to 7 feet, from 8.5 feet. Padding for the right-field wall wasn’t up Friday.
The entire outfield wall was rebuilt using new padding designed to improve player safety. The shorter dimensions were a result of player, fan and front-office input. Comerica Park has had some of the bigger dimensions in Major League Baseball since it opened in 2000. Before the 2003 season, the left-field fences were moved in.
It’s not the most seamless alteration to the ballpark. There now is a big, awkward gap behind the fences at the crease where the center field wall meets the right-center field cut-out.
The new walls, plus the installation of the state-of-the-art LED lighting (in a year when the Tigers, oddly, also moved their weeknight game times to 6:40 from 7:10), as well as a major home clubhouse renovation, are some of the first upgrades to Comerica Park since CEO Christopher Ilitch pledged in 2018 that he was planning “next-level” upgrades.
Harris said earlier this week that the upgrades might not stop here.
“I’m also excited to be responsive to further changes they might need to get the very best out of them,” he said of the Tigers players. “We want Detroit to be a place where players want to come play and a place they want to stay and play for a long time.”
What else is new?
∎ The Tigers installed 472 LED lights to their 16 towers, the first upgrade to the ballpark’s lighting system since the ballpark opened. The lights were brought in by helicopter this offseason, and the benefits, as touted by the team, are: better-looking TV broadcast, energy conservation, fan-hype opportunities and player benefits, with the new lights leading to less glare, particularly for the outfielders.
“We’re trying to do what’s right,” said Chris Lawrence, vice president of ballpark operations for the Tigers, “for the players and the fans.”
The Tigers have been testing the new lights since they were installed in February.
∎ With the Tigers’ new start times, they will play just one 7:10 p.m. home game this season, Saturday, June 24, for the Fox broadcast of the Twins game. That means, with games speeding up because of the new pitch clock, there will be plenty of times fans will be exiting the ballpark before the sun sets. But the Tigers still plan nine fireworks shows, mostly on Friday nights, as part of their “Party in the Park” series, which also includes live music.
∎ The Tigers are introducing “313 Value Games” for Tuesday home games, offering $19 lower-level tickets, as well as $3 bottled water and fountain soda, $3 hot dogs and $1 chips. The Tigers also are bringing back the “Sunday Value Deal,” with packages starting at $99 for four tickets, four hot dogs and four fountain drinks.
∎ The 2023 season will be a year-long celebration of Miguel Cabrera, who is playing the final season of his Hall-of-Fame career. The Tigers have two Cabrera giveaways planned, a t-shirt (April 29) and bobblehead (June 10). Most Tigers giveaways will be on Saturdays, with the first 15,000 fans receiving them.
∎ There’s a whole lot of new offerings on the Comerica Park menu, including from several local favorites like Green Dot Stables, Taqueria El Ray, Bert’s Marketplace, Breadless, The Lobster Pitstop, National Coney Island and others. Colleague Melody Baetens taste-tested several dishes Friday, and reviewed them HERE (link to her story).
∎ On the personnel side of things, Ilitch Sports & Entertainment has promoted Ryan Gustafson to executive vice president and chief operating officer. He replaces Chris McGowan, who was on the job for 15 months.
What’s old … and new?
The Tigers confirmed that the seventh inning will remain last call for alcohol purchases at Comerica Park.
Why is that significant?
With the new pitch clock — pitchers have 15 seconds to throw the ball with nobody on base, 20 seconds with a runner on base — games are expected to be significantly shorter this season, so the seventh inning is likely to approach much quicker on many nights in 2023.
The Tigers’ opener against the Rays on Thursday afternoon took just 2 hours, 14 minutes. The seventh inning arrived a little more than an hour after first pitch. Opening Day games were down an average of 26 minutes from 2022.
The pitch clock is one of several new tweaks to MLB this year, including the elimination of the defensive shift — two infielders must be on each side of second base — and the introduction of large bases, for safety purposes.
Tigers/Red Wings beanie (April 8), Jackie Robinson hat (April 15), Miguel Cabrera t-shirt (April 29), Tigers pink quarter-zip (May 12), Javy Baez sunglasses (May 13), Riley Greene floppy hat (May 27), Miguel Cabrera bobblehead (June 10), short-sleeve hoodie (June 24), grilling apron (July 4), Rilley Green bobblehead (July 8), “Turkey” Stearnes replica Detroit Stars road jersey (July 22), ¡Fiesta Tigres! jersey (Aug. 5), Black Panther bobblehead (Aug. 26), MLB Network hat (Sept. 9), print all over shirt (Sept. 30).
Jackie Robinson Day (April 15), ’90s Night (April 28), Pink Out the Park (May 12), Star Wars Day (May 13), Polish American Night (May 26), Kids Club Day (May 27), WWE Night (June 9), On-field clinic (June 10), Law Enforcement Night (June 12), Pride Night (June 13), Prostate Cancer Awareness Day (June 20), WMU Night (June 23), Negro Leagues Weekend (July 21-23), EMU Night (July 25), Yoga Day (July 27), CMU Night (Aug. 4), ¡Fiesta Tigres! (Aug. 5), Marvel Super Hero Night (Aug. 26), Little League Day (Aug. 27), Irish Heritage Night (Sept. 8), Pediatric Cancer Awareness Day (Sept. 10), First Responders Night (Sept. 12), UM Night (Sept. 29)