New Tigers president Scott Harris shows off new wall, to go with the new-look roster

Detroit News

Detroit — When the Tigers hit a wall, at least literally, it’s not going to sting as bad.

New Tigers president Scott Harris gave a walking tour of the new fences in the outfield at Comerica Park, with new dimensions in center field, shorter fences in right-center and right field, and new, safety-first padding. The wall hadn’t been completed as of last week, but was finished in time for Thursday’s home opener.

The outfield fences, which long have been criticized by media and fans, were a top priority shortly after Harris took over as team president last fall. His first exit interviews with players convinced him it was time for a change.

“We made a commitment to elevating the player and fan experience. I think this project achieves both,” said Harris, dressed in a dark-blue suit with a skinny dark-blue tie to match.

“I’m really proud of all the work that went into it from a lot of people.”

The major changes in the outfield are as follows:

∎ The center-field wall was moved in, to 412 feet from 422 feet, and lowered to 7 feet, from 8.5 feet.

∎ The right-center field wall home-run line was lowered, to 7 feet from 13 feet.

∎ The right-field wall was lowered, to 7 feet from 8.5 feet.

∎ The entire foundation of the outfield wall was rebuilt, with new, softer padding.

Pictures of the not-yet-finished wall on social media last week drew mostly jeers from fans, but the finished product looks much better. The gap in right field was filled in with planters. There’s nothing filling the gap between the old center-field wall and the new one, but it’s hard to see the gap from most viewing areas in the ballpark. The gap allows for some more camera stations, including at the center field-right center crease.

The new outfield dimensions and wall sizes should lead to more home runs, as well as more outfielders robbing home runs. Both are exciting outcomes.

The Tigers also installed new LED .lighting throughout the ballpark, and upgraded their concession offerings, including bringing in many local restaurants.

“Hopefully,” said Harris, “that elevates the fan experience, too.”

With the lowering of the right-center field wall, gone is the old out-of-town scoreboard, long a staple in ballparks — though less important these days, with most fans so attached to their cell phones. Another change: the home and visiting bullpens in left field were tweaked slightly, allowing for better viewing for the players.

The wall in right-center also includes a tribute to Miguel Cabrera, playing the final season of his Hall-of-Fame career. It reads, “Gracias, Miggy!”

Harris credited several members of the organization for overseeing the wall project, including Sam Menzin, assistant general manager; Chris Lawrence, vice president of ballpark operations at Comerica Park; and Ryan Gustafson, recently promoted to chief operating officer of Ilitch Sports & Entertainment.

There are changes out of public view, too — most notably, the Tigers’ home clubhouse also was renovated, based off player feedback.

These are the biggest changes to Comerica Park since before the start of the 2005 season, when the bullpens were moved from right field to left field. Before the 2003 season, the left-field walls were moved in. When Comerica Park opened in 2000, some critics labeled it “Comerica National Park” for its deep dimensions. Juan Gonzalez, a star slugger acquired before the 2000 season, famously called it a “horse-bleep ballpark.”

These also are the first major changes since Tigers CEO Christopher Ilitch pledged to bring “next-level” upgrades to Comerica Park in 2018.

“From ownership on down, we’re committed to giving our players every resource they need to perform on the field. We’ve talked about it all offseason,” Harris said. “I think this project demonstrates how serious we are in elevating that players’ experience.

“We feel like we did a lot in a short period of time, but we’re going to continue to address things as they come up and make sure our players have every resource they need to perform.”

The 2023 Tigers are off to a 2-4 start — they were swept in three games at Tampa Bay, before winning two of three against the defending World Series-champion Houston Astros.

That sign of life at least gave the fans a little energy heading into Opening Day, which will be a sellout, even as the Tigers are widely expected to log a seventh consecutive losing season.

“Our players and our staff are eager to get better, everybody’s hungry to get better in this organization, everybody is excited about rewriting the narrative of this organization,” said Harris, speaking to reporters in front of the Tigers’ dugout, in a mostly empty Comerica Park, two hours before fans were allowed in. “We’ve got a lot of work to do, and I’m really excited about the group that we’ve got in the clubhouse, really excited about what they can do.”

Harris and Co. got a glimpse of the bad in Tampa Bay, and the good in Houston.

Now, the team is finally back in town.

It’s Harris’ first Opening Day in Detroit.

“It was like an obstacle course driving in this morning,” Harris, who came to the Tigers after serving as general manager of the San Francisco Giants, said with a boyish smile. “It’s really exciting, you can feel the energy.

“It’s the same energy I felt when I came here to interview, but to a heightened degree.

“Can’t wait to see this place packed and see all the energy.”

Twitter: @tonypaul1984

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