Detroit — Major League Baseball can make the batter get ready to hit within eight seconds. And it can make the pitcher throw the ball within 15 to 20 seconds.
But the one thing the baseball brass couldn’t do Thursday was put a time limit on the rollicking festival that occurs when a baseball team plays its first game of the season at home.
Especially not in Detroit, where fans have celebrated the springtime return of the Tigers during three different centuries.
Opening Day 2023 was more of the same Thursday as fans took their sweet old time welcoming back their favorite baseball team on a sunny but cool day.
“I love the atmosphere. There’s nothing like it,” said Krissi Ford of Sterling Heights. “It’s baseball and the Tigers. What could be better?”
Baseball executives somehow got it into their heads that the way to spur interest in the sport was to make games quicker this year. Time limits on pitchers and batters have already shortened games by a half hour.
But there is baseball, and there is Opening Day.
From the swells at the Detroit Athletic Club to the hoi polloi at Grand Circus Park, fans moved Thursday at a languid pace before the game. Some staked out parking lots for their slow barbecues.
Clumps of people ambled outside Comerica Park. Ambled because what was the hurry? The game wouldn’t start for another four hours.
During the game, spectators said they didn’t mind that the faster pace would cause them to miss chunks of the action when they went to the restroom or concession stands. In truth, some didn’t seem to be watching the game at all.
In a season that lasts 162 games, there will be plenty of time to worry about wins and losses, they said. On Opening Day, the faithful are celebrating new beginnings, the return of spring, the chance to be outside after months of hibernating.
“This is my favorite time of the year,” said Leigh Turner of Grand Haven. “It’s spring, it’s baseball season.”
For the record, the game Thursday lasted two hours and 32 minutes. The Tigers lost to the Red Sox 6-3.
Capturing new, old memories
Here are some snapshots of a half-harried, half-leisurely day.
Katie and Mike Cogley share a love, Tiger style. They first bonded over their support of the baseball team and, when they got hitched in 2019, they did so at Comerica Park.
They returned to the ballpark Thursday with an extra guest, Lucas, their 11-month-old son. This isn’t even his first game, which was last year when he was four months old.
Katie said it was important to bring her son, bundled in a bright orange hat, because the Tigers are an essential part of family history.
“It’s just important for us to come down here and show him what the Tigers are about,” she said.
You never know which season will be the magical one when the team reclaims a championship so the parents want to make sure Lucas will be here for all of them. When the World Series does return, the family will be there in triplicate.
While the Cogleys were plus-one on Thursday, the Poiriers of Clyde were missing somebody. They’ve been coming to the big game for 20 years, but family patriarch Mike passed away in 2021.
The clan gathered at their usual tailgating spot across from the stadium. Mike’s son, Casey, was decked out head to toe in a homemade Tigers suit.
“My dad brought us down here one time and said he wanted to do it. So we did it,” Casey said.
Crew stages a comeback
Tigers Crew, assemble. A group of friends who gave themselves that moniker have been attending Opening Day for a decade dressed in Tigers onesies.
One of the onesies wearers, Carolina Fuentes, 40, of Westland, said it was a blessed relief to return to the baseball spectacle after three years of the interminable COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is kind of like the comeback of the Tigers Crew,” said Fuentes. “It doesn’t matter where your life takes you. If you’re from Michigan, on Detroit Tigers Opening Day you are here.”
It is such a festive experience that the state should declare it a state holiday, she said.
The first customer at Bookies Bar and Grille arrived at 7 a.m., six hours before the game. The early bird, Justin Powman, said he was waiting for friends as they continued a two-decade tradition.
He referred to all the hoopla surrounding the game as a carnival.
“It’s a good experience,” Powman said. “We sort of kept the flame burning a little bit when it comes to showing up here for the Tigers, good or bad or inbetween.”
Bookies said Opening Day is its busiest day of the year. Owner Jay Lambrecht said the weather was perfect, but, then again, he’s easy to please.
“We’re not having a blizzard,” he said.
It was a little cool Thursday but Lambrecht said he has seen far less hospitable climes for the first game.
Time to suit up
Tony Dombrowski had long heard about how the home opener was the biggest party of the year but never got to experience it until last year. He made it two in a row Thursday.
For the big day, he wore a full Detroit Tigers suit.
“I wanted to take in the atmosphere,” said Dombrowski, 24, of Roseville. “I can safely say it’s a big part of the year in Detroit.”
Away from the ballpark, in the heart of Greektown, the bass was thumping at the Firebird Tavern and Old Shillelagh.
In a nearby parking lot, Rodney Craig of Sterling Heights was tailgating and trying to stay warm with a group of friends from Oakland and Macomb counties.
“It’s one big party,” Craig said. “If you’ve never been downtown on Opening Day, you just don’t know.”
The group planned to make an entire day of it with plans to hit a Detroit casino after the loss and then stay in the city for the night.
The future of the Tiger faithful was represented by Boone Lossing, 5, of Algonac.
He was visiting the Gameday Detroit sports apparel shop, drawing compliments for his shiny Tigers jacket and hat. This was his second Opening Day.
Boone has some catching up to do. His brother, Jackson, has attended eight home openers despite being just 11 years old.
“I like watching the game, watching the players come out onto the field,” he said.