DETROIT – Steve Rogers remembered the first time he walked into Comerica Park.
“I actually had the opportunity of doing the site inspection before the first opening day here,” said the five-time All-Star pitcher, who retired in 1985 and now works for the players’ union.
“I came in in April and it was really cold. As I walked from the cab underneath and looked out, I said, ‘Oh, my arm is starting to feel better.’ “
Comerica Park, the site of Tuesday’s All-Star game, bucked the bandbox trend when it opened in 2000.
Tiger Stadium, about two miles away, had the third-highest home run average in the majors in 1999 at 2.9 per game, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Comerica was the toughest in the majors the following year, averaging just 1.69.
Even though the Tigers moved in the left-field wall 25 feet two years ago, Comerica and its vast power alleys and fountains beyond the fences had a familiar feel for Hall of Famer George Brett, manager of the U.S. team in Sunday’s Futures Game.
“I’m not a member of the 500-home run club,” he said, “but maybe if I played in a park like Camden Yards or Wrigley Field or Coors Field or some of the newer, smaller ones, maybe I would be.”
Thirteen or more runs have been scored in three straight All-Star games for the first time, but that streak could come to an end.
Because the Tigers haven’t made the playoffs since 1987, tonight’s Home Run Derby and Tuesday night’s game are the first big national events for Comerica. The All-Star game has not been in Detroit since 1971, when Reggie Jackson’s drive off a Tiger Stadium light tower was among six home runs hit by future Hall of Famers.
Chicago’s Mark Buehrle (10-3, 2.58 ERA) appears to be the likely starting pitcher for the A.L., with Chris Carpenter of St. Louis (13-4, 2.51), Roger Clemens (7-3, 1.48) of Houston and Dontrelle Willis of Florida (13-4, 2.39) among the N.L. possibilities.
“It’s almost like a playoff game,” Buehrle said. “If you’re pitching in an All-Star game and have the chance to start, I think there’s going to be a lot more nerves going. You’re going to face the best hitters.”
With wide concourses, a view of downtown, 40,120 seats, a 50-foot Ferris wheel with 12 baseball-shaped cars and a carousel with 30 hand-painted tigers and two chariots, Comerica has far more amenities than Tiger Stadium, which opened in 1912.
While the statues of former stars Willie Horton, Ty Cobb, Hank Greenberg, Charlie Gehringer, Hal Newhouser and Al Kaline provide inviting (but thus far unreachable) targets high beyond the wall in left-center, the upper deck is far back from the field and it lacks the coziness of its predecessor, where fans in the first few rows of the upper deck could hear conversations on the field.
Still, Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda, hanging out at the batting cage, approved of the Tigers’ $300 million playpen.
“The majority of the parks are good, except maybe one or two where the ball really travels,” he said. “These ballparks are just absolutely beautiful. You only wish we could have had the opportunity to play them. They’re great.”
There was one home run hit in the Futures Game, by Seattle outfield prospect Shin-Soo Choo, a South Korean. Kansas City first baseman Justin Huber, born in Australia, was selected the MVP after hitting a two-run double in the World team’s 4-0 win over the United States.