Talk to a Michigander about what makes a Tigers home opener special, and the answer is part baseball, part culture and part weather. Dick Medved has been to nearly 50 of them, the most recent long after he left Michigan for warmer climates. He hasn't missed one since 1967.
When the Tigers come back to Comerica Park on Friday, Medved will be coming back north from sunny Florida. He escaped the Midwestern winter a few years ago. He hasn't shaken the start of baseball season.
"It's like a new beginning in life, really, like you're starting all over again," he said. "And it means a lot. It's like a spring awakening of the senses, of the seasons. If you are a fan at all and you love baseball, it gets your heart pumping again. It just makes you feel good. It's a feel-good experience. To start off and be there for the first day, knowing you're a part of it, it's so exciting. I think it is for everybody.
"The magic of smelling those hot dogs and that Italian sausages -- it's so stimulating. It's like a new life. But I think it's basically the start of a new year. That's what they should have for the new year."
Medved went to his first Tigers opener, he said, when he was barely a teenager. His parents would let him take a day off of school, and they had a family friend who could get him into the park. The Tigers were his team, but Ted Williams was his player. When Boston or New York came to town, he'd be at the park, whether school was out or not.
"My teachers always knew," Medved said, "I would tell them."
As he grew older, he spent his summers as a kid playing organized baseball, but he spent April looking forward to the Tigers' season. He spent the mid 1960s in the military, but returned home to find Detroit as a city in need of healing, culminating in the riots in the summer of '67.
"Right after the riots, it meant a lot to see what everybody went through," Medved said. "It was amazing what went on, but in 1968, everybody had healed. It was a great thing to know that was over. I'd have to say that was the No. 1 [opener].
"The start of '68 was terrific, because all the people were back together like family. Of course, that's the year they went to the World Series. It sticks out in your mind because of all the bad things [that had happened the previous summer]. It got your mind away from things. To this day in my life, I'm so glad it changed things. It changed the city. Obviously, it meant a lot."
Medved has been to every opener since. What was once a small group with family and friends during his career at Ford grew into a large party as he made friends over the years at Tigers fantasy camp.
For the past 25 seasons, they've greeted Opening Day with a tailgate party, a tradition they carried over to Comerica Park. It's as much of a reunion as it is a beginning.
"I can't tell you how many times I've seen people that I haven't seen in years," he said. "They go walk by my seats. And I can't tell you how many people you meet and make friends with. I think all the people I know that go, we've established a friendship. It's like a bond."
Those signs of spring aren't always easy to find at the ballpark when the schedule begins. He was in the crowd when Comerica Park opened in 2000 with a layer of overnight snow that had to be removed. He was there when snowflakes fell in '02 and '03.
"The game isn't as important as the event," he said. "It's just something you do because it's the start of something big every year. It's a day to look ahead to summer. It's a fun thing. They're all exciting to me."
That's what keeps him coming back. He'll do it again Friday at age 70.
"If you're like me, it's in your heart, and you're stuck on it," Medved said. "Hopefully, God willing, I'll be there until I croak."