Tigers an elixir for city's tough times

Tigers an elixir for city's tough times

DETROIT -- This city has suffered its share of struggles lately. Yet you couldn't tell from the Opening Day atmosphere Monday afternoon at Comerica Park.

A single-game record crowd of 44,934 brought with it enthusiasm and excitement unseen in decades. Therein lies the Tigers' significance to the community.

They have the power to raise spirits. The city needs a jump, and fans think the Tigers can supply it.

Their success could enhance the city's pride, which Monday's spectators deemed necessary.

Onlookers got their money's worth in the Tigers' extra-inning loss to the Royals. Though the game ended on a sour note, a blissful morale should remain. With so much excitement surrounding the 2008 team, the Tigers can be the sunshine that pierces through the dark clouds hovering over Motown.

"Everyone wants to feel better," Tigers fan Camille Waynick said. "If we can win the World Series, that would really raise the city's morale."

Monday's crowd eclipsed the single-game record of 44,297 set in last year's Opening Day. Another attendance record could be in jeopardy, as the Tigers could sell out all 81 home games this season and challenge last year's home attendance of 3,047,124.

"That would be something special," Opening Day starting pitcher Justin Verlander said. "We have the best fans in baseball, in my opinion.

"They should still be excited. It's only Day 1."

The chilly air and early sprinkles didn't stop fans from lining the streets around Comerica three hours before first pitch. Campers and large motor homes were in the surrounding streets earlier than that, their owners using grills to stay warm.

Opening Day is an unofficial holiday in Detroit. Schools and businesses stay open, but neither that nor the weather stops people from attending.

"I don't care if there's a monsoon, I'd be here," one fan said. "Come on. I lied to my professors and said I was sick and skipped school for this."

Around 10:45 a.m. ET, parking lots started filling up and fans poured in through the turnstiles. Most wore Tigers attire, but a majority of those who didn't emerged from the team store with at least one bag.

Clad in Tigers gear or not, most fans collectively wore smiles.

Their cheeks remained pinned back as they discussed Detroit's powerful lineup, the team's next possible Hall of Famers and fun ways to spend Miguel Cabera's new monster contract.

Missing was talk of city economic turmoil, or talk of Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and the legal charges he faces. Fans preferred the charge Cabrera put into his first home run with his new club in the fifth inning.

"I know it sounds dumb, but sports can help," fan Josh Monahan said. "The Red Wings have done it when they won those [Stanley] Cups in [1997 and '98]. Then people got excited to be here. They called it Hockeytown after that, which is funny, because, really, this is a baseball town -- always has been."

On the players' side, center fielder Brandon Inge enjoyed Monday's turnout. Inge has experienced the Tigers' makeover from basement dwellers to title contenders, and he fancies it now, surrounded by seats overflowing with orange and blue.

"Playing in front of a packed house is all you can ask for as a player," Inge said. "The fan support is the best thing about coming to Comerica. That's the atmosphere we want around here."

Manager Jim Leyland echoed Inge. The skipper said during Spring Training he wants people to come; he wants excitement. Proud fans make for a proud city.

"Winning cures a lot of things," Leyland said. "These people, they want to be associated with a winner. And we want to win for them. They deserve it."

Scott McNeish is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.