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Tigers have poignant opener festivities

Tigers have poignant opener festivities

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DETROIT -- For a change, the biggest reception at the Tigers' home opener wasn't for the Tigers.

Friday meant a warm welcome home for a lot of players, from veterans like Brandon Inge and Magglio Ordonez to newcomers Edwin Jackson, Rick Porcello and Ryan Perry. The biggest cheers, however, seemed to come for those who threw the ceremonial first pitches. They weren't area politicians or local celebrities, but autoworkers from each of the Big Three companies based in the area.

It was a reminder of who the Tigers play for.

"My heart aches for these people up here, trying to feed their families," manager Jim Leyland said. "We're getting a check every two weeks. We're certainly glad that we are, but we're aware of the people that aren't right now. You do whatever you can to help. I have family members out of work right now over the recession."

While the atmosphere around Opening Day at Comerica Park was as festive as ever, complete with sunny skies and temperatures moving through the 40s into the low 50s during the day, the festivities were slightly more subdued and much more poignant. It began with moments of silence for Hall of Famer George Kell, who passed away last month, and Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart, who died in a hit-and-run auto accident early Thursday.

The Tigers will honor Kell for the entire season by flying a flag with Kell's initials on the center-field flagpole, just under the American flag. Both flags were lowered Friday during the moment of silence for Adenhart, and remained there for the day.

After a touching national anthem performance by members of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and a military flyover, the crowd was back at its feet when the autoworkers came out to the mound.

Loretta Abiodun represented General Motors, where she has worked for the past 35 years and is currently based at Detroit Hamtramck Assembly Plant. She received a big hug from reliever Nate Robertson.

David Edgar, a 35-year veteran of Chrysler and a sheet metal worker at Warren Stamping Plant, came out in short sleeves despite the chilly breeze. He got a roar from the crowd when he raised his arms.

Pete Reyes, a 22-year veteran at Ford who's currently the chief engineer of the all new Taurus at the company's product development center in Dearborn, Mich., got a big handshake from Curtis Granderson and local favorite Kid Rock.

In the backdrop was the center-field fountain, featuring all three automaker's logos and a message: "The Detroit Tigers support our automakers."

"I think [Tigers owner] Mr. Ilitch did the ultimate [with the fountain]," Leyland said. "There's not much more we can do but give them a good effort, bust our tails for them and show our appreciation. It's tough. There's a lot of things that you just have to handle, however you want to handle them as an individual."

For many fans, Friday was a day to celebrate for a little while.

"It's like starting the year all over again," said Rick Meister of Canton, Mich. "It's a new year of baseball."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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