Monday, July 28, 2014

Stadium #4: Comerica Park, Detroit, MI

From accidental $80 first class plane tickets there and truly incredible museums to a wonderful day at the ballpark we thoroughly enjoyed our baseball stop in the Motor City!

During the last off season we got ourselves through the long winter by poring over the schedules and figuring out which stadiums to visit this season. We knew we'd do Wrigley and the Texas teams but also wanted to go on a trip to knock out at least two more. I looked at maps and realized that Detroit, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh are all relatively close to each other and could be done in three days. I consulted the schedules and found a weekend they were all at home and it was a three day holiday weekend so we could take less days off of work. Perfect! So we had the idea of making a long weekend of it and flying one way to Detroit, renting a car, and driving to the other rust belt cities. I casually looked at flights and they were kind of pricey but it was only February so we had plenty of time to save and/or wait for a sale. Enter our buddy I. I always knows about crazy deals and somehow is always hip to when airlines have price errors (or are they on-purpose publicity stunts?). He got $100 tickets to Hawaii with his wife and I'll be forever jealous. So as we were already mentally planning this trip I saw I post on Facebook that there was a price error on Houston to Detroit flights. I jumped on it immediately and sure enough he was right. We managed to book one way flights to Detroit for $80...first class!  So on Thursday, July 3rd we boarded our flight for our cheap cheap cheap first class ride up to the Motor City and to begin a three stadium tour.

an $80 first class selfie was required

snacks, Bloody Mary, and the NYT crossword is a great way to start a day.
When you're little there are two kinds of parents: the "cool" ones who let the kids control the radio station in the car and the "ugh, Mom!" parents that only listen to oldies in the car and don't let you listen to the current stuff.  I had parents in the latter category.  Of course as an adult I look back and realize that my parents were the cool ones.  The oldies were the soundtrack to my childhood and specifically Motown.  So when I saw the entry for The Motown Museum in my 36 Hours book I knew that we had to go.  Cam obviously wasn't as jazzed about it as me but there was no way we weren't going.  We were arriving in Detroit in the afternoon on July 3rd and they were closed on the 4th so we had to go straight from the airport and I'm so glad we did!
Something that really struck me at the museum was the story about how Berry Gordy got funding to start his record label.  His parents owned a grocery store and various businesses and raised their kids to be very entrepreneurial.  Every member of the family, spouses included, had to contribute $100 a month to their family co-op.  If any family member wanted to start a business they had to submit a business plan to the rest of the family and they could approve or reject.  Berry originally asked the family trust for $1,000 but was rejected but the family agreed to give him $800 to start Motown.  He had to pay the loan back within a year with 6% interest and of course he did.

We couldn't take any pictures inside the house/museum but it was incredible!  If you like Motown and you ever find yourself in Detroit I highly recommend this museum.  Our tour guide was a young kid who was so knowledgeable and fun.  They had Michael Jackson's sequin glove and hat!  Diana Ross and the Supremes dresses, jewelry, and wigs! So many fun mementos.  They had a vending machine from the 60s and it was pretty neat.  Apparently no one was allowed to move the position of the Baby Ruths because that was Stevie Wonder's favorite candy and he knew which position it was in.  The tour ended in the famed Studio A where so many Motown hits were recorded.  We all sang "My Girl" and it was so much silly fun.

After our trip into music history we headed to the Inn on Ferry Street.  This was another 36 Hours find and I'm so glad we stayed there!  It's a bed and breakfast that is housed in 5 Victorian mansions in a row on Ferry Street.  The breakfast was incredible, the room was comfy, and the best part is they had a 24 hour shuttle that would take you anywhere within 5 miles.  It made getting to and from the ballgame so easy and safe!
People have this picture in their head of Detroit and I guarantee you it's not restored Victorian mansions and tree-lined streets!

This was the house that our room was in and it was gorgeous!

When I told people that we were headed to Detroit this summer I was met with one of two reactions: "Detroit?! Why?" or "I've read that they're really starting to pick themselves up."  We found that both reactions were appropriate. The Motor City was a unique place for us coming from Texas. Texas as a whole and Houston specifically have been largely insulated from the Great Recession. We're fortunate. Whenever I visit a place that hasn't been so lucky it makes me appreciate the Bayou City a little bit more. 

Two things about Detroit really stuck out for us: it was kind of empty. We did a lot of walking around and exploring and in other cities you'd encounter tons of other people we definitely noticed a lack of people. For instance we walked by a deserted public park on July 4th. In Houston that park would've been full of families having BBQs. The second thing that stuck out was that the people we did meet and encounter were fiercely loyal to and passionate about their city in a way you rarely see. Seriously everyone was impossibly friendly, ready with a restaurant or bar recommendation, and eager to tell us all about efforts the city is making in order to right the ship. It was really inspiring.

After we checked into the Inn we headed for downtown Detroit to get a bite to eat and have a few beers.  The game wasn't until July 4th so we had the night to check out the city.  This was where we first noticed the emptiness.  We strolled around downtown and went into a bar, The Grand Trunk Pub. The building dates to the 1870s and was used as a railroad ticketing office starting in 1910.  It's been a bar since 1935!  It was our first glimpse of the amazing Detroit architecture that marked the last century.  It's easy to rag on Detroit but there are so many things worth preserving there.  And yes this was only a bar but it felt like we were stepping back in time.
"We are here because we believe in Detroit's future."  I loved this sentiment.

After enjoying some sandwiches and some Michigan beers that we had never tried or heard of we headed out for an evening stroll.  We walked across the street and went into the Guardian Building, a great example of Art Deco architecture.  It was one of the most beautiful and unique buildings I've ever been in!

Even though that little gate was ajar Cameron definitely got yelled at by security when he walked through.  

How amazing is this!?

Cam was so excited that we were so close to Canada so we walked up to the river and sure enough, there was Canada!  Well, more accurately, Cam thought it was neat that we were actually looking south to Canada.
Oh, Canada!

After seeing the shores of Canada we walked back towards the stadium.  Because there was a game going on it was pretty empty on the streets.  We took the opportunity and went into this beautiful ivy-covered bar a few blocks from the stadium.

I don't remember the name but it was really fun.  When we got there we were two of four people in the whole place.  As soon as the game let out it was packed to the brim.  Craig and Mike, two drunken Tigers fans reveling in the evening's win chatted us up for a while.  They couldn't stop talking about how much they love their city and it was very inspiring and refreshing.  You don't see that in news reports about Detroit's decline.  They invited us to the next bar but we were pretty tired from travelling and drinking so we headed back to the Inn.

Another museum I discovered in 36 Hours was the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant.  The plant was Henry Ford's first automobile plant.  This was before the assembly line revolutionized automobile making.  This plant still produced more than all of his competitors.  It's also the location of his "experimental room" where he met with a few engineers every evening and ultimately developed the Model T and changed the landscape of America.  I think the museum represents a good metaphor for the city as a whole: after Ford left the factory Studebaker took it over.  But it was largely abandoned for decades.  In the 1990s it was marked for tear down and a group of Detroit citizens banded together to buy the factory and create the museum.  It also wasn't a bunch of wealthy investors, just ordinary citizens who didn't want this piece of history to disappear from Detroit.  The museum is not affiliated with the Ford Motor Company at all, either.  It's an independent nonprofit.  It was one of the best museums I've ever been to mainly because of our tour guide, Tom.  He seemed so thrilled that we were even there and wanted to know how we had heard about them.  He said that they were the forgotten museum of Detroit and was so happy we were there.  He is a retired Ford engineer who just genuinely loved teaching us about both the history and the engineering feats so Cam (engineer) and I (history degree) were the perfect audience.  The cars in the museum are provided by wealthy collectors and were so incredible to see!

And now here's a zillion pictures of old cars...

Mrs. Ford and a companion

In addition to dozens of historic Fords they had a whole row of non-Fords to show what the competition was producing

1904 Model C, the first cars produced at the Piquette Plant.  Cost: $850 or $950 if you wanted the extra back seat

an early Dodge model

this is the first car key!
hand crank engine--pistons still work the same way as this old one

This isn't Henry Ford's bicycle but it's from the same time period.  Oldest bike I've ever seen for sure.

The best part of the whole experience was that we got to sit in a Model T!  Everyone on the tour got their turn inside the historic vehicle and Tom was so accommodating and took pictures for everyone on iphones, cameras, whatever.

it was July 4th so they decked the car out in American flags :)

The inside of the Model T.  It was shockingly very comfortable!

Model T engine designed and provided by Dodge Brothers.  Had no idea that early Fords had a lot of components built by the Dodge Brothers.  We learned that both brothers died early and within a few years of each other so it's crazy to think about what they could have accomplished.

1925 Model TT Dump Truck

skis on a truck!

We learned that the first Mayor of Detroit was a Frenchman named Cadillac and that's where the car gets its name

Inside view of the pedals and levers

this is the "secret experimental room" where Ford developed the first Model T, the car for the masses.  

You know that famous quote about how you can get a Model T in any car as long as its black?  Tom made sure to tell us to disseminate that untruth!  The Model T came in many colors and I absolutely loved this beautiful red one!

If you ever see a Ford logo with these "wings" it means that the car was manufactured here at the Piquette Plant. 

Model Ts also came in green!

ca. 1907 Gilbert and Barker Model 8 Curb Pump aka a very early gas pump

One of the first Mustangs.  It was owned by Henry Ford's grandson but is now owned by a man in NYC.  It was only here for a few weeks because the man in NYC loaned it to the museum because a Ford descendant got married at the Factory the weekend before we visited!

1931 Ford Model A Deluxe Roadster. Cost: $475

1932 Ford V-8 Deluxe Fordor--the first V-8
I am not even close to someone who cares much about cars but I absolutely loved this museum.  And Tom, much like everyone else we met in Detroit, was so proud of it and the city in general.  If you ever find yourself in Detroit you should check out this wonderful collection.  

After our tour we headed over to the Corktown neighborhood to eat lunch at Slow's Bar B Q.  Slow's was mentioned in 36 Hours and virtually every blog I found in my preparation for our trip so I knew we had to check it out.  Our buddy S once booed me when I suggested that you could get good bbq outside of Texas.  Well, I'll take the boos because Slow's is the real deal.  They have over 50 taps of craft beer to sweeten the deal.  We sampled a lot of different meats and everything was delicious.  Texas bbq isn't big on sauce--in fact there's a lot of snobbiness about sauce.  The prevailing view is that the bbq should be good enough with out it.  And Slow's was!  But they also had a few homemade sauces ranging from sweet to tangy to spicy that made the experience even better.  Highly recommend!  
brisket, turkey, pulled chicken, garlic sausage, and amazing mac and cheese!

After stuffing ourselves silly with BBQ we headed across the street to the Michigan Central Station which is an abandoned train station in Corktown.  It was built 100 years ago and is sadly just vacant and sad-looking.  A good example of urban decay and abandonment in the Motor City.  

We then walked a bit through the empty neighborhoods to head to the old ruins of Tiger Stadium. From 1912 to 1999 baseball was played in Detroit at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull.  Tigers fans were of course sad when Comerica was built and baseball was no longer played at the Corner.  Efforts to save this baseball landmark, a member of the old guard stadiums, failed and there's very little left now.  Here's a great Grantland article about Tigers faithful who still keep up the grounds.  
I love this.  

the view from home plate

After a full day of sightseeing and enjoying Detroit it was finally time for the Tigers-Rays game that was the reason for our visit!  We headed downtown for our visit to Comerica Park.  Comerica definitely has the best entrance of any stadium we've visited thus far.  It's very impressive.  Gigantic bats, a gigantic tiger, and little tiger heads like gargoyles everywhere.  It's definitely a stadium where you can tell where the front is and where you're "supposed" to go in.  It was massive and impressive and we were off to the races!

our obligatory photo in front of the stadium!

Once we visited the team store for our passport stamps and for Cam to get a baseball (he gets one at every stadium) we took a stroll around the stadium.  

I read in a guide that there was wonderful statutes in centerfield of hall of fame Tigers and they really were some of the most well done sculptures we've seen on these trips.  Sculpted by the artists Julie and Omri R. Amrany they were beautiful:
Hal Newhouser, pitcher who won a pitching triple crown in 1945 

Al Kaline, Hall of Fame right fielder who played all 22 years of his career in Detroit

Hal Newhouser again

Charlie Gehringer, 2B that played 19 seasons with the Tigers

Hammerin' Hank, incredible slugger and one of the few great athletes that Jews can claim!

the most famous Tiger--Ty Cobb

Willie Horton, Tigers player for six seasons.  According to Wikipedia during the 1967 riots in Detroit he stood on a car amid the chaos in his Tigers uniform pleading for peace. 

Finally we took our seats and got ready for the game to start.  But first, since it was July 4th and there's nothing more American than baseball, there was a lot of pageantry.  

asked our neighbors to take our in-our-seats picture and it's a little zoomed in for my tastes but we'll take what we can get

Cam and I were unreasonably impressed with how the Tigers logo was also a screen.  Sometimes the Tiger stripes were rolling through and other times the American flag.  It was really neat.

Tigers everywhere!

Ferris Wheel for the kids

Giant topiary ballplayer

The game itself was a pretty average ballgame but we did see our first ejection!  Evan Longoria hit a homerun for the Rays and then on his next at-bat he got beamed.  The Rays then hit Ian Kinsler but on the replays it definitely just seemed like a wild pitch and not a retaliation.  Regardless, after Kinsler got beamed the umpires started issuing warnings.  Joe Maddon, Rays manager, came out of the dugout to argue and before he was even a few steps out of the dugout he got tossed.  He then argued with the umpire for a good few minutes before leaving the field.  It was weird because we weren't really sure if he'd been tossed because they usually don't let you argue for so long after being ejected.  The Tigers had an explosion of offense the day before and routed the Rays but they lost the game we saw 6 to 3.  Thus ends our streak of every home team winning the game.  You win some you lose some!  It was still a really fun baseball game and July 4th is my favorite holiday so getting to see a game on the holiday was very fun.  
Miggy taking a pitch

these seagulls kept congregating on the field and occasionally a crazy scary noise would blast through the PA to scare them off.  this picture only has a few birds in them but at times there were a lot more!


if a Tiger hits a homerun the eyes of the tigers atop the scoreboard light up but sadly we didn't get to see it

this and the next few pictures show Ian Kinsler on first getting checked by the pitcher...


fans celebrating a later double by Kinsler

Additionally, fireworks are one of my favorite things that exist in the world so any chance to see them is an opportunity I relish.  The fireworks did not disappoint!  It was the perfect way to end a wonderful couple of days in Detroit.

the historic Fox Theater is right across the street from Comerica

finally, Comerica's entrance at night

We had such a fun time in Detroit.  As I said above everyone was just so passionate about their love for this city.  We've all read about the bankruptcy and how they might have to sell their precious works of art, and the water bills.  But what they don't write about is the heart that this city has.  I really hope that Detroit will right the ship and return to some of the glory they held last century.  It's a wonderful city and I encourage you all to go throw some tourism dollars their way and I promise you will not be disappointed!

After the game we headed back, exhausted, to the Inn and got a good night's sleep.  In the morning, Saturday, we woke up and headed towards Ohio.  Stay tuned for the next day of this trip: Cleveland!

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