By George B. Eichorn
Friday is one special day. Opening Day is a big holiday in Detroit. The opener may not be as special in all cities across the nation as it is here. Besides the 42,000 expected to cram into Comerica Park, thousands more will be at downtown eateries and lounges to soak in the atmosphere and catch the game on big-screen TVs.
The high-powered Boston Red Sox provide the opposition at 1:10 p.m. with familiar names like Rick Porcello, David Price and club executive Dave Dombrowski. Friday’s game is the first of a four-game weekend series. Fox Sports Detroit and MLB Network televise the Opener. WXYT-FM 97.1 has the radio account.
American League rookie of the year Michael Fulmer is scheduled to pitch Friday for Detroit. He was lights-out his inaugural season and hopes for great things in 2017. The club finished 86-75 last season and in second-place, eight games behind eventual AL champion Cleveland Indians.
It’s a somewhat sad Opener as the Tigers are honoring deceased owner Mike Ilitch in pre-game ceremonies plus with a giant “Mr. I” cut into the Comerica Park outfield grass. The club was wise to stick with their veterans one more season in hopes of reaching the post-season for the first time since 2014 and perhaps going all the way to the World Series again. It’s been 33 seasons since the Tigers last one a world championship.
Led by pitching ace Justin Verlander and slugger Miguel Cabrera, the Tigers feature a potent lineup. The other starting pitchers are Jordan Zimmerman, Daniel Norris, Matthew Boyd and Fulmer. Everyday players besides Cabrera are 38-year-old designated hitter Victor Martinez, second baseman Ian Kinsler, shortstop Jose Iglesias, third baseman Nicholas Castellanos, left-fielder Justin Upton, center-fielders JaCoby Jones and Andrew Romine, right-fielders J. D. Martinez (on the disabled listed with a right-foot sprain), Mikie Hahtook and Tyler Collins, and catcher James McCann.
The Tigers came north to the opening series in Chicago with a 13-man positional roster that also includes catcher Alex Avilia, back home after one year with the White Sox, and infielders Andrew Romine and Dixon Machado.
The 12-man pitching staff features the five starters mentioned and seven in the bullpen: closer Francisco Rodriguez, Bruce Rondon, Justin Wilson, Alex Wilson, Kyle Ryan, Shane Greene and Anibal Sanchez. It’s the Tigers pen that really must step up if the Tigers hope to contend in the AL Central. Minor-league backups include Blaine Hardy, Angel Nesbitt, Drew VerHagen and Arcenio Lopez. Joe Jimenez is the future closer.
Gone from last season’s team which missed the playoffs on the last day of the season is center-fielder Cameron Maybin whose $9 million contract and injury-prone career were enough for general manager Al Avilia to ship him to the Los Angeles Angels.
Manager Brad Ausmus is well-liked by Tigers brass yet not so much by the fans and sports talk show hosts. He could be on the hot seat should the club struggle. Guys like V-Mart, Zimmerman, Rondon and whoever plays center- and right-field will need to stay healthy and perform well.
Tiger attendance fell a third straight season in 2016 so the team has loaded the schedule with special theme days, promotional giveaways and ticket discounts early in the season. Highlights include Fulmer bobbleheads, April in the D Trapper hats, magnet and wall calendar schedules; Verlander, J.D. Martinez and Kinsler poster; Pink Out the Park ballcaps, Father’s Day socks, Tiger koozies, tote bags, Polish-American Night, college days and the annual Negro League Weekend. Tickets and the full promotional schedule are at: www.tigers.com/tix/or9.
The Tigers have been slated for four national-TV appearances on FOX, two on FS1 and two thus far on ESPN. Fox Sports Detroit has the majority of games with Mario Impemba, Rod Allen or Kirk Gibson mikeside.
Prediction: Tigers go 87-75 yet fail to make playoffs. World Series: Red Sox over Cubs. Reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.