Starting with the 2021 Detroit Tigers opening game, small crowds will be the norm at Comerica Park for now. This can take some getting used to. The last time the Tigers sold fewer than 10,000 home game tickets was 15 seasons ago.
Detroit Tigers fans eager to attend the Games at Comerica Park after a year of COVID-induced exile in 2021, received good news on March 19.
“The latest epidemic order announced by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services will allow select outdoor entertainment and recreational facilities operated under expanded safety protocols to operate at Comerica Park with a capacity of up to 20 percent, or approximately 8,200 ticket guests. The Tigers have coordinated with public health and medical experts, government officials and Major League Baseball to develop a comprehensive plan that will allow fans to return safely and safely. “
On April 1st, history will be made in Detroit. The expected contingent of 8,200 for the opening day will be the fewest tickets ever sold for a game in Comerica Park. The current record is 8,804. That was set on April 13, 2004. It was rare that the paid attendance at this stadium was less than 10,000. It was the first time in 2002. A dismal team in 2003 led to seven such home games. In 2004 there were three more. The last time the Tigers played a home game with fewer than 10,000 spectators (in a game that allowed fans to enter the baseball field) was in 2006.
May 1, 2006
The Tigers got off to a good start in 2006. Just ask Chris Shelton. Detroit went April 16-9 and ended the month with a flourish. They destroyed the twins in three consecutive games and brought them 9-0, 18-1 and 6-0 victories. Over 23,000 tickets per game were sold in Comerica Park for this weekend series. A Tigers spokesperson reported that the crowd on Friday night and Sunday afternoon comprised over 5,000 walk-up sales each. Without removing the opening day from the equation, the runner-up Tigers averaged just over 22,000 on 10 home dates in April.
Surprisingly, paid participation on May 1 for a home game against the Royals on Monday night was only 9,597. Tiger fans may have had a night off to catch their breath after experiencing sensory overload on the Minnesota series over the weekend. Most likely the Red Wings and Pistons were the main reasons the Tigers lost so much of their audience that night. With Detroit’s hockey and basketball teams both active in the playoffs, the baseball team faded into the background for a moment. Lots of people likely stayed home (or went to their favorite sports bars) and watched these games instead.
At Comerica, the number of participants was bogged down when Jeremy Bonderman pitched a 1-2-3 first inning with a strikeout. It was the fifth start of the season for the 23-year-old from the Tigers. Matt Stairs led the second with a single, but Bonderman knocked out Royals captain Mike Sweeney and got Doug Mientkiewicz to play a 4-6-3 double at the end of the inning. Bonderman was smooth in the third inning. Mark Teahan landed on first baseman Shelton, who made Bondo, who covered the pocket, the throw for the out. The Tigers’ right then knocked out Angel Berroa, putting John Buck in a called third strike. The Royals threatened with two outs in the fourth. Reggie Sanders singled and stole the 300th base of his career. Bonderman walked down the stairs, but again knocked Sweeney out to flee.
Meanwhile, Royals starter Runelvys Hernandez had thrown a goalless ball. The last time he stepped onto the hill in Comerica Park in July 2005, he eliminated the Tigers 5-0. Hernandez also beat three batters in that game, including Carlos Guillen who took a pitch on the helmet. This led to a brawl most remembered for the body slam that Detroit’s Kyle Farnsworth delivered to Kansas City’s Jeremy Affeldt. This time calm and cool heads prevailed throughout the game.
Magglio Ordoñez returned to left field in the first place he saw in fourth. It was his sixth of 24 longballs that season and it broke the 0-0 draw. The two hardest-to-spell royals, Mientkiewicz and Mark Grudzielanek, each scored a single in the fifth and a double in the sixth. Your efforts have been in vain. Bonderman was able to keep the Tigers’ division enemies off the board every frame. He added two more strikes in those two innings. It then took Bondo just nine pitches to get through the side in a 1-2-3 inning that included another strikeout.
When play resumed after the seventh inning stretch, Guillen picked his old nemesis, Hernandez. It looked like he was stranded there when the next two tigers retired. Craig Monroe came through and turned a split home run to the left. It was his sixth of 28 HRs on the team in 2006 and put Detroit 3-0 ahead. The roundtripper was also Monroe’s 10th goal in their last six games, including this one. In this distance he scored six runs and drove in three. C-Mo’s bat had gotten hot and it was a big boost for the Tigers lineup. After that, he modestly diverted the credit. Monroe said:
“We believe we are a good team and much of that is thanks to our manager. It is always prepared, and when the head is prepared it is much easier for the body to be prepared. “
The inning went on. Omar Infante followed Monroe’s Homer with a single, and Royals manager Buddy Bell made a pitching change. The former Tigers skipper called on right-hand Steve Andrade, who made his Major League debut by beating Curtis Granderson to end the inning. Bonderman tossed another 1-2-3 inning into the top of the eighth for another strikeout, his ninth. That was his season high at the time, but in June he made two straight 12 strikeout appearances. The first and third beats swung on the first pitch, so Bonderman only needed six pitches to get through three royals.
Andrade was back on the hill for Kansas City in the bottom half. In his first full inning of big league work, he threw only seven pitches on three good Tigers-hitters. Andrade got Placido Polanco to fly in first place. Ivan Rodriguez was too short and Ordoñez too short. It was a very impressive job on the part of Andrade, who returned the next evening for another goalless inning against the Tigers. After that, he only made two appearances for the Royals. The White Sox and the Indians each roughed it up, and then it disappeared from the majors. Andrades career ERA of 9.40 would have been much worse without his two successful games against the Tigers.
Detroit went 3-0 to the top of ninth place. For the second game in a row, a Tigers starting pitcher had thrown eight scoreless innings. The day before it was the left Kenny Rogers. The young Detroit pitchers, including Justin Verlander and Joel Zumaya, looked up to veteran Rogers. He became known as “The Professor” and Bonderman was a good student in 2006. He did well against Kansas City that Monday night, but his job was done. Jim Leyland wanted him to be closer to scoring the last three outs. The Tigers manager stated:
“There was no way Jeremy would see the middle of this lineup again. That’s why we have Todd Jones. “
With a clean inning, the Tigers would have won for the third time in four games by shutout. This was an accomplishment only two other Detroit teams, the 1903 and 1971 Tigers, achieved. Unfortunately, the 2006 squad would not be added.
Jones made Grudzielanek fly to the right, and then the roller coaster ride began. Sanders tripled the gap in the center right. Stairs that would become a tiger in September drove a single in the Royals’ first run. Polanco put Tony Graffanino’s Grounder on and let the troupe play in second place unaided. There were two downstairs. Mientkiewicz put a single to the right and Graffanino came third. Teahan drove him in with a single. The lead of the Tigers went back to 3-2. In third place, Jones put a Berroa grounder in second place for the game’s final. Two hours and sixteen minutes after the first pitch, the intimate gathering of 9,597 fans in Comerica Park celebrated a 3-2 win for the Tigers. Jones took the fourth of his 37 saves this season. Leyland quipped,
“I was happier when it was 3-0. My pulse went a little faster after that. “
Finished eighth for the first time in the young season, Bonderman scattered four hits and walked only one. Sixty-two of its 94 parking spaces were on strikes. According to the score (82), it turned out that it was his best start in 2006. He took the third of his 14 wins (which was the career high he hit in 2005). Criticizing his own work against the Royals, Bonderman noted:
“I didn’t have a good sinker, but I threw the change well and moved the ball around. As the game progressed, I got better. “
The W was Detroit’s fourth in a winning streak that would hit six. The AL Central-leading White Sox also won that day, leaving the Tigers a game and a half behind. Before the evening at the stadium ended, Leyland gave Jon Paul Morosi of the Detroit Free Press a message to pass on to Tigers fans: “Enjoy the ride”. The ride was already fun, but there was a lot more fun in store. Leyland’s team took first place on May 21, and didn’t let go of division leadership until the last day of the regular season.
After the low turnout on May 1st, there were no small crowds in Comerica Park, especially this year. There were 16 home games later in the regular season that drew over 40,000 apiece. Of course, the seat was full for Detroit’s dramatic postseason run. In 2007, the lowest paid participation in a Tigers home game was 21,263. In 2008, Miguel Cabrera’s first season with the team, it was 30,901. From 2012 to 2017, the lowest paid attendance at Comerica was never below 21,000. Even in the 2019 season, which was so difficult to watch, paid participation in a home game never fell below 11,000. That’ll change in 2021, but at least the baseball stadium won’t be devoid of Tigers fans anymore.
(The visitor numbers are from Baseball-Reference.com.)