Here's what Detroit Tigers fans can expect when they attend Comerica Park
When the Detroit Tigers heard they would be able to host 8,200 fans at Comerica Park starting on Opening Day, Chris Granger was beyond ecstatic.
As the group president for sports and entertainment at Ilitch Holdings, it’s Granger’s job to ensure your enjoyment when you attend a Tigers game — along with some guy named Miguel Cabrera.
But even Granger knows Opening Day — and especially this Opening Day — mean so much more to baseball fans, Detroit and the state.
“It’s a marquee event on the Detroit sports calendar and it means so much to so many people,” Granger told the Free Press. “We’re excited to play a role in bringing back a bit of normalcy to the world.
“We’re excited to see our fans back and we’re excited to see our events staff back. I mean, it’s been over a year since we’ve been able to work with many of our colleagues. So we’re really looking forward to seeing members of the Detroit Tiger family in Comerica Park once again.”
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After a season without fans because of COVID-19 safety restrictions, the Tigers will be back in front of their faithful supporters at 20% capacity Thursday in Detroit for the first time since Sept. 26, 2019 — more than 18 months, or precisely 553 days. But who’s counting?
Actually, Granger is. It’s sort of his job. Counting, checking and double-checking to make sure things go well in order to deliver a great experience for fans under a slew of safety measures like wearing masks, sitting in pods, social distancing throughout the ballpark, cashless payments and filling out gameday wellness surveys.
The Tigers went through a trial of some of these measures while accommodating 2,000 fans during spring training games at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Florida.
“So things we know are in accordance with best practices,” Granger said, “whether it’s CDC-related or other-venue related or state-of-Michigan-related, what we’re trying to do is make sure that people have a great sense of comfort in coming back out and enjoying themselves and for once not thinking about COVID but thinking about baseball.”
Some of the experiences at Comerica Park will feel the same. You can expect favorite food offerings like hot dogs, sausages, peanuts, nachos and, of course, pizza from Little Caesars. There will be plenty of beverage choices, including craft beer. Paws will be around, the Easter Bunny is expected to make an appearance Sunday and Friday night fireworks will continue.
But some of the experience will be different, at least for a while. Kid-favorite attractions like the carousel and Ferris wheel won’t be open. There won’t be face painting, so that rules out the ubiquitous sight of kids running around the stadium like tiny feral monsters.
“We realize this is still a show and it’s still entertainment, and it’s our job to help people have fun,” Granger said. “So we’re going to continue to create programs and platforms that will enhance the experience over and above the game itself.”
The tricky part is making sure fans enjoy the game and the experience at Comerica Park while also feeling safe congregating in one of the largest group gatherings allowed in Michigan. That demands a balancing act from game-day staff to make sure fans are adhering to safety protocols — which Granger said will be done “politely and friendly” —while making sure they never stop enjoying their time at the ballpark.
“We have to remind ourselves always,” Granger said, “whether you’re a season-ticket holder or whether this is your only game of the year, you have high expectations and you’re coming for a great day out and you don’t want to be hassled and you want to laugh and you want to smile and you want to hug your kids or you want to close a deal.
“So it’s our job to understand how important this moment is for everybody who comes into Comerica Park. And although they’re coming in for different core reasons, everybody is looking to have a great time.”
You can count Granger among those fans with high expectations, because before he was a big-time sports executive he was a diehard baseball fan growing up in northern Indiana. Yet he never saw anything like the carnival atmosphere for the Tigers’ Opening Day until he experienced it in 2018.
“It’s amazing just to somebody who’s coming from the outside to see one just how much the Tigers mean to people, but what Opening Day means and what it signifies for the city and the state,” he said. “It’s the start of summer, it’s hope springs eternal for everybody.
“And to see people, whether it’s at the ballpark or whether it’s at the bars or tailgating, it’s such a special day. So from an employment standpoint it means so much to us because we know our responsibly of putting on a great show.”
Contact Carlos Monarrez at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.