For Tigers fans, Friday’s home opener might as well been named “Christmas 2.0.”
Fans from around the state flooded the streets around Comerica Park to celebrate the birth of the 2016 season, but an hour drive north, local fans were enjoying it in the Blue Water Area.
“I used to go downtown to the game, but that’s no longer because this is the place to be,” Dave Tatti said while sitting down at Tailgators Sports Bar. “You have people that are involved in the sports community here in Port Huron … you come in here, and you are surrounded by people that know a lot about sports.”
Inside of the packed bar, if you weren’t wearing Tigers apparel while watching the 4-0 win over the New York Yankees, you stuck out. Well, Micah Wallace certainly did so as he donned Boston Red Sox gear, but he can tolerate the Tigers, saying he’s been to the previous two opening days.
So, why didn’t he go this year?
“Well, I’m not going to spend $500 here, and I’m not going to freeze,” Wallace said.
It’s tough to argue that logic. So tough that fans around the area make a whole day out of enjoying the game from the comfort of their favorite watering hole.
“I’ve been here since 11:30, and I’ll probably be here till midnight … or whenever the wife tells me to come home,” Tatti said.
While sitting around watching the game amidst conversation, predictions for the season had to be brought up.
Two key words bounced off the walls more than any other while talking about the upcoming season. Not surprisingly, “bullpen” was one of them.
“I think they’re going to be better than last year,” Jeff Naz said. “It’s going to come down to the back end of the bullpen. If they can do what they’re supposed to do, I think they can make a run at the playoffs.”
And the other key buzzword? Injuries.
“I think everybody is worried about the injuries,” Tatti said. “If they stay away from those, I’m thinking 90 wins. But, you know, if injuries happen we will be third or fourth place. But with no injuries, we could win the AL Central.”
Former reliever recalls playing days
In the comfort of his own home in St. Clair, former Tigers reliever Gary Ignasiak enjoyed opening day from the couch.
He had tickets, but with the cold weather dominating the pregame headlines, he decided to hand the tickets off to his kids.
“I said ‘Have a good time, I’ll be watching on the TV and staying warm inside,’” Ignasiak said with a laugh.
Ignasiak – born in Metro Detroit – was selected by the Tigers in the 36th round of the 1967 draft. He made it big in 1973, realizing his dream of playing with the Tigers when he was called up as a reliever.
“Well, as a young man growing up, Detroit was always my team,” Ignasiak said. “Naturally when you sign, your dream was to play in the big leagues, and as a home town boy, it was a dream come true. All of the hard work finally paid off.”
When opening day rolls around, it also rekindles those memories of the early-season excitement.
“We would always have a core of guys in the minors or even the big leagues that would stay around year to year,” Ignasiak said. “But every year you had a new group of players that would join the team, and then you start thinking they could be the ones to help you win a championship … and that was part of the excitement (of opening day), starting something new.”
Ignasiak hasn’t been burnt out by the game at all – he still loves it as much as he did when he was playing. He tries to catch a part of every single Tigers game throughout the season, and if the bullpen does their job, Ignasiak thinks it could be another special Tigers season.
“I still think we are a little short in the bullpen, but it’s early in the year,” he said. “These guys are all good pitchers, it’s just they have to live up to their potential is what it comes down to.
“But when you look at (hitters) one-through-nine, they’re as good as anybody in baseball.”