Friday, March 29, 2013
How to Be a Yankee Fan in Detroit -- 2013 Edition
So I'm posting this now, far enough away to give any Yankee Fan who wants to go enough time to get the best possible deals, but close enough that a legitimate weather forecast is possible.
Disclaimer: While I have been to Detroit, and I did see a game at Tiger Stadium, it was not against the Yankees, and the Tigers' new home, Comerica Park, was then still under construction. I have no firsthand knowledge of what the ballpark is like. I have, however, been around Tiger fans, both at the old yard and in their visits to the old Yankee Stadium. So I have a pretty good idea of what the game experience will be like.
Before You Go. The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press (or "Freep") websites are suggesting that there will be good weather for next weekend, but also that the high temperature will be around 50 degrees. Since none of these games will be night games, a winter coat will not be necessary inside the ballpark, only a light jacket, roughly what you would wear for a Yankee home game at this time of year; but bringing a winter coat is still a good idea, since Detroit is in the Midwest snowbelt should not be a problem.
This will be the Yankees' only visit to Detroit this season. If you've gone before, and can only afford one roadtrip this season, this series should not be a priority. If you haven't gone before, and can only afford one roadtrip this season, make it one later in the season so you can get a better deal.
Since the July 1967 race riot, Detroit has become known as a city of poverty, crime, decay, and poor city services, the kind of place where even Batman would fear to tread. The legendary comedian Red Skelton once said, "In Detroit, you can go 10 miles and never leave the scene of the crime." There was a Nike commercial a few years back, in which young basketball players were seated, yoga-style, in front of a TV screen, on which their "master," a fat black man with a turban and sunglasses who looked nothing like an athlete, was dispensing wisdom. At the end, after the Swoosh logo was shown, the camera went back to one of the students, who asked, "But, Master, what if we behave badly?" And the Master lowered his shades, looked over them, and said, "You go to Detroit." This was in the early 1990s, when the Pistons had begun to fall from their 1989-90 "Bad Boys" championship teams, and going to Detroit was not a good option in any sport -- indeed, the only Detroit team doing well at the time was, strangely, the Lions, who were then a perennial Playoff team thanks largely to Barry Sanders.
I once saw a T-shirt that read, "I'm so bad, I vacation in Detroit." As I mentioned, I have. (I'm not saying I'm "bad," or a "hard man," just that I went.) Newark had a race riot 2 weeks before Detroit's. In May 1999, I saw Detroit, and I realized just how far back Newark had come, by seeing how far Detroit had not.
"White flight" after '67 has led to the Detroit metropolitan area having roughly the same number of people it had then, about 4.3 million, but within the city limits the number has dropped from over 2 million to just 700,000. The suburbs are beautiful, but the city itself is a hole, and good men (and a few bad ones) have busted their humps trying to get it back on its feet.
One of the good men who's tried is Mike Ilitch, probably the most famous American of Macedonian descent, who runs Little Caesar's Pizza, and owns the Tigers and Red Wings. He rebuilt the city's historic Fox Theater, put Little Caesar's headquarters in the building above it, and had Comerica Park built across the street. He, and many others, including Detroit's Mayor, Pistons Hall-of-Famer Dave Bing, are trying, they really are. But Governor Rick Snyder, a Tea Party Republican, has ordered a State takeover of Detroit's finances. Apparently, he didn't learn the lesson of Hugh Carey, New York's Governor in 1975, who found another way to get New York City's finances back on their feet. But, in Detroit's case, the despicable measures of austerity may be the only thing that does work.
As for you, the potential visitor, the fear of crime should not keep you away. As with Yankee Stadium during the depth of New York's crime wave from the late 1970s to the early '90s, the ballpark is probably the safest, best-protected place in town.
Getting There. Detroit is 600 land miles from New York. Specifically, it is 616 miles from Times Square to Cadillac Square. Knowing this, your first reaction is going to be to fly out there.
Except... Wayne County Metropolitan Airport is 22 miles southwest of downtown. A taxi to downtown will set you back a bundle. There is a bus, SMART (Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation) bus Number 125, that goes directly from the airport to downtown, but it will take an hour and 20 minutes.
Also, do you remember the Seinfeld episode where George Costanza had a girlfriend, played by a pre-Will & Grace Megan Mullaly (using her real voice, you'd never recognize her as W&G's Karen), and he had to accompany her to a funeral in her hometown of Detroit? "It's kind of an expensive flight," George said.
This was not just George being his usual cheap self: At the time, over 20 years ago (wow, it's been that long), it was expensive, more expensive from New York to Detroit than it was to the further-away Chicago. It's actually cheaper now, but not by much: A check of airline websites shows that flights are going to be around $700 round-trip -- and you'll have to change planes in Chicago. That's right, you'll have to overshoot Detroit to go to Detroit.
Too rich for your blood? The news gets worse: There is no good way to get to Detroit, and that's got nothing to do with the city's reputation. Forget the train. The only Amtrak route in and out of Detroit is to and from Chicago, which in the opposite direction. The Lake Shore Limited (formerly known as the Twentieth Century Limited when the old New York Central Railroad ran it from Grand Central Terminal to Chicago's LaSalle Street Station) leaves New York's Penn Station at 3:45 every afternoon, and arrives at Union Terminal in Toledo at 5:55 every morning. From there, you have to wait until 6:30 to get on a bus to Detroit's Amtrak station, arriving at 7:35. The station is at 11 W. Baltimore Avenue, at Woodward Avenue, 2 1/2 miles north of Comerica, so walking there is not a good option; the number 16 or 53 bus would take you down Woodward.
In reverse, the bus leaves Detroit at 9:00 PM, arrives in Toledo at 10:05, and then you have to hang around there until the Lake Shore Limited comes back at 3:20 AM, arriving back in New York at 6:35 PM. Total cost: $325. Cheaper than flying, but a tremendous inflammation in the posterior. And, for the weekend in question, Amtrak has already sold out the New York-to-Chicago run on which your trip will begin.
How about Greyhound? Yeah, ride a bus for 14 hours to Detroit, there's a great idea. (Rolleyes.) Actually, having done it, I can tell you that it's not that bad. Seven Greyhound buses leave Port Authority every day with connections to Detroit. The best one is at 10:15 PM, and you'd change buses in Cleveland, arriving 6:50 AM and leaving 7:50, arriving at 11:25 AM at 1001 Howard Street. Compared to most of Detroit, the bus terminal is relatively new and quite clean. It was just about within walking distance of Tiger Stadium, which really helped me in 1999. It's also not a long walk from Comerica Park, but I wouldn't recommend this. Better to take a cab, especially if you're getting a hotel.
The first bus to leave Detroit after the Sunday afternoon game is at 6:00 PM, and you won't have to change buses, arriving at Port Authority at 7:40 Monday morning. Round-trip fare: $125 if you make an advanced purchase, $190 if you're buying at Port Authority. So Greyhound is also far cheaper than flying, much cheaper than Amtrak, and less of a pain than Amtrak -- especially on this roadtrip.
If you decide to drive, the directions are rather simple, down to (literally) the last mile. You'll need to get into New Jersey, and take Interstate 80 West. You'll be on I-80 for the vast majority of the trip, through New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio. In Ohio, in the western suburbs of Cleveland, I-80 will merge with Interstate 90. I point this out merely to help you avoid confusion, not because I-90 will become important -- though it will when I do "How to Be a Yankee Fan in Chicago" and some other cities.
In Ohio, you'll take I-80's Exit 64, and get onto Interstate 75 North. This will take you into Michigan. Take Exit 50 for Grand River Avenue. Follow the ramp to Woodward Avenue. Comerica Park's address is at 2100 Woodward Avenue, although it's bordered by Montcalm Street, Witherell Street, Adams Street and Brush Street. Across Brush Street is Ford Field, the home of the NFL's Detroit Lions.
If you do it right, you should spend about an hour and a half in New Jersey, 5 hours and 15 minutes in Pennsylvania, 3 hours in Ohio and an hour in Michigan. That’s 10 hours and 45 minutes. Counting rest stops, preferably halfway through Pennsylvania and in the Cleveland suburbs, and accounting for traffic in both New York and Detroit, it should be about 12 hours.
I strongly recommend finding a hotel with a good, secure parking garage, even if you're only staying for one game.
Tickets. The Tigers have usually been good since their 2006 Pennant season. In spite of this, due to how hard the Bush Recession hit Michigan, attendance has not been all that strong. But it is coming back: The Tigers averaged 37,383 fans per game last season, in a ballpark that officially seats 41,782 (but can be boosted to over 45,000 with standing room).
You would think that, considering these factors, and the "majority-minority" status and poverty even in good times that has stricken Detroit, tickets would generally be affordable. They're not: Nearly every seat in the lower level is at least $38 (foul-pole corners), and most run at either $47 (outfield boxes) or $60 (infield boxes). Upper deck seats are mostly at the $30 level, and outfield bleachers can be had at $20.
Going In. The city, and its river, were founded in 1701 as Fort Ponchartrain du Detroit du Lac Erie (Day-TWAH, strait of Lake Erie), but Antonie de La Mothe Cadillac, for whom the downtown Cadillac Square and the brand of car was named.
Detroit's centerpoint, in culture and in terms of address numbers, is the Woodward Fountain, where Woodward, Michigan and Gratiot Avenues come together, with Cadillac Square just off to the east. Woodward is the East-West divider.
In 1950, Detroit was the 4th-largest city in America, behind New York, Chicago and Philadelphia, with 1,850,000 people, and a metropolitan area population of about 3.7 million. But that in-city population began to go down, and accelerated after the 1967 riot. Today, while the metro area population is a healthy 5.2 million -- 5.7 million if you count Windsor and the surrounding towns across the river in Canada -- the city had just 713,777 people in the 2010 Census. The suburbs are nearly all-white; the city itself, nearly all-black. If there is another city on the planet that is so segregated, I'm not aware of it.
Detroit is a weird city in some ways. It often seems like a cross between a past that was once glorious but now impossible to reach, and a future that never quite happened. (That observation was once made about the remaining structures from New York’s 1964-65 World’s Fair and the Astrodome in Houston.) Art Deco structures of the 1920s and ‘30s, such as the Penobscot Building (the tallest building outside New York and Chicago when it opened in 1928, the tallest in Michigan until 1977) stand alongside abandoned, boarded-up or chained-up stores.
But alongside or across from them, there are glassy, modern structures such as the Renaissance Center, shown in the photo above: A 5-tower complex that includes, at its center, the 750-foot tallest building in Michigan (the tallest all-hotel skyscraper in the Western Hemisphere), and, in one of its 4 outer towers, the headquarters of General Motors (although the RenCen was originally financed by Ford).
Downtown also has the Detroit People Mover, a monorail system that is part of the suggestion of Detroit trying to get from 1928 to 2028 while jumping over the difficult years in between. Like the Washington and Montreal Metro (subway) systems, the company running it prides itself on the artwork in its stations. It has a stop called Times Square, but it won’t look anything like the one in New York. It has a stop called Bricktown, but it won’t look anything like Brick Township, the sprawling Jersey Shore suburb off Exits 88 to 91 on the Garden State Parkway. The Grand Circus Park and Broadway Street stations are both 3 blocks from Comerica Park. The DPM also has a stop at Joe Louis Arena, home of the Red Wings. It’s cheap, only 75 cents, and it still uses tokens, although it also accepts cash. Be advised, though, that it stops running at midnight, except on Fridays and Saturdays, when it runs until 2:00 AM. Bus fare is $1.50.
The area around Comerica Park (named for a Midwest-based bank) and Ford Field (named for the automaker), at the northern edge of downtown Detroit, is called Foxtown, after the Fox Theater, which, as I said, Tigers/Wings/Little Caesars owner Mike Ilitch had restored. The ballpark can be entered at Gate A on Witherell (that’s the 1st base stands), Gate B at Witherell & Adams (right field corner), Gate C at Adams & Brush (left field corner), or Gate D on Montcalm (home plate).
There are a lot of distractions in the park, from the huge Tiger statues to the Comerica Carousel, near the Big Cat Food Court under the 1st base stands, to the Fly Ball Ferris Wheel, with baseball-shaped compartments, under the 3rd base stands. But, not being a kid (except maybe at heart), you’re interested in the baseball, so let’s move on.
The ballpark faces southeast, as did Tiger Stadium. Unlike Tiger Stadium, Comerica is not fully enclosed, so you can see out, and some of Detroit’s taller buildings can be seen from the seats behind the plate, including the RenCen and the Penobscot. Much of Detroit’s financial district, including the Penobscot, was built in the 1920s and ‘30s and, like many of New York’s buildings of the same period, were heavily influenced by the Art Deco movement. Some of these structures show just how much of a shame it is that Detroit has so badly fallen apart in the last half-century.
Unlike Tiger Stadium, whose overhanging upper deck in right field and close left-center power alley made it a hitter's park, Comerica favors pitchers. Outfield distances are as follows: Left, 345 feet; left-center, 370; center, 420; right-center, 365; right, 330. Actually, the dimensions are not all that different from Tiger Stadium, but the lack of an outfield upper deck means not only is there no batter-aiding overhang, but air can circulate better, and when the wind comes in off the Detroit River, it makes it tough to hit one out. Carlos Pena hit Comerica's longest home run, in 2005, 461 feet. (It's not clear who hit the longest homer at Tiger Stadium: It's been credited to Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Norm Cash and Cecil Fielder.)
In the early 20th Century, most ballparks would have a strip of dirt between home plate and the pitcher's mound, known as a "keyhole." Comerica Park added this feature, and so did the home of the Arizona Diamondbacks, now known as Chase Field.
In center field, the Tigers have the Chevrolet Fountain, a takeoff on the fountain in Kansas City, and honoring the automobile industry's contributions to the city that got it nickname "The Motor City" and "Motown." In solidarity, the Chrysler and Ford logos now flank the Chevy ad on top.
Food. When I visited Tiger Stadium in its final season, 1999, it had great food, including the very best ballpark hot dog I've ever had. Since they're owned by Little Caesars mogul Ilitch, and before that were owned by Domino's Pizza boss Tom Monaghan, food is taken very seriously by the club. This is, after all, Big Ten Country, where college football tailgate parties are practically a sacrament.
Their big feature is the Big Cat Food Court, under the 1st base stands, featuring Little Caesars, naturally; Sliders, a stand featuring that Midwest staple, the Coney dog (hot dog with chili and onions, though they're not that popular at the actual Coney Island); the Brushfire Grill, with barbecue specialties; a stand selling "Chicago Style Hot Dogs," with the little pickle slice, the tomato slice, and the celery salt (and, no, I don't know why Detroit's ballpark would sell a Chicago-themed item); Asian Tiger, with Chinese food and sushi; a Mexican food stand; and "Lemons & Ears," which sells lemonade and "elephant ears," a Midwestern variation on that Middle Atlantic States standard, funnel cake.
The Tigers also have numerous in-park restaurants, but, like the ones at Yankee Stadium II, you can only get in with certain tickets. But if you go to a Detroit Tigers home game and you don't find something good to eat, you're not trying hard enough.
Team History Displays. The main concourse features a Walk of Fame, showing great moments in Detroit baseball history, from the 1887 National League Champion Detroit Wolverines, through the Ty Cobb Pennants of 1907-08-09, to the Hank Greenberg years of 1934-45, to the amazing 1968 "Year of the Tiger," to the "Bless You Boys" of 1984, and the 2006 Pennant. Presumably, they have added one for last year's Pennant.
Along the left-center-field wall are statues of the 5 Tiger players who have had their uniform numbers retired: 2, Charlie Gehringer, 2nd base, 1924-42; 5, Greenberg, 1st base, 1933-46; 6, Al Kaline, right field, 1953-74 and broadcaster 1975-2002; 16, Hal Newhouser, pitcher, 1939-53; and 23, Willie Horton, left field, 1963-77 (and grew up in Detroit). There is also a statue of Cobb, center field, 1905-26, who played before uniform numbers were worn (though I once saw film of him at an old-timers' game, wearing a Tiger uniform, Number 25). Their names and their numbers are on a wall in left field.
Not with those statues, but rather at the first base entrance, is a statue of the late Ernie Harwell, the broadcaster whose very voice meant "the Detroit Tigers" from 1960 to 2002. His name is on a matching wall in right field, along with those of 1979-95 manager Sparky Anderson, Number 11 retired; and the names of Tigers who, while their numbers have not been retired by the team, are, like the preceding (with Horton the lone exception) also in the Baseball Hall of Fame: Sam Crawford, right field, 1903-17; Hugh Jennings, manager, 1907-20; Harry Heilmann, right field, 1914–29 and broadcaster 1934-50; Henry "Heinie" Manush, left field, 1923–27; Gordon "Mickey" Cochrane, catcher 1934-37, manager 1934-38; and George Kell, 3rd base, 1946–52 and broadcaster 1959-96. Jackie Robinson's universally retired Number 42 is also with these names. These walls, in left-center and right-center, serve as Detroit's answer to Yankee Stadium's Monument Park.
The first great Tiger announcer was Edwin "Ty" Tyson, who announced from 1927 to 1953. Unlike Harwell, he has not been honored on these walls or received the Hall of Fame's Ford Frick Award for broadcasters.
The Tigers have removed from circulation, but not officially retired, the following uniform numbers: 1, Lou Whitaker, second base, 1977-95; 3, worn by Cochrane, Dick McAuliffe (2nd base, 1960-73), and Alan Trammell (shortstop, 1977-96 and manager 2003-05); and 47, worn by Jack Morris, pitcher, 1977-90. Perhaps they're waiting for Whitaker, Trammell and Morris to be elected to the Hall of Fame, but they probably won't be elected, and they retired Horton's number without him getting in. (23 was also worn by Kirk Gibson, right field, 1979-87 and 1993-95, but there's no mention of him on the wall. People forget, after that home run in the 1988 World Series, but Gibson, now manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks, first became a World Series home run hero with the Tigers in 1984.)
Stuff. The Tigers have 5 team stores located throughout the ballpark. Stuffed tigers are a natural to sell, and jerseys, jackets, T-shirts and caps abound. You can also buy DVDs of the official World Series highlight films of 1945, 1968 and 1984 (they come in 1 disc, with the 1935 edition preceding the start of official films sponsored by MLB which started in 1943) and "The Essential Games of the Detroit Tigers."
Unlike the "Essential Games" series for the old Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium, instead of 6 games, there's only 4, and, due to the limitations on what Major League Baseball Productions has, they only go back to 1968. Despite it not being "The Essential Games of Tiger Stadium," they still limit it to home games. Thus the 1984 clincher, Game 5 at Tiger Stadium, is included; 1968's Game 5 at Tiger Stadium, the only home game the Tigers won in that Series, is included; but the Game 7s of 1945 (at Wrigley Field) and 1968 (at Busch Stadium) are not. They do, however, include the Tiger Stadium finale in 1999 and Game 4 of the 2006 American League Championship Series, which was won by Magglio Ordonez hitting a walkoff homer to cap a series sweep. The Bonus Features include highlights from the 1971 All-Star Game (future Yankee Reggie Jackson hitting the Tiger Stadium roof off future Yankee Dock Ellis), the 1976 "Mark Fidrych Game" in which "the Bird" beat the Yankees on ABC Monday Night Baseball; the Comerica Park opener in 2000; a tribute to Trammell and Whitaker; a big moment from the career of Curtis Granderson, now a Yankee; and a brief Tiger Stadium retrospective.
During the Game. You do not have to worry about wearing Yankee gear in Comerica Park. Maybe if it was a Pistons game and you were wearing Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers or Boston Celtics stuff. Or if it was a Lions game and you were wearing Chicago Bears or Green Bay Packers stuff. Or if it was a Red Wings game and you were wearing Chicago Blackhawks or (due to their nasty late 1990s, early 2000s matchups) Colorado Avalanche stuff. But for a Tigers game, you can wear just about any opposing team's cap, jersey, jacket, whatever, and no one will give you a hard time based on that.
The Tigers' mascot is Paws the Tiger, and not only is he one of the less ridiculous mascots in the major leagues, but he's a better dancer than the Phillie Phanatic.
The Tigers do not have a regular song to play in the 7th inning stretch after "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." However, when they take the field, "Detroit Rock City" by KISS is played. And, following a Tiger win, they play "Lifelong Tiger Fan Blues," written by actor Jeff Daniels, who grew up in suburban Chelsea, Michigan, and attended Central Michigan University. While Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" is played at Red Wings games, it is not played at Tiger games. (Lead singer Steve Perry wrote the part about the "city boy, born and raised in South Detroit" about a Detroit-born roadie for the band. As for the messed-up geography, he's said, "I tried 'North Detroit,' I tried 'East' and 'West,' and it didn't sing, but 'South Detroit' sounded so beautiful. I loved the way it sounded, only to find out later it's actually Canada." Specifically, Windsor, Ontario, across the Detroit River, pretty much the only place where Canada is south of America.)
Whenever the Tigers score a run, the sound of a tiger growling is played through the public address system. It's a bit more intimidating than the really loud variation on the "Westminster chimes" that gets played at Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees inadvertently contributed to the Tigers' version of the Angels' "Rally Monkey." In a June 2006 Yanks-Tigers game at Comerica, Tigers pitcher Nate Robertson (not to be confused with former Knick Nate Robinson) was featured on FSN Detroit's "Sounds of the Game," in which the TV station puts a microphone on a coach, or a player not in the game. To get the fans going, Nate began to stuff Big League Chew into his mouth, hoping to spark a late-inning rally. The trend caught on, with Jeremy Bonderman, Zach Miner and Justin Verlander all chewing from time to time. The Tigers came back to tie the game, and the phrase "It's Gum Time" has become a new rallying cry for the team, along with 1935's "Hold That Tiger," 1968's "Sock It to 'em Tigers" and 1984's "Bless You, Boys."
After the Game. With Detroit's rough reputation, I would recommend not hanging around downtown after a night game. If you want a postgame drink or meal, you're better off sticking to your hotel.
You may have heard of Detroit's classic sports bar, the Lindell Athletic Club, better known as the Lindell AC. USA Today once called it the number one sports bar in America. Sadly, it's gone. The late Lions star and actor Alex Karras had a part-ownership, and it got him in trouble with gambling that led to his suspension for the 1963 season. Shortly thereafter, it moved from its original 1949 location to its more familiar one, at Cass & Michigan Avenues. The owners gave out free drinks the night the Tigers clinched the 1968 Pennant. In 1969, former Yankee player and future Yankee manager Billy Martin, then managing the Minnesota Twins, saw his pitcher Dave Boswell sucker-punch 3rd baseman Bob Allison there, and Martin knocked Boswell out, leading to his own firing. Ironically, Martin's next managing job was with the Tigers. It was Lindell owner James "Jimmy B" Butsicaris who recommended to Billy that he sign speedy center fielder Ron LeFlore, then doing time for armed robbery at Michigan's infamous Jackson State Penitentiary. (LeVar Burton starred in the film One in a Million: The Ron LeFlore Story, and Billy played himself.) But the move of the Tigers out of Tiger Stadium hurt the bar, and it closed in 2002. The Stanley Cup, which the Wings had won a few months earlier, was a guest of honor.
The only bar I was able to find catering to Yankee Fans that is within 25 miles of downtown Detroit, and that one just barely, was a Ruby Tuesday restaurant in suburban Roseville. It's also been known to serve as the local headquarters for expatriate Giants and Jets fans. However, I have another source that says that locals who root for the Giants gather at the Town Pump Tavern, 100 W. Montcalm Street at Park Avenue, 2 blocks from Comerica Park. So that might be a good place for Yankee Fans.
Sidelights. For all its problems, Detroit is a great city, not just a great baseball city or even a great sports city. Check out the following – but do it in daylight:
* Site of Tiger Stadium. The first ballpark on the site was called Bennett Park, after Charlie Bennett, a catcher for the NL’s Detroit Wolverines, who didn’t play there. Bennett Park opened in 1896, for the Detroit team in the Western League, which became the American League in 1901. However, the team we know as the Tigers (so named because the orange stripes on their socks evoked not just tigers but the teams at New Jersey’s Princeton University, also called the Tigers) are officially dated from 1901.
After the 1911 season, the wooden Bennett Park was demolished and replaced with a concrete and steel structure, opening on April 20, 1912 (the same day as Fenway Park in Boston) and named Navin Field, after Tiger owner Frank Navin. He died in 1935, and his co-owner, Walter Briggs, expanded the place to its more familiar configuration in 1938, renaming it Briggs Stadium. In 1961, new owner John Fetzer renamed it Tiger Stadium.
The Tigers played there from 1912 to 1999, and the NFL’s Lions did so from 1938 to 1974. The Tigers won the World Series while playing there in 1935, 1945, 1968 and 1984; the Lions won the NFL Championship while playing there in 1952, 1953 and 1957. (The ’52 Championship Game was played in Cleveland against the Browns, the ’53 and ’57 editions also against the Browns at Tiger Stadum.) Northwest corner of Michigan Avenue and Trumbull Street, 1 mile west of Cadillac Square down Michigan Avenue (U.S. Route 12). Number 29 bus from downtown.
* Ford Field. Home to the NFL's Detroit Lions since 2002, it has mainly seen horrible football, although the Lions did make the Playoffs in 2011, just 2 years after going 2-14 and 3 after the only 0-16 season in NFL history. It hosted Super Bowl XL in 2006, with Detroit native Jerome Bettis leading the Pittsburgh Steelers over the Seattle Seahawks and then retiring on top. It's also hosted the only Final Four ever held in the State of Michigan, in 2009. 2000 Brush Street, cross Brush from Comerica Park, also bounded by Beacon, St. Antoine and Montcalm Streets.
* Joe Louis Arena and Cobo Center. Opening in 1979, while Louis, the Alabama-born, Detroit-raised-and-trained heavyweight champion of the world from 1937 to 1948 was still alive, this 20,000-seat building was considered very modern at the time. There has been talk of a replacement for “The Joe,” but it doesn’t look likely that an agreement for one will be reached anytime soon.
The Red Wings have come a long way from the building’s early days, when they were nicknamed the Dead Things, winning 4 Stanley Cups in 6 trips to the Finals between 1995 and 2009. It’s considered one of the loudest arenas in the NHL: In 1992, a writer for Hockey Digest compared it to Chicago Stadium, the now-demolished home of their arch-rivals, the Chicago Blackhawks, and said that, if the visiting team scores 2 early goals, the Chicago fans quiet down, but Detroit fans stay loud throughout the game.
The Joe hosts college hockey, including the Great Lakes Invitational, in the week between Christmas and New Year's. Michigan Tech is the host, with Michigan and Michigan State usually participating, and a 4th team in rotation -- this year, it's Western Michigan. It also hosted the 1980 Republican Convention -- right, the GOP meeting, and nominating union-buster Ronald Reagan no less, in a majority-black, heavily union city, in an arena named for a boxer who struck a blow for racial equality. (Then again, last year, the Democrats met in Charlotte.)
The Joe was built next-door to Cobo Center, which was named for Albert E. Cobo, Mayor from 1950 to 1957. Its centerpiece, a building originally known as Cobo Hall, has been Detroit’s major convention center since its opening in 1960, and, following the rejection of a plan to demolish it and put a new Pistons-Red Wings arena on the site, it just undergone a renovation and expansion.
It includes a 12,000-seat arena that was home to the NBA’s Pistons from 1961 to 1978, and a convention complex that includes the city’s famed annual auto show. It is known for some legendary rock concerts, including the KISS album Alive! and area native Bob Seger’s Live Bullet. Unfortunately, it may be best known for the January 6, 1994 attack on Nancy Kerrigan during a practice session for the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. 600 Civic Center Drive at Jefferson Avenue. Each arena has its own station on the Detroit People Mover.
* Site of Olympia Stadium. From the outside, it looked more like a big brick movie theater, complete with the Art Deco marquee out front. But “The Old Red Barn” was home to the Red Wings from 1927 to 1979, during which time they won the Stanley Cup in 1936, ’37, ’43, ’50, ’52, ’54 and ’55. In 1950, they hosted Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, and Pete Babando’s overtime winner defeated the Rangers. In ’54, they had another overtime Game 7 winner, as “Tough Tony” Leswick hit a shot that deflected off Doug Harvey, the great defenseman of the Montreal Canadiens. (In hockey, the shooter is still credited; in soccer, this would have been an “own goal” on Harvey.)
The Olympia was also home to the Pistons from 1957 to 1961, and the site of some great prizefights, including Jake LaMotta’s 1942 win over Sugar Ray Robinson – the only fight Robinson would lose in his career until 1952, and the only one of the 6 fights he had with LaMotta that LaMotta won. It was the neighborhood, not the building, that was falling apart: Lincoln Cavalieri, its general manager in its last years, once said, "If an atom bomb landed, I'd want to be in Olympia."
It was demolished in 1987, and the Olympia Armory, home of the Michigan National Guard, is now on the site. 5920 Grand River Avenue, corner of McGraw Street, on the Northwest Side. Number 21 bus. If you’re a hockey fan, by all means, visit – but do it in daylight.
* Silverdome. Originally Pontiac Metropolitan Stadium, this stadium was home to the Lions from 1975 to 2001 (after which they moved back downtown to Ford Field), and very nearly became home to the Tigers as well, before owner John Fetzer decided to commit himself to Tiger Stadium. Heisman-winning running backs Billy Sims and Barry Sanders ran wild for the Lions here, but the closest they got to a Super Bowl was reaching the NFC Championship Game in January 1992 – unless you count hosting Super Bowl XVI, 10 years earlier, the beginning of the San Francisco 49er dynasty led by Bill Walsh and Joe Montana. The Pistons, playing here from 1978 to 1988, had a little more luck, reaching the NBA Finals in their last year there. It seated 80,000 for football, set an NBA attendance record (since broken) of 61,983 between the Pistons and Boston Celtics in 1988, and 93,682 for a Papal Mass in 1987.
Without the Lions and Pistons, its future is unclear. It hosted a Don King-promoted boxing card in January 2011, and in August 2010 hosted a friendly between Italian soccer giant A.C. Milan and leading Greek club Panathinaikos – appropriate, considering the area’s ethnic makeup. Earlier this year, the roof was deflated as an energy-saving measure; if a new tenant is found, a new roof will be put in as part of renovations. A current rumor is that a group trying to get an MLS expansion franchise for Detroit will use it, or demolish it and build a new facility on the site.
1200 Featherstone Road, Pontiac. Getting there by public transportation is a pain: The Number 465 bus takes an hour and 25 minutes, and then you gotta walk a mile down Featherstone from Oakland Community College.
* The Palace. Home to the Pistons since 1988, they won the 1989, 1990 and 2004 NBA Championships here, and almost won another in 2005. The Detroit Shock have won 3 WNBA Championships here, and, as a result, every time a title is won by either the Pistons or the Shock, the address changes: Currently, it’s “Six Championship Drive, Auburn Hills, MI 48326.”
Unfortunately, the 22,000-seat building’s best-known event isn’t a Pistons title or a rock concert, but the November 19, 2004 fight between the Pistons and the Indiana Pacers that spilled into the stands, becoming known as "the Malice at the Palace." Even the WNBA had a rare brawl there, between the Shock and the Los Angeles Sparks in 2008. Lapeer Road and Harmon Road, Auburn Hills, off I-75. Don’t even think about trying to reach it by public transportation: You’d need 2 buses and a half-hour walk.
* Motown Historical Museum. As always, I’m going to include some non-sports items. Detroit is generally known for 3 good things: Sports, music and cars. The Motown Historical Museum is the former Motown Records studio, which company founder Berry Gordy Jr. labeled “Hitsville, U.S.A.” His sister, Esther Gordy Edwards, now runs it, and it features records and costumes of performers such as the Supremes, the Temptations and the Four Tops. 2648 W. Grand Blvd., on the North Side. Number 16 bus.
* Henry Ford Museum. The centerpiece of the nation’s foremost automotive-themed museum is a replica of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Henry Ford himself established the museum: “I am collecting the history of our people as written into things their hands made and used.... When we are through, we shall have reproduced American life as lived, and that, I think, is the best way of preserving at least a part of our history and tradition.”
It contains the fascinating, including early cars and bicycles, Henry Ford’s first car (his 1896 "Quadricycle"), Igor Sikorsky’s prototype for the helicopter, the bus Rosa Parks was riding in when she refused to give up her seat to start the 1955-56 Montgomery Bus Boycott, and a Buckminster Fuller “Dymaxion house.” It also contains the macabre, with the chair Abraham Lincoln was supposedly sitting in when he was assassinated at Ford’s Theater in Washington (the theater owner was no relation to Henry) and the chair, and the rest of the car as well, that John F. Kennedy was definitely sitting in when he was assassinated, the back seat of in the 1961 Lincoln Continental convertible limousine he was riding in through downtown Dallas.
Next door to the museum is Greenfield Village, which Henry Ford imagined as a kind of historical park, a more modern version of Colonial Williamsburg – that is, celebrating what was, in 1929 when it opened, considered modern American life, including a reconstruction of the Menlo Park, New Jersey laboratory of his good friend Thomas Edison. Ford and Edison were both friends of rubber magnate Henry Firestone (whose tires certainly made Ford’s cars easier to make), and Firestone’s family farm is reconstructed on the site.
Please note that I am not excusing Henry Ford’s despicable anti-Semitism – and, to be fair, he did give his black auto workers the same pay and benefits as his white ones – but I am recommending the museum. It's a tribute to the role of technology, including the automobile, in American life, not to the man himself. Oakwood Blvd. and Village Road. Number 200 bus to Michigan Avenue and Oakwood Blvd., then a short walk down Oakwood.
* Greektown Historic District. Although Detroit is famed for its Irish (Corktown, including the site of Tiger Stadium) and Italian communities, and has the largest Arab-American community of any major city, its best-known ethnic neighborhoods are Greektown and the Polish community of Hamtramck. New York’s Astoria, Queens has nothing on Detroit’s Greektown, which not only has some of the country’s finest Greek restaurants, but also the Greektown Casino. 555 E. Lafayette Street, at Beaubien Street. Greektown Station on the People Mover.
* Hamtramck. Pronounced “Ham-TRAM-ick,” this city is actually completely surrounded by Detroit. When the Dodge Brothers (who later sold the car company bearing their name to Chrysler) opened an auto plant there in 1914, it became a hub for Polish immigration. However, the Polish population of the city has dropped from 90 percent in 1970 to 22 percent today. And Arabs and South Asians have moved in, making it Michigan’s most internationally diverse city. Nevertheless, if you want the best kielbasa, kapusta, golumpkis and paczkis this side of the Oder, this is the place to go. Hamtramck Town Shopping Center, Joseph Campau Street and Hewitt Street. Number 10 or 34 bus.
* Mariners’ Church. On my 1999 visit to Detroit, I discovered this church by accident, walking past it without realizing it was there until I saw the historical marker. Every March, it holds a Blessing of the Fleet for every person and ship going to sea. Every November, they hold a Great Lakes Memorial Service for those who have lost their lives at sea within the past year. This included the 29 men lost on the iron ore freighter SS Edmund Fitzgerald in Lake Superior, on November 10, 1975. Build and homeported in Detroit, the Big Fitz was commemorated in song by Gordon Lightfoot, whose song “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” mistakenly, but poetically, called the church “The Maritime Sailors’ Cathedral.”
170 E. Jefferson Avenue, at Randolph Street. It’s right downtown, near the RenCen and Detroit’s City Hall, which includes the Spirit of Detroit statue and the giant arm and fist that represent Joe Louis. But be careful, because Randolph Street empties into the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, to Windsor, Ontario, Canada. I’m not recommending that you bring your passport, unless you want to go across the river to the casinos of Windsor; but I am recommending that you be wary of tunnel traffic.
* Colleges. The University of Michigan is 44 miles west of downtown Detroit, in Ann Arbor. It is possible to reach it from Detroit by bus, but it will take 2 hours: You can take the 851 bus to the airport, and transfer there to the 787.
Gerald Ford was President from August 9, 1974 to January 20, 1977, and was a graduate of (and an All-American football player at) Michigan in the 1930s. His Presidential Library, and a School of Public Policy named for him, are on the Ann Arbor campus, at 1000 Beal Avenue. However, he is the only President whose Library and Museum are separated, and his Presidential Museum is in his hometown of Grand Rapids, at 303 Pearl Street NW, 158 miles northwest of Detroit. You'll need Greyhound if you want to visit.
Michigan State University, 88 miles northwest, in East Lansing, adjacent to Lansing, the State capital. Greyhound runs 3 buses a day from Detroit to East Lansing, at 8:00 AM, 12:10 PM, and 7:40 PM, and it takes about 2 hours. Two buses go back to Detroit, at 3:25 and 5:55 PM. $51 round-trip.
* Home Improvement. The 1991-99 ABC sitcom is easily the best-known TV show to have been set in Detroit, with Tool Time's studio being in the city and the Taylors' house in the suburbs, possibly Bloomfield Hills. But, as far as I know, there were no location shots, not even in the episode in which the Taylors got to see the Lions' Thanksgiving game from a Silverdome skybox. So if you're looking for the Taylors' house, you're not going to find it -- if there was ever a house, not just a studio set, it was likely in or around Los Angeles.
* Windsor. Across the Detroit River is Windsor, Ontario. Most Americans know it for Caesar's Windsor, one of 4 casinos in the area. Like its namesakes in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, it has a Roman theme. It may be only 2 miles from downtown Detroit, but because it's in Canada, you'll need a passport. 377 Riverside Drive East. There is bus service available -- less for Michiganders wanting to gamble, more for Windsorites wanting to go to Red Wings games and concerts -- and you can contact Transit Windsor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Wings' first home was actually in Windsor: They played their first season, 1926-27, at the Border Cities Arena, which still stands, and is now named Windsor Arena. Like a lot of old arenas (this one was built in 1924), it looks like a barn, and so is nicknamed The Barn. It seats only 4,400 people in its current configuration, but it still hosts the University of Windsor hockey team. Its longest-term tenant, the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League, now play elsewhere. 334 Wyandotte Street East, at McDougall Street.
A visit to Detroit does not have to be a scary experience. These people love baseball. They don’t like the Yankees, but they love baseball, and their city should be able to show you a good time.