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Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Comerica Park: Diamond in the very very rough

Tell someone you are traveling to Detroit, and you're liable to get all sorts of interesting reactions. "Detroit? God, Why?!" Or, "I'll never go back there again." Or, "When can I plan on attending your funeral?"

I had never been there before planning this mini-trip to see a Sox game there this Tuesday. All told, it was definitely on the cheap side: about $40 for a round trip Amtrak ticket, $68 for a room, and $18 for 2 upper deck tickets to the game. Throw in two cab rides and a dinner, and it was probably a $150 experience. So perhaps my perceptions are diluted a bit by my happy inner budget-hound - but Detroit didn't seem all that bad. Sure, the room was dingy, the streets were deserted at midday and pockmarked like Serajevo in the mid 90s, and people seemed to kind of loll around in a dreamy haze, unaware of their surroundings. All of these things are bad, to be sure.

Maybe it was my visit to Comerica Park that has me so happy about my time.

Pricing: on the whole, prices are quite average for MLB in the Midwest. There are, however, some great deals to be had: $8 bleacher seats, $12 UDR seats, and $5 "Skyline" UD corner seats. The best element of the pricing is the Monday through Thursday 2-for-1 UDR deal - essentially making $12 seats $6 for all weeknight games. This is a model for what the White Sox ought to do - at the game I attended, people were distributed evenly throughout the park, but UD and LD - which is quite a stark contrast to Comiskey's packed LD and tumbleweed-blowing UD. An interesting section is the Lower Deck Terrace: extra wide wooden seats with tables next to them, and food/drink service. I have not really seen this before - they ring the lower deck right by the concourse, so they offer quite a good view.

Another boon to the budget-conscious was the quite reasonable selection of concessions and prices. $5 for a beer and $3.50 for a dog or slice of pizza represent a slight discount over other prices I’ve seen. By far the most popular item, however, based on my seeing it in about 40% of every fan’s hands, were the Extra Tall Daiquiri cups for $7. You get a half-liter of the daiquiri flavor of your choice – in a huge barbell shaped cup with an extra-long straw.

Seats at Comerica are pitched very pleasantly – I never had a problem seeing home plate, regardless of whether someone sat in front of me. The seats themselves are comfortable, though not the pinnacle in my opinion. Every chair has a cup holder – including chairs on aisles – they each have a cup holder very thoughtfully attached to the armrest. Little touches like these abound at Comerica.

For the kids and/or just the baseball-uninclined, there is a spacious picnic and “carnival” area – replete with baseball-themed Ferris Wheel and hedge sculptures, as well as oodles, veritable prides of Tiger statues dotting both the inside and outside of the park. Speaking of exteriors, Comerica’s is very nice. There is an attached parking garage for the drivers out there, and walking around the stadium structure was quite pleasant – the field itself is recessed down under street level, which allows pedestrians to view the game from the sidewalk surrounding the outfield. Architecturally, from both inside and out, Comerica is a very pleasant, well-thought out, integrated experience.

Detroit may look like crap to walk through, but from the ballpark, the view is idyllic. Downtown ballparks with skyline views are my new absolute favorite thing. It just so perfectly captures the true essence of baseball – the idealized escape from the urban, and lets the civic identity of a team and its host really shine.

Fans were quite pleasant – walking away from a crushing Tiger loss, one would have been hard pressed to tell whether anyone was disappointed, thrilled, or feeling much of anything at all. This further contributed to my image of Detroitans as a bunch of lurching, shell-shocked zombies… but hey, when you’re visiting an opposing park, it’s nice not to be hassled.

All in all, Comerica Park is a baseball venue that does nothing badly and some things particularly well. It should be the model for any open-air downtown baseball stadium. Now, as for the city...

Seat comfort: 4 - All seats I sampled were pitched very nicely, and had unobstructed views.
Concessions: 4 - Very good prices ameliorate so-so quality.
Scoreboard: 4 - The board had plenty of info, but the typeface was quite small, and the "jumbo" tron was anything but. The out of town scoreboard was large and up-to-date.
P.A. system:
5 - Finally, someone gets it right - kept at the perfect volume to avoid distortion. Everything was crystal clear..
Ticket Prices: 4 - Average most places, but good deals exist for cheapos like me.
Exterior Architecture: 5 - This park is a joy to look at from the outside, especially its field view sidwalk in the OF.
Arch.: 4 - The view was to die for. The concourses were easily navigable. Downtick for super-narrow exit ramps which held us up when leaving.
Access: 3 -
Parking was an atrocious $20 for drivers. Walking to and from the park was no problem, and there are some decent eats nearby. On the other hand, straying too far was a rather frightening concept...
Ushers: 4 - The ushers were friendly and never got in the way.
Trading up: 4 - Fans can access all levels. UD trading up was extremely easy, despite the pretty good attendance up there - I was behind home plate in $20 seats for the whole game, when I paid $6 for the LF side.

Points out of 50: 41


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