Detroit Tigers Opening Day brings triumph, lessons learned

Leon Halip

The World Series Championship is not won in one game.

DETROIT--At long last, after months of waiting through a treacherous winter, a new season dawned. It may be March 31 but for the Detroit Tigers and fans it might as well be New Year's Day.

Detroit treats Opening Day as such and rightfully so, because Detroit is a baseball city after all. Those who did not come earlier found themselves in extensive lines at the gates of Comerica Park as the game was getting underway under a cloudless sky.

The stadium was so packed you would have thought it was the postseason. With a record number of tickets sold at 45,068 it was the highest attended Opening Day game Comerica Park has hosted since its inception 15 years ago. It was also the second highest Opening Day in the history of the Detroit Tigers.

With the pomp and circumstance of Opening Day came the 30 year anniversary of the 1984 World Series Championship for the Tigers. The banners draped over balconies flew in the breeze on a cloudless, sunny, warm day and clips from the 1984 season played on the big screen.

For former Tiger Omar Infante it was a homecoming of sorts as Victor Martinez greeted his former teammate on the field during batting practice. For Nick Castellanos it was all new but he tried to approach Opening Day like it was any other game.

Castellanos, who played left field in his appearances last year, has taken over the all important position at third base and he knows the responsibility that comes with the position. He diligently worked all winter to prepare for this very day. It may only be game one of many but early games count just as much as the ones in September and the pressure is on.

Miguel Cabrera roamed the grounds with a purpose. Standing against the batting cage Cabrera awaited his turn, sculpting the placement of his bat into his hands carefully. He hit a homerun (well, several) in practice then circled the bases. Omar Vizquel pitched to hitters and hit grounders like he was preparing to play in the game himself.

Cameras crowded the edge of the grass, careful not to step on it lest they be scolded by the grounds crew as some seasoned reporters found out. Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost was cranky as usual. And everywhere fans crowded near the tops of the dugouts to see their 2014 Detroit Tigers team.

As the pre-game ceremonies got underway there fell a hush over the crowd followed by the roar of excitement as the Detroit Tigers team was introduced. The flag was then unfurled, the national anthem sung in all its pitch-perfect glory and the ceremonial first-pitch was thrown for a strike by Chet Lemon.

Then it was time to get down to business and Victor Martinez delivered in proper fashion with a home run deep into the seats in right field. Opening Day however, while exciting, is still day one. Pitchers make mistakes and the defense often needs refinement after spring training. The fourth inning proved that and it nearly cost the Tigers the game. But having a solid closer in Joe Nathan and a proactive manager helped things end in favor of the Tigers.

Opening Day is both a triumph over the agony of winter and a lesson well learned. Even if a game ends overwhelmingly in the home team's favor there are still key notes to take away well past the point the game reaches its conclusion. It's then that the time for adjustment and analysis begins.

Having Tyler Collins in to pinch run rather than pinch hit in the bottom of the ninth was a risky endeavour on Brad Ausmus' part. He was essentially putting his eggs in one basket that Gonzalez would get a hit in the ninth to end the game and prevent extra innings.

It's something Jim Leyland might not have done in the same situation and was discussed between myself and other reporters following the game. It will be interesting to see how the marked differences in managing styles between Ausmus and Leyland plays out as the season continues.

Justin Verlander was handed a no-decision but compared to what the outcome could have been it's a start. Much of the reason certain runs were scored was because of shaky defensive plays, most glaringly obvious among them, the one at shortstop. But they are all issues which can be rectified as the season picks up steam.

Any questions which once existed regarding the bullpen have been laid to rest, for now. Nick Castellanos learned that a solid single can be more beneficial than a greedily-attempted double and it's one lesson he quickly learned. And Austin Jackson learned too well that it is sometimes better to dive for the ball.

As the days stretch into weeks there are a few things to take away from Opening Day. Baseball is back, no one needs to think about snow anymore and the Detroit Tigers won in walk-off fashion. There will be losses but it's what a manager does with those losses that makes the difference. Today was lesson 1-of-162 and the race for the postseason has begun. Happy Opening Day Detroit.

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