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On learning a new way to enjoy baseball at Comerica Park

DETROIT - APRIL 09:  Fans enter the ballpark before the game between Detroit Tigers and the Cleveland Indians on April 9, 2010 during Opening Day at Comerica Park in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
DETROIT - APRIL 09: Fans enter the ballpark before the game between Detroit Tigers and the Cleveland Indians on April 9, 2010 during Opening Day at Comerica Park in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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A couple weeks ago, I received an invitation to buy tickets for the Tigers' first Tweet Up event. Later that day, I received a text from my friend asking if my wife and I wanted to go. Simple yes or no answer, right? Hardly. You see, purchasing tickets would mean I'd most likely have to "actually watch the game". This is what we bloggers are alway being implored to do and I think I speak for most, if not all, bloggers when I say it's a very unappealing proposition.

First of all, I generally do everything I can to avoid watching baseball games. I mean, from start to end, it takes approximately three hours. That's three hours I could be testing linear weights to make sure they're still accurate after that day's games. Three hours I could be writing a post complaining about games taking three hours. Three hours of progress in my plot to ruin the fun of the game for you, the reader. And that's just watching on TV. If I go to games, I have to leave my house at five, and don't get home until something like 11:30. Do you know how hard it is to go an evening without scanning game summaries to see which managers are dumb enough to sacrifice a runner to second when they already had one out?

Additionally, in a public setting of ragged, uninformed fans I'm subject to overhearing inane conversations about how Inge is little Timmy's favorite player because he loves kids, lives in Michigan and wears high socks. If there's going to be any reason to like Inge, little Timmy, it should be that his greatest skill is typically undervalued on the open market. Therefore the Tigers don't have to pay all that much to keep a player the masses slobber all over for some reason. But that's probably a topic better suited for a future post.

Being at the game also heightens the emotional attachment to the game I'm viewing, and this is a dangerous precedent to set. If I let my guard down and let the tension of a late-inning one-run lead overwhelm me, I could lose the objectivity we bloggers cling to so desperately. Next thing you know, I could be posting about how we need to trade Jacob Turner and anybody else it takes to make sure we have a lockdown bullpen. My wife has been instructed to put me down if I ever utter such ramblings. I've told her it will be easy because I'll be distracted as I dial the phone number of the local sports talk radio station.

These are what you could call the "cons" of accepting my friend's offer. The only "pro" I could think of was going to a game and writing a first-hand account would temporarily get readers off my back for never "actually watching a game". Maybe I could even scan a picture of the ticket and just email it to anybody who made this suggestion. Ha! Scoreboard, you troll! Pwned! Oh, and w00t, too. After some deliberation and with some trepidation, I texted my friend back to ask him to mark us down for two tickets.

When game day rolled around, I found myself actually looking forward to the game and hoping it wouldn't be rained out. Oh boy, this was not a good sign for keeping my objectivity or my wits about me. If I wasn't careful, I'd be yelling at Cabrera for not being clutch enough and trying to start the wave. I worried my wife would have the courage and reserve to follow my instructions.

Tweet Up

After checking weather updates all day, by the time the decision had to be made, it was clear we were safe to make the trek down to Detroit. We showed up at the Tweet Up a few minutes late and found out we had already missed the first trivia question (Who was the last Tiger ROY?) and the mystery guest, Rod Allen. This was mildly disappointing, but we were still willing participants in the remaining festivities. Tiger employees distributed Tweet Up t-shirts that allowed attendants to scratch their Twitter handle on the back. I found it humorous that this allowed everybody to check out fellow Tweeters without actually engaging them. Of course, this is precisely what I did as I discretely scanned the room to see if I recognized any of my followers.

When I didn't see any, I retreated to my table for beer and the rest of the event's games. The first one we got to play was to open the pack of baseball cards that had been handed out when we picked up our t-shirts. If your pack had a current Tiger, you were to hold it up and see your chances of winning ticket upgrades. As we were shuffling through our packs, Paws came over to help us figure out how to play the game. He grabbed my cards and scanned through them to see if I was a potential winner and then pantomimed that I wasn't.

My wife wasn't either, but she decided to do a second look to see if she even had any FORMER Tigers. She didn't but when I said I did (Freddy Garcia), it confused poor Paws. He had only heard me say "I've got one" and gave me a quizzical look and double-checked my deck. I explained - to a costumed Tiger wearing a baseball jersey - that we had done a second look for former Tigers and I did have one of those, holding up the Freddy Garcia card. At this point, Paws somehow managed to look at me in a way that conveyed he thought I was a standout nerd, even for somebody at a Tiger Tweet Up event holding a conversation with the team mascot.

The rest of the event was a good time. The next trivia questions asked what the three official Tiger Twitter accounts were and who the Red Wings had just beaten in the playoffs. I had no idea about the Twitter accounts, but in my haste to try to win the ticket upgrades, I texted "@Official_Tigers #riveter PHX" instead of the requisite "@Official_Tigers #TigerTU PHX". I blamed auto-correct but I'm not even sure that function works for hashtags. The final contests involved more games stemming from a second round of baseball cards. I almost had a winner when the game was based on having the player with the highest visible jersey number on their card's photo. As I went to the front to claim my prize for having Mark Buehrle's "56", somebody else realized they had a player with a visible "77".

So our getting an upgrade was not meant to be. It was just as well. They were giving away pairs of tickets and our group had three people. Not sure how they would have handled that. So with the event finished, we went off to find our seats.

Game Time

Usually when I go to baseball games, I'm pretty much all business. I live in Toledo and get home from work at five so after I take care of the dogs, it's usually about 5:30 before we can leave for Detroit. The drive, traffic and parking usually lets us do little more than grab a bite and a beer before we head to our seats for the first pitch. Once that first pitch comes, I don't move much. A trip to the bathroom. A second round of food and beer. Sometimes a search for a new hat. That's about it. I watch the game and when I'm not in my seat, I search it out on the park's various TVs.

I always thought a pretty good demonstration of how little I cared about anything at Comerica Park other than the Tigers was the fact that I didn't walk around the concourse until 2009. Dozens of games and plenty of weekend games where we got there in time to watch batting practice. Even with the extra time, we watched the action on the field. Not until a couple of years ago when we were looking for a particular Tiger hat or something, did we go through that outfield concourse where the statues are.

This day was different for some reason. We were all hungry and agreed that after the first inning, we'd go grab a round of beers and dogs. This caused us to miss Ryan Raburn's set pass over the left field wall, thankfully. But where missing game action usually makes me anxious, today I was content to hear the Comerica ushers joke about it. My wife, friend and I were just taking in the park, thankful there was a game. You see, until about noon that day, all the weather reports had called for rain and thunderstorms that evening. Strangely, we were celebrating by taking a pretty passive approach to watching the game.

We did make it back to our seats for the third inning, though. We stuck around long enough to see the Tigers tie it at three in the fourth. After that, our beers had decided they had hung around long enough. Also, when my wife had heard Alex Avila's walk-up music was the Black Keys, it was her final straw for wanting an Avila t-shirt. You see, the last time she wanted a t-shirt, she had decided it would be the next Tiger to hit a home run. Granderson homered in his next at bat. After the Tigers traded him, her shirt was pretty much obsolete, needed replacing and now was as good a time as any. So, bathroom, beer, and off to the retail shops.

I was all for going to the retail shops. I've been amassing Tiger and MLB gift cards for Christmas and birthdays the last few years and have come to the point where I either need to try to buy the franchise with gift cards or start getting some Tiger tickets or gear with them. Off we went. My wife's search was fruitless, but I found a hat I liked. Unfortunately, while we searched the Tigers coughed up four runs in the fifth. So now we were really in no hurry to get back to our seats and pay close attention to the game. We decided to circle the rest of the park and before we prepared for the trip we realized we had never had that third beer. As my friend and I stood in line for a Leinenkugel Summer Shandy (judge if you must), I noticed the "Fast Pitch" station.

These things have a strange allure to me. I pitched in high school, but even then I wasn't a hard thrower. I was a lefty with a good curveball, a decent changeup and a good move to first - which I was required to use too often. I probably pitched too much when I was very young and almost certainly started working on that curveball too soon. So by high school my arm was pretty tender and I ended up missing my senior season because my arm SCREAMED after every start my junior year. I don't think it's ever really recovered. I play softball every year and every year I have to sleep with my left arm down by my side so the pain from lifting it higher than my shoulder doesn't wake me up.

Knowing this all too well, I am still drawn to these stations once every five years or so. It's incredibly stupid. If you have an arm that requires at least structured rehab and maybe even surgery, the way to coddle it is not to throw as hard as you can without warming up when it's not even warm outside. But I see that radar gun and goofy college kids high fiving each other for throwing 54 mph and I can't resist. I hold out my hand for the requisite three bucks and my wife rolls her eyes as she gives it to me. I get my ticket and wait in line.

Nobody ahead of me cracks sixty, and I'm a little thankful. It dawns on me later people who can actually pitch are probably smart enough to not throw without warming up or even having thrown since last summer. Throwing caution to the wind, I take the first ball, go threw a sloppy windup and fire the ball 66 mph. My arm between my shoulder and elbow is all pins and needles. I concentrate a little more for the second windup and am able to coax this one up to 67. Close enough to 70 to entice me, I really try to go through the motions properly for my third pitch and the gun reads 68.

I'm satisfied. It's not far from what I was throwing in high school and I doubt many people can say that at 35. Of course, in high school I was six inches shorter and forty or fifty pounds lighter. "The major leaguers' speeds are at the point of release, so I'm losing at least 4 or 5 mph from what my reading should be" I explain to my friend and wife for probably the third time, sort of jokingly. Somebody seemed to have slipped a nail into my jacket as I was pitching because when I put it back on a sharp pain stabs my shoulder. "Arm hurt?" my wife asks, already knowing the answer. "L'il bit."

We finish out the game breezing around the park, stopping on the concourse to watch each time the Tigers failed to mount a comeback. As it becomes clear we didn't watch much of the game and I had largely wasted a chance to see King Felix in person, I found myself wondering if I would someday regret it. The thought quickly dissipated, though, as we continued to walk, talk and laugh about whatever came to mind. What do you know? I thought I had just about run out of different ways to enjoy a baseball game.