The morning after the Blue Jays game in Toronto I headed Southwest on the QEW through Hamilton, ON where I stopped and got some Tim Horton’s donuts (this is obligatory for any trip to Canada, even for Canadians) and then made my way across the Ambassador Bridge between Windsor, Ontario and Detroit, Michigan.  This time, the American customs agent wasn’t aware that Detroit had a baseball team when I explained the purpose of my trip to her.  Nevertheless, I informed her that the Tigers would be taking on the Yankees that evening at Comerica Park and that was where I was headed.

We’ve all heard horror stories about Detroit over the years, from those dark years in the 90s when it was the murder capitol of the United States to the recent mass exodus that has left the city with about a third of the population it once had in its glory days.  I can’t speak for the city as a whole, but I can say that the area around the ballpark is quite nice.  Comerica Park is nestled just off the Fisher and Chrysler freeways next to Ford Field, home of the Detroit Lions (and I believe that the Red Wings play nearby as well).  Both stadiums are made of brick and literally stand next to each other.  The entrance to Comerica Park is guarded by enormous stone tigers and the panther motif wraps all the way around the ballpark. Inside, there are bronze statues to some of the greats who have worn the Tigers uniform including Ty Cobb.   A breezeway passes behind the ivy wall in centerfield where you can walk behind it and see how the ivy is vertically supported. It is an uncovered stadium and the grass is real.

Outside Comercia Park in Detroit

My arrival at the box office was met with a sour note though. I hadn’t taken into account that the Tigers were playing the Yankees and that tickets had sold out.  “Damn, this could be a problem,” I cursed…  Missing this game would screw up my schedule again and cause me to miss other games down the line. I stepped away from the ticket window and surveyed my surroundings.  The scalpers stood across the street and off ballpark property, on the other side of an invisible river Rubicon.  But I only had $40 in my wallet, would it be enough to get a ticket to a sold-out ballgame? I’d bought tickets from scalpers before, but never in a clutch situation like this.

The first guy I approached waved his “I need tickets” sign in my face and asked what I needed. I told him I wanted a cheap single.  He pointed to a spot on a stadium section map that he held out to me and said “100 dollars.”

Haggling for scalped tickets is dance that we all have to do sometimes.  When a scalper gives you an outrageous price for tickets, it’s best to say “Hell nawh,” drop the ticket on the ground and walk away. If you’ve got brass balls, step on the ticket and be sure to leave a shoe print. If the scalper wants to negotiate, he’ll come back with a better price. Then you tell him how much you actually want to pay.

This guy didn’t bite, neither did his buddy nearby.  I walked to the end of the block where a guy holding a StubHub print out approached me.  He wanted $50 for a piece of paper that may-or-may-not have had a valid ticket attached to it.  My spidey-senses protested but as I turned away he said the magic words, “$30 dollars, you can check it at the ticket window.”

Of course, there’s nothing to stop this guy from printing out the same ticket stub and selling the same ticket to as many suckers as he can, but for $30 bucks it seemed worth the gamble.  He walked me as far as the causeway before telling me he couldn’t go any further.  Like a vampire who can’t come into your house uninvited, a scalper can’t go onto the ballpark grounds.  The ticket agent didn’t seem to confused or put out in my request to verify the ticket but there’s only so much he can do other than to see whether the ticket has been voided prior to the game.  Since it checked out, I paid the man and took my ticket/piece of paper.

I spent the remaining time before the ballgame in a local bar near the stadium called Elwood Bar & Grill enjoying an alcoholic staple of mine, gin and grapefruit juice chased with a local beer.  I sat alone at the only table downstairs, wedged between the restrooms and a stock room. The bar’s patrons seemed surprised to see someone down there with a laptop busily multi-tasking before the game, but once I explained that I was writing a blog for my road trip and that I was also drinking, the folks I met were very receptive.

Finally, game time rolled around and I stood in line with my supposed ticket.  The centerfield gate was crowded with lines of fans jostling to get in. I saw several people being turned back at the front of the line and my anxiety level grew.  What if they had bough counterfeit tickets too?  It’s not that unusual, I saw a guy at Yankee Stadium get hosed with a fake ticket off the internet…  The moment of truth: I approached the iron gates, handed my ticket of dubious origins to the guy with the scanner and cringed.

Beep. “Enjoy the game,” and I pushed through the turnstile into the stadium.

Within minutes of the umpire shouting, “Play ball!” a light sprinkle began to fall from overhead.  What had been a bright sunny sky a few hours earlier had become overcast.  By the 2nd inning, the grounds crew were rolling out the tarp over the infield as folks with uncovered seats crowded into the concourse to get out of the rain.  I stood chatting with a couple of Canadian guys from Windsor (the city right across the bridge from Detroit).  Turns out that despite a national tie to the Toronto Blue Jays, these guys were Detroit fans all the way… that is to say except for hockey, then they were Maple Leaf fans.

When the rain cleared and play resumed, I finally found my seat off in left field just beyond the home team bullpen.  Turns out that the ticket that I had purchased belonged to the guys sitting next to me and they had sold it to the scalper because their friend couldn’t go to the game.  At any rate, the game was a good matchup between the Tigers and Yankees.  The Tigers started the game out with a 2-0 lead over the Yanks thanks to a monster home run by Miguel Cabrera and an RBI knocked in by Berry.  In the 8th, New York tied it up thanks to Nick Swisher but Cabrera puts the Tigers ahead again in the bottom of the 8th with another home run to the exact same spot as the one he hit earlier in the game.  In the ninth, the Yankees get the tying run walked in then the Tigers score the game winning run on a sac-fly.  I love seeing the Yankees loose; Tigers take it 4-3.

Progressive Field, home of the Cleveland Indians

My next stop was Progressive Field in Cleveland, Ohio to watch the Indians take on the Minnesota Twins the very next day.  I blew out of Detroit right after the game and headed South down the I-75.  As I passed through Toledo, I remembered all those re-runs of M*A*S*H and corporal Klinger extolling the virtues of the Toledo Mud Hens who still play AAA baseball as an minor league affiliate of the Detroit Tigers. I made a mental note to return to Toledo and catch a game as I proceeded on my way to Cleveland.

Progressive Field is located right off the freeway as you approach downtown Cleveland.  The box office is difficult to get to from the street if you are driving, so I ended up getting my ticket from another scalper but it was not nearly as dramatic since I got a regular ticket stub this time.   Despite the fact that the Indians were doing quite well this season, attendance has been really low for home games.  I was able to get great seats on 100 level, off the 3rd base line.  I let it slip that I was on my Major League Road Trip and the people sitting around me loved it, I’m pretty sure the family sitting in the row in front of me wanted to invite me home just to hear all about the trip. I demurred graciously, but enjoyed listening to the dad tell me about the history of Progressive Field and learned that up until Red Sox finally broke the curse that the Indians held the record for most consecutive sold-out games ever: 455 (Red Sox have 468).  Unfortunately, the Indians didn’t set any records that day, the Twins took the game 6-3 lead by Trevor Plouffe.  Jose Lopez (a former Mariner) knocked in an RBI or two but it wasn’t enough to avoid being steamrolled by Minnesota.

Elvis Presley's 1975 Lincoln Continental Mark IV

1975 Lincoln Continental Mark IV

June 4th was the day after the game and I had some time to kill since the Cincinnati Reds weren’t scheduled to play another home stand until the 5th.  I took the opportunity to visit the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame that afternoon.  It is an architectural piece of art reminiscent of the glass pyramid of the Louvre, near the shore of Lake Erie in Cleveland.  There are about 5 floors filled with exhibits starting with grandcestors of Rock ‘n’ Roll: the blues men.  This was my favorite exhibits, I loved looking at the old acoustic guitars and all the ingenious modifications that the musicians tried just to make their instruments louder. There is a whole exhibit devoted to Les Paul and his quest to create an amplified solid body guitar.  And to top it off, they had a purple 1975 Lincoln Continental Mark IV that belonged to Elvis Presley.  I have to say that the King had great taste in automobiles.

With a few hours of daylight left after the museum closed, I made a beeline down the I-80 from Cleveland back to Toledo’s Fifth Third Field.  The Mud Hens were playing the Buffalo Bisons that evening and I just had to catch the game. Matt Tuiasosopo, a local Seattle kid and son of a former defensive lineman for the Seattle Seahawks plays for the Bisons so I made sure to cheer when he was up to bat.  The Bisons beat the Mud Hens 2-1 but the crowd was so friendly that it was hard to notice that the home team lost. As I drove off into the night, I realized that I liked Toledo a lot.

The next couple days were going to be a whirl-wind of activity.  My plan was to hit the first game of the series between the Reds and the Pirates in Cincinnati on the 5th, then drive like a maniac from the southern tip of Ohio all the way to Chicago to catch a White Sox game on the 6th and then back track to Pittsburgh to make up the game I missed a week earlier. That’s a lot of miles to cover in just a few days, but I was sure I could do it.