Slugger Prince Fielder has only played one regular season game with the Detroit Tigers, but the team is reveling in his economic impact.
The Tigers drew a record Opening Day crowd of 45,027 to Comerica Park, the second-highest single game attendance in the park’s 12-year history.
Many people were there simply to see Fielder, the former Milwaukee Brewer who signed a $214 million, nine-year contract with the club earlier this year.
Thanks to Fielder, the Tigers have seen an immediate impact on season ticket sales.
They sold 21,000 season ticket packages (six games or more) before the season started, guaranteeing them annual attendance of at least 1.6 million fans. That’s up 50 percent from the 14,000 season tickets the Tigers sold in 2011, when they won the American League Central Division title.
The team’s season ticket record is 27,000 packages, set in 2008, when the Tigers acquired Miguel Cabrera, who was last year’s American League batting champion. That was also the year after Justin Verlander threw his first no-hitter.
Verlander was on the mound Thursday, throwing eight innings of shutout baseball. Tigers’ closer Jose Valverde spoiled Verlander of the win by giving up two runs in the top of the ninth, allowing the Boston Red Sox to tie the game, but the Tigers came back in the bottom of the ninth to win on a walk-off single by Austin Jackson.
Attendance always rises when Verlander pitches, as I wrote last year in the New York Times.
Fans at Thursday’s game noticed some changes, the biggest being a new centerfield scoreboard. The luxury suites at Comerica also have been updated, with marble countertops, set-in food warmers and fresh paint and pictures on the walls.
Suite lessors got a gift from the Tigers: a embossed bottle of red wine to commemorate the division title.
Although Thursday was Fielder’s first official game, a number of fans traveled to Toledo on Wednesday afternoon for a charity game between the Tigers and their AAA ballclub, the Toledo Mud Hens. That game drew 12,000 people — not bad for the middle of an April afternoon.
Toledo Mayor Michael Bell stopped by to greet Tiger great Al Kaline, who watched the game with a group including Tigers’ general manager Dave Dombrowski and assistant general manager Al Avila, father of Tigers’ catcher Alex Avila. You can see them in our slideshow below.
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