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A sometimes-irreverent look at Detroit's Boys of Summer, the Tigers, as they try to defend their back-to-back American League Central titles.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

What's better than drawing 3 million fans? Getting a chance to draw more in playoffs


It’s hardly a secret that the population of Detroit and its surrounding metropolitan area has been steadily shrinking.

For valid economic reasons.

Despite the woes of the economy, the yearly population at Comerica Park is not shrinking, however.

For the third time in six years, the Detroit Tigers drew more than three million fans during the 2012 regular season, as 3,028,033 fans trickled through the turnstiles to see them play.

“Before I came here, when I thought of three million, I thought of the Dodgers, the Cardinals, the Yankees. To be honest with you, I didn’t think of Detroit,” said manager Jim Leyland, who’s been at the helm of the Tigers all three of those seasons, the only three times in the franchise’s 112-year history they’ve accomplished the feat. “Obviously, the three times, whatever it is, is pretty impressive. These people are unbelievable.”

Not all of them were satisfied every time they left, through a season that failed to live up to expectations until the very end.

Saturday and Sunday, though, another 83,564 or more could head through the gates off Brush Street, East Adams, Witherell and East Montcalm, as the Tigers will play host to the first two games of an American League Division Series, fulfilling the most basic goal that everyone had for the team: Make the playoffs.

For the first time since 1934-35, the Tigers are back in the postseason in consecutive years. Leyland’s the only the second manager to take the franchise to three postseasons, joining Hughie Jennings (1907-08-09).

“I’m proud of that. So be it. This isn’t my show, this is about the players. This is about the three million people, and probably a lot (more) of them that couldn’t afford to come, that didn’t show up, but were with us in spirit every night. I thank you for that,” an emotional Leyland said in his postgame comments on Fox Sports Detroit after the Tigers clinched the AL Central title on Monday.

“Congratulations to ... (everyone) and particularly the three million that come out to see us. I can’t thank ’em enough.”

Leyland understands that the juxtaposition of rising attendance and his tenure is coincidental. For one, the Tigers’ owner, Mike Ilitch, started pouring money into the franchise to make it into a contender — both at the box office, and on the field.

For another, the Tigers are winning, finishing lower than second just twice in his seven years. And they’re winning at home: The Tigers have won 50 or more games at home, their .627 winning percentage at Comerica since the start of the 2009 season in ranking in the top two in the AL.

“I don’t want to take anything away from the players that were here before, but Mr. Ilitch, he got stars. That’s why we drew three million. He got Pudge Rodriguez, Magglio Ordonez, Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Justin Verlander. That’s why we’re drawing three million,” said the manager, who’s also made stops in Pittsburgh, Florida and Colorado.

“I’d like to say it was all me, but I really didn’t have much to do with it.

“I will say this: ... I’m proud of it. It’s nice to be a part of that. This has been some of the best times in the history of the Tigers, it seems to me. Spirit-wise, fan-wise, emotion.

“So, at least I’ve been here during that time.”

It’s a relatively novel concept for the veteran skipper, too, considering the three other franchises he’s worked for only topped two million three times in his 13 combined seasons on the various benches, only once — his lone season in Colorado in 1999 — topping the three-million mark.

“Yeah, when I was in Florida, half the fans were rooting for the other team,” he said. “No, they were. People from Philadelphia were there. People from New York. People from Atlanta. People from Chicago. I’m just talking regular games, not during the World Series or playoffs, but during normal games. There’s a lot of times when half the crowd was for the other team. And it was really weird. Until the World Series, then all the fur coats came out.”

This season in Detroit, the park was sold out almost half the time — 33 of 81 home dates — and the average attendance of 37,383 represented 90.6 percent of capacity, fifth-best in baseball, behind Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco and St. Louis.

“It’s real interesting, because everybody I ever talked to, since I’ve been here, people I run into on the street — this has been more of a grandfather, tickets to the father, tickets to the son, tickets to the grandson. It’s generations, it seems like. I guess maybe it’s that way everywhere, but it seems more here. Seems like it’s been a family thing. Almost a sacred thing,” Leyland said.

“That’s why you have to take what you get from a fan standpoint, because the passion is so strong. That’s why you have to understand that. There’s going to be several different opinions, about your lineups or your managing, or something, because the passion’s so strong. There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s great. It’s a lot better than having nobody give a (crap). Pretty neat really.”

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