Detroit Tigers and Their Fans: A Love Affair Renewed

Jul 20, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander (35) acknowledges the fans as he walks off the field in the eighth inning against the Minnesota Twins at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 20, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander (35) acknowledges the fans as he walks off the field in the eighth inning against the Minnesota Twins at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports /

The Detroit Tigers have fed off renewed fan energy to reestablish home dominance, something that has been lacking for the club over the last few years.

As the Detroit Tigers tumbled to a first-to-worst season in 2015, losing 15 more games than the season before (90-72 in 2014, 74-87 in 2015), some of the players looked deeply at the lost year, as the franchise failed to make the postseason for the first time since 2010, and experienced a losing season for the first time since 2008.

Victor Martinez had one of the worst seasons of his career, largely because of injuries, and while he slumped throughout the year, so too did the fans, something players noticed. In mid-September, V-Mart eulogized the lost season.

"“This is definitely a season that will teach a lesson to a lot of people. Starting with this clubhouse, a lot of players and a lot of people in the front office. And, believe it or not, it will teach a lesson to the fans, too. You want to have your team in the playoffs, definitely. The fans want to win, everybody wants to win. But nobody wants to win more than we do. When we play at home, we want them behind us.[The 2014 ALDS] was tough. We came home down 2-0 and the fans were really hard. Now they won’t be angry. There’s no October baseball. That’s why I say this season will be a lesson to a lot of people. You know, sometimes it’s a good thing. You need to take a step back to go forward.”"

Martinez was referring to the negative reception the Tigers received when coming home from Baltimore down 0-2 to the Orioles. When the players needed their fans the most, they weren’t able to deliver, just like the players weren’t able to deliver on that cool October day at Comerica Park, resulting in a quick, three-game sweep.

Certainly fans couldn’t be enamored with what took place 48 hours earlier when the club blew a late three-run lead in Game 2 that would have tied the series, however it wasn’t long ago that Tigers’ fans would’ve simply been happy to be in the playoffs after nearly two decades of postseason baseball being played in cities not named Detroit. It seemed a sense of entitlement had set in with the fan base.

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The Tigers have been on a roll in recent weeks, winning 10 of their last 12 heading into Monday’s late night game in Seattle, jumped to the front of the wild-card race, and into the thick of the AL Central race, something unfathomable a few weeks ago when the club dropped two straight at home to the woeful Minnesota Twins.

This excitement, seemingly coming out of nowhere from a team that hovered around .500 for much of the season, has a bit of the special feeling that was palpable a decade ago in 2006, when baseball unofficially arrived back on the scene in Michigan.

Much of the resurgence has to do with the Tigers’ incredible play at home. They are not only winning at Comerica Park, A LOT, they are doing so in thrilling fashion. Take the just completed nine-game homestand:

July 29: Tigers 14, Astros 6: Nine runs in the first two innings

July 30: Tigers 3, Astros 2: Justin Verlander gem; Jose Iglesias beats out infield single for walk-off to complete comeback

August 3: Tigers 2, White Sox 1: J.D. Martinez hits a dramatic home run for the ages

August 4: Tigers 6, Mets 5: Martinez (again) saves the day with a bullet to Jarrod Saltalamacchia to throw out the tying run at home to end the game.

“Are you not entertained?”

While fans, perhaps feeling this team didn’t have what it took to win, or still feeling the residual effects of being disappointed in the 2012 World Series, the crushing 2013 defeat of arguably the best Tigers’ team of this era, the 2014 drubbing by Baltimore, and the 2015 fire-sale, were slow to hop aboard the bandwagon. Now the atmosphere seems to be back at the COPA, and players, just like V-Mart noticed the negativity two years ago, have started to take notice.

"“I think the fans have been really great, getting into games. It’s nice to see, because sometimes, when we’re not playing well, it’s a little flat here. We play well at home, traditionally. So to get the fans back excited again, having them cheer us on, and know when to cheer, and how to cheer, and what to cheer for — without prompting them — that really gets the players going, and we feed off of that. To have that energy — that buzz — going around the stadium, we feed off of that.” – Verlander"

The Tigers have now won 10 of their last 12 series at home, have earned the best home record in the AL since May 16 at 28-12, and are on pace to win 50 games at Comerica Park for the first time since 2013. They won at least 50 there every year from 2009 to 2013, a time period that represents the thick of the franchise’s current run, when they fed off home crowds and went deep into the postseason several of those years.

When the Tigers play well, fans respond. Conversely, when fans are into the games, it energizes players. We saw the reverse in the 2014 playoffs, and saw the worst in fans and players. Now, we are seeing the best in both.

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The team faces a tough road trip to Seattle and AL-leading Texas this week. It could very well be a losing road trip, but no matter what happens, when the team returns home next Monday, fans better gear up. We’ve seen what a boisterous crowd can do for this team.