Adams Street comes alive with Tiger-mania

Updated: October 15, 2006, 3:10 AM ET
By Eric Adelson | ESPN The Magazine

DETROIT -- They stood on that ledge all night long, peering in through the bars of the Comerica Park fence along Adams Street. They looked like prisoners, but they wanted to be there, unpaid attendance with the best non-ticket in town. They were college girls and older men and Detroiters and suburbanites and little kids poking their heads through the bars like toddlers getting caught in banisters.

They could not see the big scoreboard, or the field, or much of anything beyond the ivy draped between them and right-center field. So they did not see the arc of the baseball off Magglio Ordonez's bat, or where it landed.

Kenny Rogers
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesKenny Rogers was in a celebratory mood once again as the Tigers clinched their second straight series in front of their home fans.
But they heard. And they knew.

The old Tiger Stadium felt like a huge boxing ring, with its hulking grandstands hanging over the field and its klieg lights shining like a spotlight straight down. But Comerica Park is just that -- a park with a view out over the skyline and a street outside that almost feels like it's inside. Adams stretches from the buzzing Cheli's Chili Bar (owned by Chris Chelios) on one end to Ford Field on the other. And on one side of the street sits a long fence with a view into a field that so recently played to tens of hundreds instead of tens of thousands. The Tigers lost 585 games in six seasons as the Adams Street fence stood cold and empty in the distance.

This summer brought swells of fans to Adams, at first only a trickle and then greater and greater like waves in a growing storm. At the season's first sell-out, during a June weekend against the Cardinals, members of a wedding party snuck out of a reception to cling to the bars in their tuxes and cocktail dresses. Through the fence they could see people in the smokers' section right inside, puffing and people-watching in their tees and mini-skirts. Something was happening here.

Then the fall chill came, and the cold bars of the fence got warm with palms and arms and even legs draped through. And the view was of fans in Tigger costumes and orange-striped pajamas and guys with mops of black curly hair stapled to their caps -- "FRO-donez!" Fans on the fence saw mobs of people running and jumping and hugging as the Tigers beat the Yankees less than a week after they blew the division by losing an entire series to the lowly Royals. They slung their arms around each other like old friends.

In Saturday afternoon's sunshine, the fence filled up early. So did Adams Street itself, with parked school buses and fans standing on top, waving brooms. So did a parking structure across the street, which somehow became an overflow party area from Elwood Bar and Grill. The fence had become the front row.

So nobody dropped off the ledge when Dan Haren struck out six batters in three innings, or when the Tigers fell behind for only the third time all series, or when Jason Grilli walked four A's with 12 pitches. The fans hung on the bars like magnets in the frigid wind, even with two outs and no one on in the bottom of the ninth.

Then came a base hit, and a roar, and a base hit, and a roar, and then the chant: "Oh We Oh! Maaa-glio!" Ordonez had homered earlier in the game -- again out of view of the fence dwellers -- but now the hope was only for him to make contact, give Craig Monroe a chance to sprint home.

The fence fans saw all the arms raise, and they heard that wonderful one-second pause in the screaming as thousands watched to see where the little orb would land.

The Tigers were a baby left in a blanket on a doorstep, thrilling with every coo and smile and crawl and wobble. So the city was happy with a winning team, delighted with a contender, giddy with a playoff clinch, and downright dizzy with a win over the almighty Yankees, who will never ever know the wonder of an impossible pennant.

Then they heard. And they knew.

They leapt and yelled on that tiny ledge, with one arm raised and the other still clinging. They saw the fans inside dancing and high-fiving and texting and even crying. And the chills ran through them like currents, and made them warm.

Then the fans on the inside, on the patio near the Pepsi Porch, turned and ran through the smoking section and skipped up and back along the fence, reaching up to slap five and grasp hands and even hug through the bars. Soon all of Adams Street swayed.

The beauty of this Motor City season has been the utter surprise. There was no real hope of spring, and no chance of a letdown come the summer. This wasn't the Red Wings or Pistons or Michigan football -- teams that carry expectations like rucksacks. The Tigers were a baby left in a blanket on a doorstep, thrilling with every coo and smile and crawl and wobble. So the city was happy with a winning team, delighted with a contender, giddy with a playoff clinch, and downright dizzy with a win over the almighty Yankees, who will never ever know the wonder of an impossible pennant.

The economy may be bad, and the auto industry may be struggling, and the Lions may be winless, but for a good hour Saturday night, a slab of pavement in Detroit was the happiest place on Earth. The Tigers had given a town its most unforgettable two weeks ever.

The party went on Saturday night, in the lot outside Cheli's, and in the parking structure outside Elwood's, and everywhere in between. And even when Adams went quiet again, well after 10 p.m., there were still two kids hanging on that fence.

Waiting.

Eric Adelson is a senior writer for ESPN Magazine. E-mail him at eric.adelson@espn3.com.

Eric Adelson | email

ESPN The Magazine
Eric Adelson was a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.

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