DETROIT -- The sellout crowd at Comerica Park will roar on Opening Day, taking in its first sights of Prince Fielder in a Tigers uniform and Justin Verlander back on the mound. The fans will take in the start of a new season, and they'll bask in whatever sunlight they can find on an early April afternoon in Michigan.
Even if an overcast day shrouds the sun, though, they'll still have some light to follow. Because if the Tigers' renovation designs go to plan, the scoreboard that looms over left field should be beaming.
Comerica's newest feature, which will boast 6,000 square feet of high-definition video and graphics, is poised to become the fourth-biggest video board in Major League Baseball. And as workers put together the new board on the corner of Brush and Adams, it's the biggest project the stadium has seen -- aside from the team itself -- since the Tigers moved in the fences and moved the bullpens in the mid 2000s.
It's a big enough project that the Tigers had to cancel their annual FanFest event in January out of safety concerns around the ballpark. By all appearances, it should be worth the wait.
The scope of the project was apparent a while ago by the sight of an empty scoreboard structure. All of the boards, advertisements and lighting were stripped out, and even the ceramic Tigers that stood atop the board were taken down and sent out for treatment. The new board will be assembled in the coming weeks, with plans to have everything together by the end of March.
When it makes its public debut April 5, it'll be light years -- pardon the pun -- ahead of the technology it replaced.
Most of the previous scoreboard dates back to the first days of the ballpark, debuting in 2000 as the largest scoreboard in the Majors at the time. Much of the lighting was based on bulbs, which was common around the big leagues then, with a 1000-foot video board for footage and replays.
However, once vibrant multi-color LED scoreboards became available a few years later, teams began updating. The Tigers added LED boards along the facing of the second deck and the right-field fence in 2007, but were one of the few teams left still using the old-style scoreboards.
The new scoreboard, built and programmed by Daktronics, will be entirely LED. It will be wider than the old board, and it'll actually be raised approximately 16 feet on the current structure so that it's less obstructed from fans by the left-field upper deck.
Even the Tigers lettering on the top of the scoreboard will be dynamic, state-of-the-art LED, allowing for special effects and color changes that should outshine other big league parks. Gone will be the 22-foot block lettering TIGERS, replaced by cursive lettering that will tower 36 feet over the scoreboard. The ceramic Tigers will return.
The smaller board hanging below the main board, where pitch counts and radar-gun readings appear, will also be replaced. The new version will be twice as long, allowing for more information. Add in new boards along the club level where the line score usually appears, and all the boards in the park will be LED.
Daktronics is an industry leader, as its integrated supersystems (video and scoring) are featured at 22 of 30 Major League ballparks.
Duane McLean, Tigers executive vice president of business operations, and team vice president for park operations Michael Healy listed a few reasons behind the upgrade. First and foremost, it will provide a better entertainment experience for fans, both with stats and video. It's expected to provide increased visibility for advertising opportunities for sponsors.
"Every year there are discussions with ownership to assess how to upgrade the ballpark and enhance the fan experience," McLean said. "The goal is to provide the best in-park atmosphere possible for the fans. The new HD video board and system integration is a significant upgrade to Comerica Park."
Another advantage is the chance for the Tigers to expand their video presence at the park. Four stationary cameras, plus a roving camera, will be installed. In addition, the upgrades include replacing all of the 400 television screens in the ballpark with HDTV flat screens, from the club suites to the press box to the concourse.
Add up the changes, and they mean a vastly different look to the game, on the field and around it. With the kind of numbers this team could put up, the timing couldn't be much better.