DETROIT -- Despite Justin Verlander making his seventh consecutive Opening Day start, the 2014 season has a new feel for the Tigers. They have a rookie manager, a revamped infield and a completely new tail end of the bullpen.
But Tigers fans who crowded the parking lots surrounding Comerica Park on Monday morning felt something else new, too. Something a bit more tangible -- the sun.
After one of the coldest winters on record, there is perhaps no more welcomed sight in Detroit than the blue skies and mid-50-degree temperatures forecasted for the season opener. Not even newly acquired second baseman Ian Kinsler could bring as much joy to Tigers fans.
"It's unbelievable how lucky we are that the weather breaks on a day like today, Opening Day," said first-time Opening Day attendee Joe Rinna.
Another fan, Georgina Schajter, who estimated she has been to about six Opening Days, could feel an increased energy on Monday. She chalked up the environment to a combination of the beautiful day and new manager Brad Ausmus.
With the weather cooperating, there was only one thing that could make the start to the season any more promising.
"All we need to do now is win the game," Schajter said.
And the Tigers obliged with a 4-3 walk-off victory as Alex Gonzalez drove in the winning run with a single.
Tigers' outfielders green on park's new sod
DETROIT -- If the sight of green grass wasn't enough salvation for Tigers fans after a winter of frozen tundra, the sight of an outfield without different-colored patches was a head-turner. The 15th Opening Day at Comerica Park was the club's first with new sod since 2007.
The opener provided the first real test for the new surface, which was laid down about a week and a half ago. The Tigers and Royals worked out on it Sunday, and Austin Jackson said he wanted to check it out and see how it felt. However, it was difficult to simulate the quick cuts needed by outfielders in game action.
"You definitely want to get your feet on it a little bit and see," Jackson said. "When you put cleats on, you want to see how it is. You have to get a good feel for it."
Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said they checked out the infield during the workout on Sunday.
"The field looks great, actually," Ausmus said. "We had a quick infield in batting practice yesterday. Everything went well."
The new sod is Kentucky bluegrass trucked in from a sod farm in Colorado. The Tigers will have similar replacement sod ready for repair work at a sod farm in Michigan.
"It actually looks pretty good," outfielder Torii Hunter said. "I saw the photos a week ago. It didn't look good."
Hunter told reporters after the Tigers' 4-3 walk-off win that the footing was fine, though Jackson seemingly struggled to get a good jump on an Eric Hosmer first-inning double to right-center.
Ausmus bracing for real deal replay reviews
DETROIT -- Tigers manager Brad Ausmus and his staff had a series of Spring Training games to practice challenges under the new replay review system. Opening Day started the process for real, and it took on a decidedly different feel.
Instead of looking at a television replay from a video room down the right-field line, having to rewind to the play in question, and communicating with the dugout through a two-day radio, defensive coordinator Matt Martin will have an MLB-installed high-definition system with which to review plays from a room just off the dugout tunnel. It's the same room Tigers pitchers used in past years to look at video between innings.
"The computer was up and running yesterday. It's down by the dugout for us," Ausmus said before Monday's game against the Royals. "And the phone line works. As far as we go, everything's a go. ...
"Spring Training was archaic by the standards of this new Hawkeye system that every stadium has."
The new system allows Martin to instantly review a play and relay a recommendation to the dugout. From there, bench coach Gene Lamont will send a signal to Ausmus, who can buy time by discussing the play with the umpiring crew, whether to challenge.
"It's a little bit awkward," Ausmus said of the argument, in the sense that you're really just trying to kill some time while your instant replay coordinator -- Matt Martin for us -- is trying to figure out whether we should challenge it or not. So, I may be blatantly honest and just tell the umpire I'm just killing time and just stand there."
Opening Day roster much younger version
DETROIT -- It's a greener Opening Day roster for the Tigers this year, by almost any standard.
Six Tigers made an Opening Day roster for the first time in their career, twice as many as last season. Five have less than a full season in the big leagues.
Nine Tigers have less than three years of Major League experience, compared with six last year.
All that comes despite the addition of 37-year-old shortstop Alex Gonzalez, the oldest Opening Day shortstop the Tigers have fielded since Alan Trammell in 1996.
• The Tigers have hired longtime Minor League catcher John Murrian as a second bullpen catcher on the Major League staff, working along Jeff Kunkel. Murrian, a 2009 Draft pick by the Tigers spent most of last season at Class A Lakeland, and fills the opening created when Scott Pickens wasn't retained.
• Longtime clubhouse manager Jim Schmakel had his hands full with Opening Day business, but he stepped in at the last minute to provide Tigers hats for ESPN's Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic during their morning show on ESPN Radio from across the street at Ford Field. ESPN broadcaster and Michigan resident Mike Tirico brought over the hats and gave a shoutout to Schmakel, calling him, "One of the great figures in Detroit sports."