2004 had a great start. The late offseason additions of Ivan Rodriguez and Carlos Guillen helped solidify the lineup, and the spring training signing of closer Ugueth Urbina gave the bullpen respectability in the end.
These improvements all led to a season in which for the first time in years, baseball in Detroit became noteworthy again.
The team still finished well below average at 72-90, but coming off a season in which they won just 43 games, great strides had been made. And the wins weren't the only thing that displayed the re-emergence of baseball in the Motor City.
For the first time, there was more than just apathy towards the Detroit Tigers. Fans began to complain about managing decisions by Alan Trammell. Defensive blunders or poor relief outings that cost the team games.
In the past, these mistakes would have been met with simply the same ole response – "It's the Tigers."
But no more – fans started to return to the ballpark (as evidenced by the attendance jump for the 2004 season), attention and media coverage was up, baseball was starting to return to Detroit.
Rumors of an offseason spending spree excited even more fans. Dreams of big boppers like Adrian Beltre and Carl Pavano ran rampant among Tiger fans. Fuel was added to the fire when just days into the free agent signing period, the Tigers came to terms with veteran closer Troy Percival, to help improve an obviously struggling bullpen.
But the final month proved to be far less inspiring than many hoped, as the Tigers big money offers went largely ignored, and the Tigers didn't land a single free agent they had targeted. Beltre, Pavano and many others elected to go in other directions, rather than take the money off Tigers' owner Mike Ilitch.
So, from the great start with Pudge, to the free agent letdown, so closes the 2004 year for the Detroit Tigers. They may not head into 2005 with the same momentum as they did coming into 2004, but then again, at the conclusion of the 20032 campaign, many fans were without hope before the sudden spending by Ilitch on free agents like Rondell White and Jason Johnson.
So fear not Tiger fans, for while 2004 closes out with a dud, it's only a roadblock in the Tigers return, both to the city of Detroit, and Major League Baseball.
2005 will mark another year of baseball at Comerica Park, including the Major League Baseball All Star Game and Home Run Derby. 2005 still promises to have its share of let-downs, but baseball's back in Motown, and hopefully this time, back to stay.
Now, about that lineup . . .