Detroit Tigers First Opening Day

The Detroit Tiger’s Opening Day has always been causefor celebrationWhile baseball’s return and renewed championship hopes are enough to excite sports fans, the promise of the long summer days baseball brings with it never fails to put the rest of the city in a celebratory mood.



Photo: c. 1886, from the Detroit Historical Society collectionBlack and white photographic print depicting the Detroit Wolverines playing at Recreation Park, as seen from behind home plate. Mounted on board.

Beginning of Baseball in Detroit

Professional baseball in Detroit dates to 1881, with the Detroit Wolverines franchise which disbanded in 1888. In 1894, the Detroit Tigers franchise we recognize today was officially founded and reorganized under the Western League. In 1894 – 1895 they played at Boulevard Park (also called League Park) located on East Lafayette Street near Belle Isle. 



Photo: c. 1910, from the Detroit Historical Society collection. Black and white photographic print depicting the construction of the stands at the site of Bennet Park/Navin Field. 

The First Opening Day

On April 13, 1896, the first pitch was thrown at the new park – officially dedicated just a few days prior.

This Opening Day was important because this new location would be home to Detroit’s baseball team for the next 104 seasons, but also because the team got its name! When the team walked out to begin playing, its familiar cream-colored uniforms with “Detroit” in maroon block letters across the front were nowhere to be found.

Over the winter the Detroit Free Press reported the team would wear “white uniforms with black trimmings for home games. Instead of the word Detroit on the shirt front there will be a German letter “D” on one side.” Another change to the uniform in 1896 had even larger ramifications— giving the team its recognizable name!

Manager George Stallings, hoping to change the team’s luck, swapped out their solid black socks for black with yellowish-brown stripes. This change prompted newspapers to start calling the Tigers, and the name stuck! Previously newspapers of the time referred to the Detroit team simply as the Detroit's, the Creams (for their uniforms), the Wolverines, and even the Giants on a few occasions.


Photo: c. 1907, from the Detroit Historical Society collection. Black and white postcard depicting Detroit Tiger Bill Coughlin swinging a bat.

Despite some tweaks over the years, the uniform (and team name) has remained largely unchanged in the 127 years since.

Even though they placed 4th that year in the league, 1896 was a landmark year for the club: their first game at Michigan and Trumbull; adopting the Old English (or German) D; and receiving their team name — certainly the start of something new.

That first opening day had all the trappings of the current version; music, large crowds, playing hooky from work and school, local politicians throwing out the first pitch etc. But Opening Day 1896 was not only the birth of a new season, but it was also the birth of the modern Detroit Tigers.


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