Michael Fulmer remembers starting the Tigers’ home opener in 2017, as much for the atmosphere outside the park as for anything that happened inside it over his six scoreless innings that chilly April afternoon.
“It's 9 o'clock in the morning, I'm driving to the ballgame and there's people with let's just say adult beverages around the parking lot,” Fulmer said. “They always say it's like a national holiday in Detroit, and after my home opener in 2017, I firmly believe that.”
He never could have imagined that his first start this season would be the home opener at Comerica Park, not with his recovery from Tommy John surgery keeping him out until July. But then again, he would have never imagined a Tigers’ home opener without fans, either.
After all the rehab work Fulmer put in on his own in the quiet of the Tigers’ Spring Training facility in Lakeland, Fla., having to motivate himself to keep working, maybe it’s fitting that Fulmer gets the start in the first game with no fans at Comerica Park. But after working back from right knee and elbow surgeries, Fulmer is simply grateful to take the mound for his first Major League start in 22 months.
“Man, I'll tell you what, all these intrasquads, all these live BPs, especially my [exhibition] start on Wednesday, I've been super nervous. And I don’t think it’s a bad thing,” Fulmer said. “I think it's like the good nerves that you get from starting the home opener in 2017 against the Red Sox. It's a great feeling to have, and I almost welcome it to the point where it's not straight nerves, it's more kind of anxiety.
“You want to get out there. You want to do well. You want to show what you can do. And I'm real happy about that.”
If he keeps that sense, it shouldn’t be a problem pitching through the relative quiet.
“I think the biggest thing is trying to get adrenaline going by your own means, trying to do whatever you can to get the blood pumping a little bit,” Fulmer said. “You can't rely on anything in the stands.
“It's still an honor to get the home opener, with or without fans. I'm excited to be able to pitch again, especially at Comerica.”
Tigers to honor Kaline
The Tigers have had a lot to ponder about the logistics of a home opener without fans in Comerica Park. How to remember Mr. Tiger has been at the top of the list.
Three and a half months have passed since Hall of Famer Al Kaline passed away on April 6 at age 85. Despite a ballpark with no fans, the team has planned a pregame ceremony to remember and celebrate Kaline’s life, which was intertwined with the Tigers since he signed his first pro contract the day after his high school graduation.
The ceremony will take place shortly after the 7:10 p.m. ET first pitch between the Tigers and Royals. Fox Sports Detroit will carry the tribute as part of its pregame show, which begins at 6 p.m.
The Tigers are honoring Kaline this season with a patch on their uniforms of his number 6.
Carson’s opening monologue
Carson Fulmer grew up in the shadow of Tigertown, born and raised in Lakeland, Fla. Spring Training games were a ritual for him.
“My family would always take me to games,” the new Tigers pitcher said Sunday morning. “I played there a few times growing up. It's just kind of when the Tigers came to town, that was the thing to do. I would always sit there and imagine myself in this position with the Tigers.”
He didn’t imagine it happening this way, claimed off waivers after being designated for assignment by the White Sox a few days ago. But after four seasons with Detroit’s division rivals, the former first-round Draft pick is hopeful the Tigers are a fit for him for more than childhood memories.
“It was hard at first,” he said, “but I think when you take a step back and you really look at things, I think the best thing for me was a fresh start. With this team being my fresh start, I think it was a positive thing in so many ways. Man, I feel like a lot of weight's off my back.”
Asked what went awry in Chicago, where command issues seemed to prevent a full-time role, Fulmer said he got away from form.
“To keep a long story short, there were a lot of things that I did the last couple years that I just wasn't used to -- mechanical changes, I could get all into that,” he said. “But at the end of the day, I really want to get back to who I am, and that's pitching with my mentality and my competitiveness.”
Fulmer threw for pitching coach Rick Anderson on Sunday morning in Cincinnati. Manager Ron Gardenhire said no determination has been made on what role he’ll fill on Detroit’s pitching staff.
• Though Cameron Maybin was not in Sunday’s lineup after leaving Saturday’s win with a lower body cramp, Gardenhire does not expect it to be a lingering injury, saying he planned on starting Victor Reyes on Sunday anyway. Gardenhire said Maybin reported cramps in both legs.