DETROIT -- The Tigers remain noncommittal about potential changes to the playing dimensions at Comerica Park, but one change to the ballpark is already clear: Whatever the field looks like for 2023 and beyond, it’ll be brighter.
The Tigers on Sunday announced they will upgrade the lighting at the ballpark to a state-of-the-art LED system, providing brighter surroundings with less glare and energy usage while also allowing for dynamic light shows.
“This upgrade is a significant one because of the impact it will have to all who watch Detroit Tigers baseball,” Ilitch Sports and Entertainment president/CEO Chris McGowan said in a release. “From improving playing conditions and ball tracking to innovative light shows that will help enhance the energy and buzz at the ballpark, this project was a focus for us to continue providing a first-class fan experience at Comerica Park moving into 2023 and beyond.”
LED lighting has become a common sight across Major League parks, among them Yankee Stadium, Great American Ball Park, Kauffman Stadium, Citizens Bank Park, Camden Yards and Marlins Park. Comerica Park has seen smaller upgrades in recent years, but this represents the first full update of bulbs, technology and hardware since the park opened in 2000.
The upgrades at Comerica Park will begin Monday morning, when helicopters will remove the current light fixtures. Later this offseason, they’ll be replaced with 472 LED fixtures that provide light with more precision and less energy. The system is scheduled to be in place for the Tigers’ 2023 home opener against the Red Sox on April 6.
The improvement should allow players to track fly balls and line drives with less glare, a problem that occasionally caused outfielders trouble when balls traveled directly in front of the old lights in their field of vision. Unlike traditional lighting, they can be turned on and off immediately to allow for special effects.
Musco Sports Lighting, which handled upgrades in Cincinnati and Miami among other places, will be handling the project. Detroit’s Bayview Electric Company will install the lights, a process that will also require helicopters to lift the fixtures into place.
Other ballpark improvements, including outfield dimensions, have been up for discussion. Team president of baseball operations Scott Harris said at the Winter Meetings that he had no update on that process.
“We are having conversations about enhancing the experience for all of the stakeholders that that touches,” Harris said on Tuesday. “Obviously, it’s pitchers who have strong opinions [on the ballpark dimensions], hitters who have strong opinions, fans who have strong opinions, staff who have strong opinions.”
Harris’ own opinion, which he cautioned comes without having seen a full season of how the field plays, might have been a hint.
“My general opinion on dimensions is that I would prefer to be on one side of the aisle or the other,” Harris said. “I would prefer to have the opportunity to have some asymmetry in the environments that we’re playing. If we’re on one side of the aisle as a pitcher’s park, or on the other side of the aisle as a hitter’s park, we have the opportunity to build a team a certain way to take advantage of the dimensions 81 times a year, because we are the only team that play in our environment 81 times a year. So I would prefer to be right down the middle when it comes to that.”
Comerica Park is generally viewed as pitcher-friendly due to its large outfield dimensions, notably just left and right of straightaway center. Its Park Factors, a metric that compares runs scored by teams and opponents at home compared to on the road, have generally favored pitchers, though it graded out as favoring hitters as recently as 2019 and did so for much of the Tigers’ run of AL Central titles from ‘11-14.
Riley Greene hit a 422-foot fly ball to center field for an out at Comerica Park in September, a ball that would’ve been a home run in 28 other Major League ballparks, according to Statcast. Four of MLB’s five longest outs by distance since 2020 have been hit at Comerica Park. The flip side, of course, is that the vast outfield gaps allow for more non-homer extra-base hits, such as triples and doubles, an advantage for speedy, athletic line-drive hitters.