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Ballpark Quirks: Comerica Park’s carnival atmosphere with a view

Ballpark Quirks is a series on the distinctive features and oddities that make up each of MLB’s 30 parks. Today’s Pick: Comerica Park’s carnival atmosphere. For past stories in the series, click here.

Whether you’re up for a Ferris wheel ride, a trip on a merry-go-round or a “liquid fireworks” show, Comerica Park has all the amusement park-like features you (wouldn’t) expect from a ballpark, with a view of downtown Detroit on the side. Oh, yeah, they play baseball there, too.

Opened in 2000, Detroit’s downtown steel, concrete and brick ballpark offered the first new ballpark for the city since Tiger Stadium initially opened in the 1912. Comerica Park celebrated that change with family entertainment, embracing the city along the way.

“It feels like you can reach out and touch the city,” Joe Spear, the park’s designer and Populous architect, tells SI.com. “Obviously we were trying to maintain that view. What we want as ballpark designers is everywhere you look, there is something different to see. That was the idea at Comerica Park.”

The Tigers have that.

At the base of the food court behind the first-base area sits an ornate carousel, featuring 30 hand-painted tigers and two chariots. Not to be outdone, the third base side of Comerica rises up with a 50-foot-tall Ferris wheel. The 12 cars shaped like baseballs seat up to five passengers each.

But the part that Spear likes the most ties more directly to the game than the carnival attractions. He's drawn to the straightaway centerfield fountain -- which synchronizes to music and lights -- used to celebrate home runs and other big-in game moments. It also makes the Tigers money, as GM sponsors the “Chevrolet Fountain” and displays vehicles in the space next to the 5,000-square-foot water feature.

GM held the sponsorship from 2000-2008 and then again from 2010 until now. In 2009, GM, short on cash, didn’t sponsor the space, but the Tigers kept the fountain motor-themed, paying homage to all the automakers in the city.

“(Tigers’ owner Mitch) Ilitch wanted to have a fountain,” Spear says. “It was an opportunity to create some dynamic views out of what might have been a pretty ordinary batter’s eye. I thought it was a great idea.”

Add in the fact that the design allowed more views toward the city and Spear was jazzed for the idea. “You can look past the scoreboard and see the skyline,” he says. “It is a pretty cool thing. You really get a sense of the city of Detroit.”

The hands-on role the billionaire owner of the Tigers, NHL’s Detroit Red Wings and franchised Little Caesars Pizza chain played in the design of Comerica Park certainly drew in the carnival side of the park. A carnival with a view.

Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, design and gear for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.

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