DETROIT - Detroit Tigers owner Mike Ilitch dusted off his seldom-used happy face yesterday.
His grin was every bit as wide as Willie Horton's waistline.
Ilitch's excitement is understandable. Eighty-two days from now, the All-Star Game will be played in the Motor City for the first time in 34 years.
Ilitch isn't having any problem getting revved up.
He has had July 12 circled on his crowded calendar ever since Major League Baseball awarded the game to the city and the
Tigers franchise in August of 2003.
"It's a thrill to bring the All-
Star Game to the state of Michigan and to the city of Detroit," Ilitch said. "I think this is going to suit our fanatical fans quite well." In less than three months, cavernous Comerica Park, which has been a poison for home run hitters since it opened five years ago, will finally get its night in the spotlight.
So will the city and the downtown area, which certainly could use a little polishing.
The All-Star Game also will give Ilitch, a onetime minor leaguer in the Detroit system, and the Tigers a chance to showcase something other than bad baseball.
Ilitch's Tigers have had 11 straight losing seasons. They haven't made the playoffs since 1987. They haven't been to the World Series since 1984.
For one night, no one will care.
The All-Star Game is the most popular, most watched, star-
studded event occurring in the four major professional sports.
More than 100 million fans from around the world watched or listened to last year's game in Houston via television, radio or the Internet.
More than 2,000 journalists covered it. This year's game has Ilitch's imprint all over it.
"I just love the attitude of Mike Ilitch, who says that if I can't play in the big leagues, then I'll just buy the stadium and I'll have my All-Star Game," Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick said.
Detroit has played host to three previous All-Star games (1941, 1951, 1971) at Briggs/
Two of the games staged at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull produced two of the greatest moments in the mid-
summer classic's 75-year
The 1971 All-Star Game is best remembered for Reggie's Jackson mammoth 520-foot home run off Dock Ellis that hit a light tower on top of the roof in right field.
Jackson's blast was one of six homers by six future Hall-of- Famers, including Hank Aaron, Johnny Bench, Frank Robinson, Harmon Killebrew and Roberto Clemente.
In 1941, the AL staged a historic comeback, capped by Ted Williams' dramatic three-run homer with two outs in the
bottom of the ninth.
Festivities surrounding the All-Star game have expanded dramatically in the last 20 years. It has become a five-day event that includes Home Run Derby, a Futures Game and FanFest. More than a quarter-million people are expected to be part of the All-Star experience here, which officially begins July 8 and ends with the big game on the 12th. As for the economic impact, the game will bring in an estimated $55 million for the city.
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