13 October 2011

Baseball and classic cars hit a home run in Detroit

Two of America’s favorite pastimes – baseball and classic cars – recently teamed up in a very appropriate place: the heart of the Motor City.

One hundred automobiles of all eras, makes and models were on display at the first-ever Detroit Tigers Classic Car Show at Comerica Park in downtown Detroit, prior to a July game between the Tigers and the visiting Los Angeles Angels.

The event was the brainchild of Eli Bayless, the Tigers’ director of promotions and in-game entertainment.

“A couple other major league teams have had car shows, but there’s never been one in Detroit, which is something that always puzzled me,” Bayless said. “It makes sense to have a car show in the Motor City. And what better place than at a Tigers’ game?”

Dave Cox, of Riverview, Mich., wholeheartedly agreed. He said he enjoys Detroit car shows and thought it would be fun to take part in one sponsored by the Tigers. So when the team began seeking applications, Cox tossed his 1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1 into the ring. To Cox’s delight, his car was one of 100 chosen by fans through an online vote.

“Usually when it’s a first-time show like this, it’s unique. And this one certainly is,” he said. “It’s been fun. We’re going to watch the Tigers afterward, and we’ve wanted to come down here to a game for awhile. So we get to do both.”

Bayless said that was precisely the idea. “The show has really added value for people coming to a Tigers’ game – to be able to walk through and see cars that were born here in Detroit.”

Woody Barsodi, of Brownstown, Mich., displayed his modified 1969 Volkswagon Beetle just a pop fly away from Cox’s Mustang. The Bug has a 327-cubic-inch engine up front, which immediately distinguishes it from other Beetles and makes it quite a conversation piece.

“I get looks everywhere I go; everybody wants to talk about it,” Barsodi said. “I make a lot of friends when I drive this car.”

Show-goers were also attracted to another unusual car, a silver 1958 Firebird III prototype, provided courtesy of the GM Heritage Center. The Firebird not only looks like a jet – with short “wings,” long nose and aerodynamically designed plastic bubbles covering the driver and passenger seats – it sounds like a jet. And it is maneuvered not by a steering wheel but a joystick.

“Look, Dad! There’s a spaceship,” exclaimed one young showgoer as others stopped to snap photos.

A celebrity panel of six judges selected six winners from the show. Two awards – Best Overall and Best Car from 1960-Earlier – were awarded to Scott Tham’s 1914 Ford Model T Speedster; Best Car from 1961-1970 went to Ricky Sullivan’s 1968 Plymouth GTX; Best Car from 1971-1989 was given to Greg Rose’s 1973 Plymouth Barracuda; Best Sports Car went to Mark and Jenifer Tarsenko’s 1970 Chevrolet Corvette; and Best Custom Paint went to Jim Mueller’s 1955 Chevrolet 210.

Former Detroit Tigers’ first baseman Dave Bergman was one of the judges.

“I know nothing about cars,” Bergman joked. “But I’m a friend of Eli’s and I’d do anything to help him out. He said, ‘Don’t worry about it. You know what you like.’ So I asked a lot of questions out there. And there were three or four cars that were absolutely eye-popping gorgeous.

“It was fun. I totally get how people can get into classic cars. I have a passion for amateur baseball (he runs the Michigan High School Baseball Showcase), and I imagine these people have that same kind of passion. I’m happy I was asked to be part of it.”

Detroit native Tom Nagle was impressed. He drove his gold-painted 1961 Chevy Corvette from California to participate in the show, as well as the Woodward Dream Cruise in August.

“They have some nice cars here – some really nice cars – and a great variety, too,” he said. “I can’t believe how well-organized it is. For a first-time show, they’ve done a great job. I’d be surprised if they don’t continue this.”

The Tigers’ Bayless confirmed as much.

“Every single car owner I’ve talked to has told me what a great time they’ve had and what a great idea this is,” he said. “I have no doubt in my mind that this will be an annual event.”


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