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Cheering for the D

There are certain things we do well in the D: playing music, making cars, eating Coney dogs and loving our teams.

That is why I argue Detroit is the greatest sports town in America. And the experts back me up.

“Fans in Detroit and Michigan have access to all professional sports, and they support all of them at a high level,” said Greg Hammaren, Senior Vice President and General Manager of FOX Sports Detroit.

The reason I bring this up is it is now April, one of the best times of the year for sports fans. This month marks the start of Tiger baseball season, the playoff-berth chase for the Red Wings and the Pistons finishing out the NBA season. There are the amazing Michigan State Spartans playing in the NCAA Final Four. The Frozen Four will play at Ford Field (don't mention UM, please, I'm still hurting). Oh, and some team called the Lions will prepare for the NFL Draft.

MSU is really the feather in our caps. This is the kind of sports event that whips the entire state into a frenzy. In fact, I'll be going against all my instincts as a Wolverine and screaming, “Go Green! Go White!” like there's no tomorrow when the Spartans take the hardwoods.

Yeah, we got high unemployment, lousy home values, a city on the verge of bankruptcy and long winters. But, darn it, we've got team spirit.

To that end, FOX Sports Detroit is doing its part to help bring Detroiters out of the winter funk with its third APRIL IN THE D campaign, celebrating the city's passion for sports and the welcomed arrival of springtime. There will be endless programming (including the all-important Opening Day game April 9). There are theme songs – three in all, performed by local bands The Victorious Secrets, B-Dab and No Justus. Plus, the channel will air special interviews with local sports luminaries like Mayor Dave Bing.

“If you're a sports fan there's nothing like the hope and promise of a new baseball season and the convergence of all of our teams in action,” Hammaren said

I talked to Hammaren about Detroit and why we love our teams. He has spent time in other sports towns, most notably New York City and Atlanta. But he believes that Detroit tops them all because a) we are lifelong fans, b) we support multiple franchises and c) our team owners are passionate about the teams just like everyone else.

“Here, you're born wearing a Pistons jersey or a Tigers cap. You grow up knowing these teams. It becomes a part of who you are,” Hammaren said.

And that love lasts a lifetime. The Tigers are among the Top 10 baseball teams when it comes to game attendance. The Pistons (even with this stinker season) have record attendance most years. Even as bad as the Lions are, some 50,000 fans still pack Ford Field any given Sunday. And then there's the Big House, which we hear fills up every now and again.

“The emotional connection Detroit fans have with their team(s) of choice is like nowhere else,” Hammaren said. “I also think the teams embrace that personality unlike any other place I've been.”

He points to the Pistons' “Going to Work” marketing campaign. “Its focus on the blue-collar worth ethnic mimics and aligned with what this town was and is so perfectly. I've never seen a city and a team so in sync in terms of worth ethic and pride in self as it was in those years with the Pistons.”

We love our teams because they give everything they have to the sport, Hammaren added. And our people do the same. We also love our team owners (within reason). Guys like Mike Ilitch and William Davidson (now deceased) have treated their teams like public trusts, Hammaren argues, not like businesses.

And with our many other issues (politics in particular), Detroit needs something to believe in.

“The way they play is relative to the level of excellence we hold ourselves to, too,” Hammaren said. “In the past few years we've had a lot of bad news here, and the nation seems to take pride in kicking us when we're down. But our teams continue to perform well, and we take pride in that. It's the one thing we feel won't let us down.”

(P.S. This here Blog will have some great photos and commentary from Opening Day…Here a highlight from a great article by Nikki Stephan in Metromix about that great undeclared Detroit holiday to get you thinking about those Boys of Summer:

“I'm originally from Ann Arbor and am coming home for Opening Day more for the spectacle than to simply take in a baseball game,” says 28-year-old Jason Wicha, who will make a five-hour trek home from Chicago. “I can't think of another day when people from the entire region will spend the day downtown without having a ticket to an event. Opening Day may very well be the single greatest unifying event in our region.”

And a link to Mitch Albom's take on what Detroit is a great sports town from SI.)

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