Signed, sealed and delivered

Matt DeYoung • Jul 21, 2015 at 11:39 AM

Gas for the trip across state and back — another $60-plus.

Parking outside Comerica Park — $15.

An order of nachos and a 20-ounce pop during the game — $11.

Watching my boys’ faces light up as their favorite Tiger, Justin Verlander, came by and autographed baseballs for them? Beyond priceless.

I still remember my first Tigers game, back in the days when Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker were the team’s veteran leaders and Matt Nokes was an up-and-coming star behind the plate.

My two boys — Owen, 8, and Harrison, 5 — are becoming sports nuts and have been begging me all summer to take them to their first Tigers game.

We were eyeing this weekend’s games with the White Sox, but ticket prices were skyrocketing, so I did a little more searching and found that the Thursday afternoon game against the Angels had plenty of tickets available for half the price of the weekend series.

For $59, we got three seats right up against the outfield wall in right field.

Eager to make the most of the experience, we were up by 7 a.m. and on the road well before 8, hoping to make it to Comerica in time for the gates to open at 11:30 (trips with our 5-year-old always take considerably longer than Mapquest predicts).

We drove through scattered showers, and a few downpours, on our way to Detroit, and when we got out of our cars, having parked just a block from the stadium, it was dry and pleasant out.

After posing for a few pictures in front of the park, the boys and I hustled inside and checked out our seats, which were in prime spots to snag a home run ball during batting practice.

Unfortunately, because of the heavy rains that hit Detroit the night before, the field was covered up and teams didn’t hold BP.

Unfazed, we headed toward the Tigers’ dugout, hoping to catch an up-close look at some of our favorite Tigers.

First came a tall, skinny guy who we didn’t know. Somebody told us it was Darin Downs, a relief pitcher who has thrown just 7.1 innings this year. Heck, beggars can’t be choosers, so as he meandered by, one of the boys held out one of our baseballs (we brought three, just to be safe) and a Sharpie and Downs gladly signed it.

Owen was hoping Austin Jackson would make an appearance while Harrison was cheering for Miguel Cabrera. Instead, the next Tiger to appear in the dugout (90 minutes before game-time) was none other than our favorite Tiger of all, Justin Verlander — the one player we hadn’t even dared get our hopes up for.

JV eventually came out and headed into the leftfield corner to play toss in preparation for his scheduled start the following game.

Then, after about 20 minutes, he began to work his way back toward the dugout. Hundreds of other kids saw him and rushed down jostling to get front and center, but none could match the expert positioning of the DeYoung boys, who were up on the railing right next to the dugout.

My heart was pounding as Verlander got closer and closer. All this time, a steady sprinkle was turning into more of a consistent rain, so I instructed the boys to keep their baseballs dry while we wait for JV to get within range, all the time hoping he doesn’t decide to stop signing and lope into the dugout.

Lady luck was on our side, however, and he made his way to the end of the line, signing his name on both boys’ baseballs.

The look on their faces as they proudly held the balls up for the world to see was beyond priceless. Even if the game had been rained out, it would have been worth the trip. They had an awesome memento to take home and an amazing memory to last them a lifetime.

Fortunately, the game wasn’t rained out, although they came close to stopping it in the third inning as the rain continued to fall harder and faster. Then, it abruptly ended, and we watched the remaining six innings without so much as a sprinkle.

We watched Max Scherzer mow down batters with a fast ball that reached 99 mph; cheered wildly as Miguel Cabrera and Alex Avila slugged home runs; went nuts when Prince Fielder turned a single into a double thanks to an out-of-control head-first slide; and rose to our feet in applause as Jose Valverde retired the Angels’ Alberto Callaspo for the game’s final out.

The drive home, as usual, was long and exhausting, but it couldn’t put a damper on what was an unforgettable day at the ballpark.

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