I don't usually go in for follow-ups and sequels. Blues Brothers 2000? Sacrilege. The Star Wars prequels? I stopped after Episode One. The Datsuns' Outta Sight, Outta Mind? Nowhere as invigorating as the band's debut album. That said, when I was given a chance to relive a weekend spent out on the road, visiting baseball stadiums, salivating over freshly baked apple pies, and downing a hot dog (or several), I was willing to make an exception.
A brief recap: two years ago, I was facing a three-day Memorial Day weekend with no real plans or commitments. I also found a bright red 2011 Chevrolet Camaro SS convertible sitting in Automobile Magazine's parking garage. A light bulb went off in my head. If this is America's weekend, why not spend it enjoying baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet? After all, those elements were what Campbell-Ewald suggested made America great during a famed ad campaign launched in 1974.
Decades later, Chevy still regularly references that very ad, most recently as part of its "Chevy Runs Deep" campaign, which again tried to stir up nostalgic memories of vintage Chevrolets. If Chevy can revisit that idea, we can too -- but with a twist. Although we would have loved to crisscross the Midwest in the new Corvette Stingray, a muscle-bound 2014 SS, or the redesigned Silverado, one new addition to Chevrolet's lineup seemed ideal for our trip: the 2014 Cruze Diesel.
As we've previously reported, the Cruze Diesel is virtually identical to the Cruze 2LT with the exception of what's nestled between the front fenders. Power comes from a 2.0-liter turbo-diesel I-4 designed and supplied by GM of Europe. Its 151 horsepower and 264 lb-ft of torque aren't big news, but its fuel economy figures are. The EPA rates the car at 27 mpg in the city, 46 mpg on the highway, and 33 mpg combined, besting every other Cruze variant sold here. Just because we're aiming to be gluttonous doesn't mean our road trip vehicle has to be.
DAY 1 -- JUNE 7, FRIDAY: DETROIT
Once again, our journey starts in the Motor City when I pick up the Cruze Diesel from our offices in Ann Arbor. There's little to indicate it's a diesel; its lone badge modestly bills the car as a "2.0 TD," not a diesel. Crank it over, however, and the diesel identity is immediately apparent. The engine clatters away nosily even at idle, although the din is far less apparent inside the cabin. I venture across town to pick up photographer Ian Merritt, who just rode in from Chicago on Amtrak's Blue Water. I toss his luggage and camera case into the Cruze's trunk, something that would have been much more difficult with the Camaro's constricted aperture. I didn't know if a guy who regularly shoots exotic and luxury cars would be excited by a weekend filled with sports, junk food, and driving a compact car, but my doubts are quickly eliminated -- minutes into our trek, he's already coined a bespoke Twitter tag for our trip (#ballparkspietubularmeat ) and is eagerly talking up our food stops. No surprise, really, given the fare on Amtrak's overpriced café car.
The Tigers' home game against the Cleveland Indians isn't until 7 pm, but we waste little time heading for downtown Detroit in search of a proper lunch stop. One regret I hold from my last trip is that I never managed to squeeze into Lafayette Coney Island. I mean that literally -- even hours after a Tigers game, the tiny restaurant was packed with baseball fans looking for a meal after the final inning. I ended up next door at the larger American Coney Island, which offered immediate seating and no wait -- but I wondered what I missed.
Crowds aren't a problem at Lafayette this time around, as we slide into a booth around 2 pm, well after the lunch crowd. We order up a pair of Coneys and a plate of chili cheese fries; our waiter quickly shouts the order to the kitchen staff located just over my shoulder. The food arrives almost instantly, and we quickly find ourselves in Coney heaven. Interestingly, Lafayette's dogs are no longer drastically different from American's, but its chili is a little more flavorful than next door. We're both blown away by the chili cheese fries: the potatoes are perfectly crisp, and the shredded cheddar on top is beautifully melted. We wholeheartedly approve; our arteries, however, aren't as amused.
From there, we head south to find dessert. We've heard rumblings of a good pie place just north of the Michigan border -- Kate's Kitchen in Flat Rock -- but we cross over into Ohio. Sacrilege, maybe, but Schmucker's Restaurant in Toledo (a city that was once briefly considered Michigan territory) is worth it. I stumbled upon this little diner last year, and haven't forgotten it. How could I? The place offers a full menu, but with more than twelve types of pie baked fresh daily and proudly placed in a display case at the front of the restaurant, it's hard not to skip straight to dessert. I stare at the vanilla ice cream vapors rising off my warmed slice of Dutch apple while Merritt nearly faints from the sugar rush provided by his mountainous piece of chocolate peanut butter pie.
How we escaped slipping into diabetic comas is beyond us, but we make the hour-long drive north to Detroit in time to ease into our seats at Comerica Park. Our upper club seats hardly feel like nosebleeds; in fact, our position over home plate affords both a good view of the game and of the Detroit cityscape. Tigers pitching ace Justin Verlander has a solid start, while Victor Martinez, Brayan Pena, and Ramon Santiago cross home plate in the second inning. Avasail Garcia and Andy Dirks score in the fourth. The Indians gain momentum in the fifth inning, driving in three runs. The Tigers enter the eighth inning up four runs, but controversial closing pitcher Jose Valverde -- who was released by the team after a subpar 2012 season but brought back earlier this season in a desperate attempt to find a decent closer -- doesn't find those margins wide enough for comfort. Cleveland squeaks in two runs in the top of the ninth before Indians first baseman Nick Swisher grounds out to end the game. Tigers win, 7-5.
We leave quickly afterwards, and hit the road towards our layover in Kalamazoo. Valverde, on the other hand, is sent down to the Tiger's minor league team -- in Toledo, ironically -- two weeks later.