With a bow to Brad and Angelina, this relationship between the Tigers and their fans has assumed an air of sultry celebrity love.

It's as if the Tigers and their base have bonded in star power and fidelity at Detroit's baseball altar, Comerica Park, where today's crowd of 40,000-plus will begin a six-month pattern of sellouts, and a march to what the Tigers galaxy hopes will be a place in the World Series.

At 1:08 this afternoon, the Tigers will christen their 2013 home season against the Yankees. It will not be like old times. Because of an ugly skein of injuries, the Yankees are missing most of their high-profile cast: Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson.

That will leave the Tigers to provide today's billboard sizzle. And no one is more pleased by the role reversal than owner Mike Ilitch, whose paychecks have helped the Tigers rebuild a 113-year-old brand.

"To put the Tigers into popular cultural perspective, they are the Chrysler 300 of Major League Baseball," said Dan Lebowitz, executive director for the Study of Sport and Society at Northeastern University. "Who doesn't like that car?

"They're likeable from the top down. (Manager Jim) Leyland's basically this old-time baseball guy, this baseball sage who's a great connection to the pastoral past of baseball. And then they've got Justin Verlander, who is just a phenom in leading his team by example. And what you see is that this team is, in so many ways, great, gritty and fun. Greatness is always appreciated on a national scale. But grittiness is always appreciated on all kinds of levels for what it means to the competitive spirit of the game."

Not that anyone should replace Mt. Rushmore's icons with sculptures of the Tigers. Realists know this is baseball. Favorites don't always win. Heroes do not, by acclaim or mandate, enjoy big seasons.

Five years ago, the Tigers were a popular national pick to win the World Series. They finished last in the American League Central Division.