The typically joyous opening of Spring Training across Major League Baseball this week was tempered against the news of the passing of Detroit Tigers owner Mike Ilitch just days before pitchers and catchers were due to report.

In losing Mr. I, the Tigers and their fans lost one of the game’s great owners. But his death leaves a void far, far greater than will be felt by those wearing the Old English D.

Ilitch was born in Detroit, raised in Detroit and spent his life being a champion for the city, even as it faded. Ilitch made his fortune, over $3 billion of net worth, as the founder of Little Caesar’s Pizza, and the company headquarters is in Detroit. He purchased the NHL’s Red Wings and Tigers and spent money without regard to profits in order to bring championship-level play to the downtown area.

Baseball and hockey pundits have been saying for years that those teams are outspending their means and cannot sustain that level of financial commitment, but Ilitch never really backed off, only paring his hockey payroll when the league adopted a salary cap.

His Red Wings brought him three Stanley Cups. His Tigers got close twice, winning American League Championships in 2006 and 2012, but couldn’t win a World Series before Ilitch’s passing.

He even offered to buy the NBA’s Pistons when rumors of a relocation out of Michigan were happening. Instead, he partnered with new Pistons owner Tom Gores to build a new downtown arena for both the Red Wings and Pistons to share, bringing the team back from their Auburn Hills exile that has lasted nearly 30 years.

A former Tigers farmhand, Ilitch’s passion for winning was fueled both by a personal desire to succeed at the highest level of sports and a desire to provide his beloved city with the pride that comes from winning it all. His dedication to the city and its residents has been a major driving force behind the rebirth of the downtown area of Detroit. While empty, rotting buildings can still be seen in the city, much of the area has been or is in the process of being revitalized. Neighborhoods are reawakening and people who once moved into the suburbs are now coming back in droves.

That doesn’t happen without the commitment of Mike and Marian Ilitch to bettering the city.

This was a man unlike most owners in sports. In 2008, when the Detroit automakers fell into bankruptcy, Ilitch turned down a $1.5 million sponsorship of the center field fountain at Comerica Park, one that had been occupied by General Motors, and instead gave away season-long advertising not only to GM, but added Ford and Chrysler to the fountain as well.

Many people know that story. Not as many know about the countless other things he did for the good of the city and its people, without fan fare or publicity. In the mid-1990s, Ilitch read a newspaper report about an aging Rosa Parks, who was robbed in her Detroit apartment. There was a group looking to find her safer housing. Ilitch phoned the group and took care of the finances needed to move Parks to a safer area. He then paid her rent every month until the day she died more than a decade later.

For one reason or another, many, if not most, owners in sports are disliked by their respective fan bases. Mr. Ilitch was revered, and for good reason.

He will be missed; not only by Tigers fans and Red Wings fans, but by residents of Detroit. Maybe the Tigers can bring home a World Series in his honor this season.