Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland commented today about the recession’s effect on his baseball team’s fan base:

“My heart aches for these people up here,” Leyland said. “They’re trying to feed their families. We’re getting a check every two weeks. We’re certainly glad that we are, but we’re aware of the people that aren’t. You do whatever you can to help. I’ve got family members out of work over the recession. I know what it’s like. You hope things get turned around.”

Michigan has the nation’s highest unemployment rate, 12 percent. The unemployment rate is a whopping 22 percent in Detroit.

Detroit has struggled for years as GM, Ford and Chrysler lost business to foreign automakers. Profit losses and the looming threat of bankruptcy plague the Big Three automakers more than ever thanks to the recession — and that is bad news for the Detroit area.

With that in mind, the Detroit Tigers decided to do something I think is pretty cool. The outfield fountain at their ballpark, Comerica Park, used to be sponsored by General Motors. The struggling automaker decided to end its sponsorship of the fountain for obvious cost-savings reasons, but Tigers owner Mike Ilitch is letting GM’s name stay on the fountain for free. The Tigers added the corporate emblems of Ford and Chrysler — again, free of charge — and a sign that reads “The Detroit Tigers support our automakers.”

“I wanted to help,” Ilitch said in a statement Wednesday. “I kept asking myself, ‘What can I do to help?’ I’ve always viewed GM, Ford and Chrysler as pillars of strength in our community, and I understand the ups and downs that a business must endure. To me, it’s a small way of showing our support and saying thank you for all the times they’ve been there for this community.”

Will Ilitch’s decision make a significant difference in the Big Three’s big picture? Probably not, but it is a classy gesture nonetheless.