|Thank You, Detroit Tigers.
||[Oct. 7th, 2006|08:15 pm]
This proves difficult for me to write.
This isn't the same kind of difficulty as a baseball fan who had the Yankees as a lock to win the 2006 World Series.
This isn't the same kind of difficulty as a Yankees fan who has to sort out why New York is finished for the 2006 season.
This isn't the same kind of difficulty as a straight-up baseball hater who refuses to recognize a truly remarkable accomplishment.
This is the kind of difficulty that comes this way.
My grandfather was a loyal and faithful follower of baseball and the Detroit Tigers. I am not. On a visit to his hospital room in early July, he asked me how I felt about the Tigers. I responded, "Go Dodgers," as part of a joke. To my grandfather, with mouth wide open . . . this was not funny.
Later in July, I returned for another visit with my grandfather. He was still happy to see me, regardless of whether or not I was over 2 hours late. My grandfather was always glad when I visited.
We talked for most of the evening about the local professional sports clubs. This time, I talked about the Tigers. We agreed that it was a nice season to that point. I told him that the mere finish above .500 was going to be enough for a fantastic year. We agreed that if they actually accomplished anything in the post-season, it would be a fantastic year, and then some. I told him that the chances of success past a finish above .500 were possible, but it would probably end at the likely grab of the wild-card spot, at minimum.
He never lost faith in the Tigers, following them up until his death. He was a man who grew up in the era where the ability to follow sport was mostly confined to whatever local coverage one could find. He read the print version of the paper, and the sports section and coverage of the Detroit clubs were as much of a staple to him as the section with the crossword puzzle. He never had cable television. He spent his life watching many of the Tiger greats in person. He went to games in the era of Ty Cobb, Mickey Cochrane, Charlie Gehringer, Hank Greenberg, Hal Newhouser, Harvey Kuenn, Al Kaline, Alan Trammell . . . he saw many games during his lifetime. He followed the Tigers through the mediocre and poor years in the 1950s, 1970s, and through the current drought leading up to this season. He really loved the sport, and he loved this team.
After his death, I promised that I'd keep tabs on the Tigers. I'd finish this season out for him. I haven't watched many of the games. 1994 was the last time baseball mattered to me. I loved the sport from childhood, but too many negatives weighed supreme, I felt. However, like they say about riding bikes, I spent too many afternoons and evenings watching the sport to really forget much about it. In fact, I dozed off today, and when I woke, I figured I missed Game 4 of the division playoffs. I turned on the television, and the game was still playing . . . it was the 4th inning, and I was slightly relieved.
At the completion of the 9th inning, the events that played on my set struck me in a way which makes for tough choice of words.
The fact that the Tigers had beaten the Yankees wasn't what got to me. The celebration, too, it started off like any team celebration you may have watched. Champagne. Lockers, walls, and floors covered in plastic tarp. Jubilant players, management, and owners popping corks and showering each other with the shaken and chilled booze. Player interviews by the broadcast crew. In the stadium filled with the home team's fans, matching jubilance and joy and cheers and claps and waving of hats . . . and then . . .
The players re-emerged from the dugout, holding champagne bottles. They made their way around the perimeter of the field. The manager, Jim Leyland, planted kisses to waiting people through the backstop. Some of the players began to join the crowd, sharing and showering them in champagne.
Kenny Rogers, a Tigers pitcher, climbed up on top of a dugout and briefly joined the crowd, giving them and a nearby police officer a shower of his champagne.
What I watched on my television could not have genuinely been reproduced by many professional clubs in similar situations.
Regardless of all reason, this roster of Detroit Tigers . . . are good players . . . and good people.
They did better than anyone expected of them, making it to the AL Championship round.
Congratulations, Detroit Tigers. Thank you, especially, from my grandfather.