Last night around 10:30 p.m., or roughly the 20th time we heard a shrieking Detroit radio broadcaster call Magglio Ordonez's ALCS-clinching home run, Anna looked at me and asked me something to the effect of "Are you sick of that yet?" The answer, unsurprisingly, is no. I have spent the last 23 hours or so trying to put this all into words. The Detroit Tigers are going to the World Series, which is off the charts insane.
The Tigers were the first sports team I ever loved (Fritz explains: I used to take Michael to the Detroit Youth Theater, tickets were $4 each and it lasted an hour. Then I realized I could take him to sit in the bleachers, tickets were $4, but Michael didn't reach the ticket window, so he got in for only $1. I could park for free in the amalgamated something-or-other lot, we were outside in the sun, it lasted three hours and they served beer. It seemed obvious). We usually sat in the bleachers of Tiger Stadium, where I picked up the most colorful language -- Drunken Fan: Ump, yer' an asshole, Me: Daddy, what's a gashole? -- and started to learn about a game I now write about professionally. Later I attended Eugene V. Debs Memorial Kazoo Night, where all the Detroit lefties got together and played old labor songs on Kazoos. And around the end of high school I would insist on taking suburban types to watch games in bleachers, just to make them be in the city, which wasn't always an easy thing to do during my teenage years. The team still competing in that rickety old place symbolized something for me that I haven't quite been able to put my finger on. My last game at Tiger Stadium was with Fritz, just before I left for my sophomore year at college. He bought me a beer. Full circle.
But they were always terrible. I mean, I went to my first game ever in the last World Series season (1984). It was a doubleheader with California and the Tigers, of course, lost both games
. The only winning moment I witnessed was being there for the middle game
of a three-game series against Toronto on the last weekend of the Jays' epic collapse in 1987. We sat in front of three Blue Jay fans, and were pelted with stuff when those fans started to cheer. A legendary Detroit figure called "The Brau" was there to lead cheers. I even suggested one, "Boo Blue." I was old enough to understand then what was going on.
Since that day, I've seen them lose 100 games four times, including 119 in 2003. I've also seen them flirt with respectablity, only to fall back into the much. Detroit Joel and I used to attend games at the new park during our summers off from college, just because. We'd go to whole series together, which meant we saw tons of the KC Royals, passing the days talking ball. These single days turned into road trips to Chicago (sitting two through days in broiling heat at Wrigley) and Cleveland (sitting in front of the guy who beats the drum). This is how baseball fandom is lived, these little snapshots against the perpetual game.
I have unsure about to react to the Tigers all year.
My work has changed me in a lot of ways. The biggest difference is I have a hard time cheering in public these days. I'm just too self-conscious about it. Friday's game was the first this postseason that I had watched all the way though. I did it in private, hidden away in my house, yelling at fly balls to "get out" and bloopers to "get down." I didn't realize, I think, just how much I wanted Detroit to win.
But I can only express that in private. As much as I've wished I could be in the Comerica Park stands for these postseason games, part of me wonders if I could handle spontaneous hugs from fat dudes and high fives all around. Sports teams, even the teams I love, are now the other. I've tried to start saying "We" when discussing the Tigers, and have found that the word feels wrong on my tongue. I do enjoy watching the exuberance of this team, and believe that this group is probably a pretty solid collection of guys. And it has been great to watch Detroiters celebrate in the stands. Even though I haven't lived in Detroit full-time since 1998, it's still where I'm from, and always will be. After the Tigers bounced the Yankees, Anna asked me if I was happy. I told her, I was happy for the city, for the fact that there would be at least one more week of outside money coming into downtown. "What are you, a beauty pagent contestent?" she asked.
When I cheer for the Tigers, I'm rooting all the other stuff, the days I spent with other people at games or talking about the team. It's my memories, like cutting school for the final opening day at the old park and ending up sitting atop a bus with group of firefighters from Chatham, Ontario. I have written before that I am a sucker for place, that the mere hint of geographic familiarity tends to send me off on Proustian rants. Ballparks do that for me. And more often then not, the Detroit Tigers were there. How could I get tired of that?