Sunday, October 21, 2012
Two of my best friends' dads - Bryan and Jimmy's dads - have the Detroit Free Press cover from when the Detroit Tigers won the '84 World Series framed and hanging in their basements. I grew up with both Bryan and Jimmy, so I often frequented those basements in which the 1984 newspaper slogan seemed to stand out as the centerpiece. A sentimental guy since birth, whenever I ventured into either one of those basements I always would pause for a moment and stare at that captured moment, an iconic moment in Detroit history rivaled only by maybe that unforgettable Stevie Yzerman '97 night that captivated Michigan's hearts. And even while I was young I thought about where Jim or Bryan's or even my own dad was for that epic scene.
I imagine they were much in the same place my group of friends are now: in their early to mid twenties, young and alive with enthusiasm, the world still coming into place, that nervousness a younger man feels about how the future might unfold, and of course emotionally attached to their sports teams. I obviously wasn't alive in 1984. But in my own mind I can picture my father and Jim's father watching those playoffs unfold: watching the Justin Verlander of their era, Jack Morris, pitch yet another gem; watching Kirk Gibson and Chet Lemon from some bar in the metro Detroit area; clanging their Labatt Blue's against one another; talking about their past while thinking about their futures.
We're not so different, I bet. 1984 Bryan's dad and 1984 Jimmy's dad and 1984 my own dad would probably get along quite well with 2012 Zac, Adam, Jimmy, Bryan, and Steve. We're at the same stage they probably were in life: getting a little bit older but still learning how to navigate the waterways of life; at a point where your best friends mean pretty much everything; still young, but on the verge of what will become our married lives.
It's not hard to explain why I always stared in awe at those framed Detroit Free Press covers feautring Kirk Gibson's famous trot around the bases. From the moment I was old enough to understand baseball through high school, the Tigers were not a good baseball team. In fact, they were historically bad for most of my lifetime. In 2003, the Detroit Tigers won 43 games. 43 games. That's 119 losses. I still have memories as a boy, listening to Detroit sports radio with my dad, and the radio guys talking about whether the mandatory rule that each team gets to send a player to the all-star game should be eradicated - because the Tigers didn't have anyone worthy of the All-Star game.
Then something weird started to happen, though. The Tigers started getting not bad. I remember that special fall in 2006 - it was the first time I left home as I was living in Mary Markley Dormitory Hall in Ann Arbor. I remember watching those games with my roommate that year, Andy - a guy I would say cares more about the Tigers than anyone I've ever met. I remember those magical October nights shelled up in that dorm that was so small but I now think about it like it was Hogwarts, watching as Magglio Ordonez sent shock waves through small towns all around Michigan. I remember those nights, but I won't lie, I wouldn't consider myself a true fan then.
Things start to change when you graduate college. Tuesday night beers turn into lemonades, friends move away, and you're left with an abundance of time of which you've got to figure out how to spend it. The summer after graduation, when I lived in Petoskey, is when I started to fall in love. I watched Rod and Mario narrate those games almost every night - it was probably the best time of my life, watching those Tigers and looking out into the Northern Michigan woods in the backyard and waiting for the girl that I was in love with to come home from work. But it wasn't until probably last July when it became a full-on relationship for me and the Tigers. I was going through a particularly rough time then, and watching the Tigers each night became my rock. I've said it once before, but it's times like those when sports become a hell of a lot more than a game.
I don't think I'll ever forget this summer, and the only reason for that is the baseball team that plays in Detroit. My routine on those June and July days was to get home from a long day at court, change out of my suit, go for a walk in Hines Park, and then settle in for the Tigers. And somehow routine becomes more than just routine. It becomes habit. It becomes a relationship. It becomes a bad day when the Tigers are down 3 games to the White Sox. It becomes a good week when they're starting to catch those White Sox. And it becomes a night you'll never forget that Monday night when they clinch against the Royals, and you just had to crack a beer even though it was 11:30 already.
Hopefully I'll get the chance to venture into Jimmy or Bryan's basement this week and pause for a moment to look at that '84 Detroit Free Press cover. I'll think about our dad's. I'll think about where they were in their lives on that October 1984 day. I'll think about what that day means to them in terms of their lives.
But most importantly, I'll think about how special it would be if in some far off day my son could look at my Detroit Free Press "2012 Tigers World Series Champs" cover that's hanging in my basement someday. Hopefully he'll think about where his dad was in October of 2012. Maybe I'll explain it him: 2012 wasn't really that great a year, but the Detroit Tigers changed that, the Detroit Tigers made it a year I'll never forget. Maybe I'll explain to him how special a time it was to be watching with all my best friends, as my dad and Jim's dad do in my subliminal memory. And I'll tell him that that's why sports can be a hell of a lot more than a game.