Life and Times

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Detroit Tigers are going to the World Series.

How cool is that? Even the most optimistic Tiger fan couldn't have seen this coming when Spring Training started in Lakeland earlier this year. I consider myself as optimistic as anyone, and I was hoping for 85 wins...maybe 90 if things REALLY came together. But the WORLD SERIES? The Tigers? Before this season, we haven't even had a winning season that I can remember! And now we're going to be playing in the World Series? As an overwhelming favorite? I still don't know if I can wrap my head around that.

Regardless, I think I'm finally ready to articulate some thoughts on the past week and a half of Tigers baseball. Game 3 agains the Yankees was without a doubt the best baseball game I have ever attended, and that includes last night's clicner agains the A's...and the reason is that the series against the Yankees was still in doubt in Game 3. We had grinded out a close win the day before in the Bronx (where A Rod "went up against Zumaya and peed his pants", according to Simmons) but no one was really sure if that was a fluke. Combine that with the fact that Game 3 was the first playoff baseball in Detroit in 19 years, and the atmosphere truly was electric. I mean, we were playing the New York Yankees! 26 world championships! October baseball! It was something that I had thought and dreamt about many times over the past decade and a half.

The weather that night was absolutely immaculate, perfect for a playoff baseball game. It was cool and crisp, with temperatures in the low 50's most of the night. A full moon hung from a clear sky that provided a perfect overhang for the 3 hours of theater that were about to unfold on the diamond. And there is something about playing under the lights that really puts a perfect touch on the atmosphere. I don't even know how to explain it. But playing at night under the lights in football is the same way. It just makes the game seem a little bigger.

The baseball that was played that night was beautiful. Kenny pitched as well as anyone could have possibly imagine. I really did believe he would feed of the energy of the crowd and put together a good outing. But to go 7 and 2/3 and shut out what "experts" were calling the greatest lineup of all time? No way I saw that coming. The performance he put on that night exemplified many of the things that I love about sports. Is Kenny Rogers the most talented pitchet out there? Heck no. Conventional wisdom would tell you that the Yankees' all-star laden line-up would have knocked him around the diamond all night. Kenny's history against the Yankees and in the postseason certainly supported that school of thought. How in the world is a 41 year old soft tossing lefty going to keep a lineup like that off balance all night? You certainly can't blame the TV analysts (and many Tigers fans, I might add) that were predicting a Yankee romp.

Yet from the first pitch, Kenny had a different script in mind. The crowd was electric and into the game from the first pitch, chanting "Yankees suck!", "Jeter sucks!", and welcoming Jason Giambi to the box with a drawn out "Steeeeeeerrrrrrrrrroiiiiiiids Steeeeeeeeeeeeerrrrrrrrrrrroiiiiiiiids..." It felt like I was in Fenway! And Kenny came out and fed off this energy. Don't get me wrong, he came out focused and intense...but I have no doubt that the crowd lifted him to another level....and he lifted us to another level with each strikeout, leading to louder and louder chants of "KENNY! KENNY! KENNY!" The intensity and emotion with which he pitched was truly a sight to behold. The way he channeled all of the emotion and energy he was feeling out there into his performance was awesome. It seems like it would be really hard to have that much adrenaline pumping inside and still be able to hit your spots out there...and he was hitting his sports like few ever have agains the Yankees in that big of a situation. Here was a 41 year old pitcher that no one gave a chance against this invincible Yankee lineup...and he was making THEM look like they didn't belong. The Yankees truly looked befuddled up there. At one point, Kenny threw 3 straight fastballs to Jason Giambi...and he struck him out! Kenny Rogers was doing this!

After Sean Casey's double that put us up 5-0, the upper deck was shaking. Literally. People jumping up and down. Strangers hugging each other. October baseball is back in Detroit! Detroit IS a baseball town! It was beautiful to see.

The energy that night went all 9 innings. Last night against the A's, it was a little different. We knew the A's were done...especially after the Tigs came back to tie it 3-3 after Oakland jumped out to an early lead. It was only a matter of time before we won that game last night...but the way we won it? Whooooo baby...THAT was something. Two outs? Bottom of the ninth? Walk-off? Sending the Detroit Tigers to the World Series? The baseball gods smiled on Detroit last night...all of the losing over the last decade and a half didn't really matter only made it that much sweeter. After that ball went off Magglio's bat and he watched it sail into the October night, I swear my heart skipped a beat...and I took a deep breath...and put both arms over my head...and watched the flight of the ball...and quickly looked at the left field fence from seat in the right-center field bleachers...and realized that once that ball landed in seats beyond the left field wall...the Tigers would be in the World Series.

The moments after the home run are kind of a blur. I jumped up and down once...and then Kenny, Ben, Matt (my friends I went to the game with), and I did this crazy group hug where we were jumping up and down...and some people around us joined in on the jump/hug...and then I just starting hugging everyone in sight...complete strangers...I felt some tears streaming down my cheeks...I hugged some more complete strangers...I looked around the stadium...I wasn't the only one with tears coming down...I saw the players celebrating around home plate...I took some pictures...and all of a sudden the players were starting to come out to our area of the park on their victory lap...and people are just jumping up and down...everyone has a smile a mile wide on their face, looking down at that little miracle that was happening right before our eyes....THE TIGERS ARE GOING TO THE WORLD FREAKING SERIES!!!

We stayed and watched the presentation of the American League championship trophy...and then walked outside Comerica and entered the sheer euphoria that was in the streets surrounding the ballpark. The streets were jam packed. You really couldn't move. People were lined up on the other side of a fence that seperated the throng of people in the streets from the crowd in the patio of Chelli's Chilli Bar, which is right across the street from the ballpark...and people were running along that fence line and high-fiving each other and embracing...I was hugging more complete strangers (especially the cute ones...just kidding!)...and it felt perfectly normal...almost healthy....we were united in our baseball team....THE TIGERS ARE GOING TO THE WORLD SERIES!

And that was what I will remember about last night. It's actually what I love most about sports. That is, the ability of sports to draw people unite people. Last night, it didn't matter if you were black, white, blue, green, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, rich or poor. EVERYONE was hugging each other. And sports can unite people like that...and maybe get us to realize that we have some things in common after all. If we can come together for something as trivial as the outcome of a sporting event, why can't we come together for the more important things in life? At the very least, it gives us an opportunity to see what things can be like when we all put aside our differences and focus our collective energy on a common goal, a common dream...and that is something that you don't see too often.


Blogger Andrew M. Fanco said...

hey. 83 wins is all you need to win the world series. At least in the Minor errr. I mean National League.

2:06 PM  

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