Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Story Time

With the signing of Juan Rincon answering ALL of our problems in the bullpen, and little else going on, I thought I'd share my favorite Tigers story to pass the time until we find out if we sign Todd Jones Jr, Brandon Lyon, to be our new closer.

Once upon a time, October 13th, 2006 to be exact, I was working at a crappy sports bar in Maumee, OH, and the Tigers had just beat Oakland to go up 3-0 in the ALCS. One more win, and we would make the World Series. I had missed the '84 Season by one year, as I didn't start watching baseball until 1985 when I was 8 years old. I grew up a huge Tigers fan and other than the flirtation in '87 (f'n Twins), had never seen my team come close to the World Series in my life. And here we were, one win away from going there.

For years, I had gone to games in empty Tiger Stadium (and later, empty Comerica park) watching a team featuring guys like Warren Morris as the leadoff man or Gary Ward batting cleanup. I got drunk at a game in one of the last years at Tiger Stadium and as Craig Biggio hit a 9th inning home run to take the lead from our boys when it had looked to be over, I climbed the left field wall and let loose a stream of obscenities that would have made Randy Quaid in "Major League 2" blush. I went to a dozen or so games in the disasterous 2003 season, when I could have watched a superior Mud Hens team in my home city of Toledo instead. I almost got into a fight with a guy at Comerica for talking trash about Bobby Higginson when he saw my #4 jersey in early 2005. Much like many of you, I'm sure, I was a very frustrated, yet loyal Tigers fan that thought I deserved better. Kinda like Tina Turner before she left Ike, I guess.

But unlike Tina, our Ike stopped slapping us around in 2006. We sputtered at the end of the regular season, but at this point up 3-0 in the ALCS, I knew we were going to the World Series. I was sitting in my office after the game and it just hit me. I had to be there to watch them clinch the damn thing. I had suffered though my favorite team in my favorite sport sucking for 21 years. I needed to be there. And I knew who I wanted there with me.

With apologies to my friend, Derek (who had to work the next day, no matter what he says now) I called a buddy of mine, Craig, that I hadn't been that close to in recent years, but we had a long history with the Tigers together. I'd gone to more games with him over the years than anyone. I had caught my only foul ball (off the bat of immortal Tiger catcher, Paul Bako) in his season tickets one year. We quit speaking for a couple weeks once over a girl and one day found ourselves seated at the same bar watching a game where Higginson hit a walk off homer in the 9th. We both jumped up yelling, looked at each other, and hugged like long-lost war buddies, never to talk about the girl situation again. We had spent countless hours together watching bad teams lose and yet kept coming back for more. He had to be there with me...it just seemed right to me. So I called him and he agreed that we should go if I could find tickets this late. And thanks to stubhub.com, I did.

So, I called off work the next day and we went to the game. For around two hundred bucks each, we had tickets in the second row down the third base line. I couldn't believe that I had found tickets that close at a reasonable price (to me, at least), but we were there. It was freezing outside and, idiot that I am, I was only wearing a hooded sweatshirt to keep me warm. Making it worse, Oakland was up 3-0 entering the bottom of the 5th. I had pretty much decided that if we lost the game, I was going to shoot myself in the face with a shotgun. But Curtis Granderson and Craig Monroe would each hit RBI doubles to make it 3-2 and Maggs would hit a solo home run to tie the game in the 6th, a clutch homer that has become forgotten after what would happen later. Going into the bottom of the 9th, it was still tied at 3 with Huston Street in the game for Oakland. Thames flied out, Granderson lined out, and it looked to be going into extra innings. Instead, history happened.

Craig Monroe singled to center. The crowd started to stir. Polanco then singled to right and the crowd was on it's feet for Ordonez. White towels were flying in the air from the frenzied crowd and I wasn't feeling the cold anymore. My friend Craig and I just looked at each other and I said, "This is it. This is what we've been waiting 20 years for." Street wound up, pitched, and Maggs took a swing.

According to Craig, what followed was my voice above everyone else saying "Holy f--k, it's gone!" followed by the biggest roar in the history of roars. People were jumping up and down going bananas. The bullpen emptied running towards the infield and Joel Zumaya jumped into the stands inches from my face. We pointed at each other and he yelled, "F--k yeah!" I yelled the same to him before he took off. I watched Maggs jump into the mobscene at home and I looked around me. Craig, who will cry at the sight of a newborn puppy (f'n softie), had tears streaming down his face. Strangers were hugging strangers. An old man near me sat in his seat quietly sobbing to himself that he never thought he would live to see this day again. Black, white, hispanic, it didn't matter. Everyone was exchanging high-fives, tears, and relief. I had never seen so many people crying at once...tears of unbelievable joy. We were going to the World Series. The Detroit F'n Tigers were going to the World Series.

We stuck around and watched the trophy presentation and Polonco receiving his ALCS MVP Award. After what seemed like a minute, but was more likely an hour, we finally started to leave Comerica Park. I stopped and went back to take just one more look at the field where some of the players were still out celebrating. For whatever reason, it was at that point that it all finally hit me and I had tears in my eyes, too. We left and in the streets, it was the same as inside. Preppie white kids were high-fiving homeless people. More strangers hugging strangers. Pure joy in the city of Detroit. No cop cars were being tipped over and no fires were being started. It was the best night of my life and I'll never forget it.

Sadly, the story has an unhappy ending, as you know. Those rat bastard Cardinals beat us in the World Series four games to one. But oddly enough, I didn't mind as much as I thought I would. Nothing was going to top being there that chilly night in Detroit to see the impossible happen. It's amazing that a kids' game played by millionaires could affect a calm, rational person as myself so much. But it did and I wish that anyone still reading this rambling story could feel what I felt that night just once in their life. I know I want to feel it again. It was better than any drug I've ever tried and better than any other feeling that I've ever known (sorry, son). And it made 21 years of failure disappear in a heartbeat. To this day, I'll go over to YouTube and watch the Magglio Moment from different angles in the stands and I still get a chill each time.

So, yeah. Juan Rincon. That's what we've needed to get us back there again. I can't wait.

2 comments:

Marty said...

I was there that night, too. Thanks for the vivid description -- you brought back great memories!

OldEnglish said...

Great story. It's much needed this time of year. I wasn't there, but will never forget laughing, jumping and dancing hysterically in my living room for the longest time. What a moment.