The kid grew up way back when football was nice. Hoops had its moments in Kentuckiana. But baseball, sweet game o’ nines, was the deal. Truly the national pastime. And national passion.
’Twas the era of Mickey, Willie and the Duke. And plenty of others with names like Elmer Valo and Vinegar Bend Mizell. They toiled west of the Hudson River. But not too far. St. Louie was as close as the bigs got to the left coast then.
That kid was born in Motor City. So he loved the Tigers and longed to visit the green shrine known as Briggs Stadium.
Little League was new and all the boys had to play. The kid would look out the window during school, fretting at every cloud, praying it wouldn’t rain, to hear the ump yell, “Play ball.”
That wide-eyed Little League catcher took his trip of trips. To visit Detroit on a train. To hop a city bus with Aunt Martha and cousin Eddie, transfer to another and arrive outside the centerfield gate at Briggs on a cool, gray, spitting April day. Opening Day.
He watched the reigning AL batting champ Al Kaline, but a babe himself, knock Mike Garcia for a triple. He ate the greatest hot dog with the best mustard in the history of food. The good guys lost that game 3-1. They finished the season 10 games over .500, 15 games behind the Yanks, who played in the Series every year, it seemed, against the Dodgers.
For the kid, there was ’68 and ’84. Nice. For some reason, this season is different.
Detroit smote the evil Yankees, swept the A’s.
Saturday the kid was scheduled to attend a concert with friends. As curtain time drew close, he slipped into a joint down the street. In front of the tube were a couple of guys in town from Detroit. Ordonez hung the AL pennant on the kid’s hometown. The Detroiters high-fived.
This Saturday, improbably, unbelievably, the astonishing Tigers will open the World Series at home.
The kid, nervous, wearing his retro Tigers hat, will be watching for clouds all day, praying it doesn’t rain, waiting for the ump to yell, “Play ball.”