Detroit Tigers Baseball has been my enduring friend.
Back in early childhood, I first saw how Tigers baseball lived in my grandfather's heart. My King would enter the humble castle that was his living room, and sit down in front of the TV. I would keep Grandpa company, along with his spitoon, and sometimes his can of Black Label beer. I began to learn the game, as Mr. Kell gave what seemed like a never-ending introduction to new friends, like Rusty Staub, John B. Wockenfuss, and Aurelio Lopez - Senor Smoke.
On occasion, the Tigers would miss out on a close play, and my Grandpa would holler, "Kill The Empire!!!". I wanted to correct him, but I couldn't, because such little imperfections only seemed to add to his humanity, and stamp him as a true Tigers fan. Although I wasn't too keen on chewing snuff or drinking beer, Grandpa's love for the Tigers quickly spread to this little boy.
My Grandfather's health quickly declined, and he passed on during the summer of 1982. We brought Grandpa back to Detroit, his home town, for his services and burial. While dealing with her grief, and all the funeral arrrangements, Mom still went to great lengths to have my cousins take me to a Tigers game. My very first Tigers game. Perhaps she knew that Grandpa would join me one last time, as we visited the green and blue sculpture that housed my heroes.
We arrived at the ballpark, to see Udjur battle Storm Davis and the Orioles. As I peered around one of the famous posts, to see Tram and Lou's middle infield ballet, my good friend, the Detroit Tigers, brought me comfort, and reminded me that life does indeed go on.
Udjur was shelled, and a sore-armed Lopez tried to stem the tide. Aurelio was battered, and left the game to a chorus of boos and insults. It seemed so unfair to me, but I learned that even your friends can let you down at times, but a man takes his punishment and perseveres.
As I reached my early teens, the Tigers seemed to grow with me, and they became true contenders. Players like Parrish, Tram, Lou, Jack, and Peaches started racking up the victories. At that age, as I began to scour my soul, I began to scour the Tigers roster, and wondered how to fix the imperfections still residing within.
In my later teens, while emerging from my shell of shyness that consumed my youth, I witnessed the Greatest Season of 1984. I was amazed by the bullpen work of Willie, and a restored Aurelio. Then came October, and I watched Gibson vanquish the demons and fears stemming from many failures past, as he took on Goose Gossage's fastball, and demolished it deep into the Detroit darkness.
After celebrating that final Series out, I suddenly feared for my friends, realizing that such success is rarely repeated. But the boys made another run in 1987, and I watched Frank Tanana's incredible 1-0 victory to clinch the division. Hope for another title leaped into my heart, but my dreams were dashed by the Minnesota juggernaut.
During my twenties, I struggled to realize my own dreams, and lost track of my beloved Tigers for a while. They struggled mightily as well, but there were always a few good players to follow, like Big Daddy, Mickey, Tony, Travis, and Higgy. But something would always stand in the way of team success - the obstacles seemed insurmountable!
Now in my late thirties, I have renewed many old acquaintances, made some new friends, and achieved some small successes. And in recent years, I have brought the Tigers back into my home, to share with my friends and family, just like my Grandpa did so many years past. Despite my past neglect, the Tigers always been there waiting, and have rewarded me with a host of new heroes, and promise of a bright future indeed.
Thank you, Tigers baseball, for being my enduring friend.