This week’s mug shot is about change, evolution and loss of innocence.
Okay, maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but I have been a baseball fan for 40 of my 42 years. I cut my baseball teeth on the Detroit Tigers and fell in love with the Cincinnati Reds In the early seasons of The Big Red Machine. My main men were Al Kaline and Pete Rose. It was a time when great players stayed with the same team for all or at least most of their careers. As a kid, I fell in love with Al Kaline, because I loved the Tigers and I became a Reds fan because I was dazzled with the clips I saw on TV of Pete Rose. They were pairs. Al Kaline was a Tiger, Pete Rose was a Red. That’s how it was then. I didn’t have to worry about either team trading my heroes because they didn’t think they’d be back because they’d be free agents.
But things change, time marches on...
Sunday veteran Cincinnati catcher, David Ross, was designated for assignment. Monday, Adam Dunn was traded to Arizona for three prospects. It appears the Reds have given up.
But really, Lance Berkman should be in Houston and Adam Dunn should be in Cincinnati. Cincinnati, home, should be the only place that’s not Seattle where Ken Griffey Junior should be playing and Mike Piazza should have retired a Dodger.
I miss that innocence of my childhood days. When there wasn’t a flurry of trading as the ominous deadline approached and players on waivers to be dealt off before the team gets “nothing” as the free agent market looms in the off season. I came up in my baseball-blossoming in a day when most players still stayed with their teams for all or most of their careers. The good players didn’t have more than one other team and there wasn’t that oh so prevalent question that there is now, “Which hat will his likeness wear at The Hall?” That question was preposterous! If a player had a Hall of Fame career, he did it with one team! Players of that high a caliber were a wonderful commodity that you didn’t let go. They were a draw, win or lose, and they were loyal to their team and their fans.
Not that big names were never traded. Look at the long suffering Red Sox. That “curse” was a myth believed because of selling Babe Ruth's contract! There were those seasons Phillies fans enjoyed watching Pete Rose mow down catchers, but it was much more common to review a Hall of Fame career and see the same team name. Look at Harmon Killebrew. The Killer played one season in Kansas City, but the rest of his career was split between only two teams, the Washington Senators and the Minnesota Twins. Oh, did I mention that the Senators BECAME the Twins in 1961? 20 years on a 21-year career was for the same team. From those wonderful days of old, the more common career was like that of Al Kaline, who signed with the Detroit Tigers in 1955 and retired a Tiger in 1974.
This mug is about that innocence of my childhood days. It’s about Al Kaline, Mark Fidrych, John Hiller. It’s a mug that captures some of my secrets. It knows why I find a man in white pants to be so sexy, how I turn into a little kid again on Opening Day and how a game that can have a come from behind victory when the home team is down by ten with two outs in the ninth created the base for my optimistic view of life.
I was at the Saturday night game of the last weekend at “The Corner” in 1999. Tiger Stadium had been there at Michigan and Trumbull since 1912 when it was built and christened Navin Field for the Tigers owner that built the concrete and steel structure for his team replacing Bennett Park, a wooden structure at the same site. The Tigers, one of the original American League teams, had played at that corner in Detroit for over 100 years.
In 1999, I had been a Metro Detroiter for 33 years. I had seen my first game at Tiger Stadium, eaten my first baseball hot-dog there and threw peanut shells on the ground without getting yelled at for the first time there! When I was 9 years old, I had front row seats by the bull pen and John Hiller gave me a ball. I saw a World Series game there in 1984 when a Kirk Gibson home run landed just a section over from the seats Mom and I had. In 1996, I saw the dark field covered with snow as I started my internship with the Tigers scoreboard production crew. I was living the dream, working for the Tigers at Tiger Stadium for two seasons, walking the concourse with my scoreboard coworkers, Tiger players and visiting stars too. There was always a warm smile from Brian Hunter and a friendly “hello” from Phil Nevin if you passed them in the hall on the way upstairs and I remember a pregame field assignment after which I was jokingly accused of fraternizing with the enemy - Chuck Knoblauch was trying to get my attention because Kirby Puckett was waving at me from inside the Twins dugout! (And all I can say there is I’m sure he mistook me for someone else, but it ended up being a point for ribbing for a while for one of the only two women on the scoreboard crew!)
But that Saturday in September of ‘99 was so bittersweet. The whole weekend was sold out and had been for some time. It was a festive night with nearly the electricity I remembered when I was 18 at the World Series. But there was an underlying heaviness too. After that weekend, there would never be another professional baseball game at The Corner. The celebration with heaviness of hearts was like an Irish wake.
The Tigers won that game, but after the fan celebration of the victory was the slow walk out of the stadium. People lingered long after the game. My friend and I walked the entire way around the concourse before we left. There were cameras flashing all around, everyone wanting to grab one more shot to remember. It wasn’t until over half hour after the end of the game that ushers began to gently urge people out of the park. It was the hardest “leaving the park” I’d ever done. Even leaving Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati after the last game was easier than leaving my first of so many things baseball for the last time. After leaving the stadium, it was one final slow walk around the outside of the park. We were definitely not alone walking in the streetlight-lit dark of Detroit’s Corktown area that night. All the Tiger fans in attendance stayed to say their final farewell. I spoke with people who’d been to the other final weekend games and it was a repeated scene leaving the ballpark. I know grown men who cried as they left.
Demolition on Tiger Stadium started in June of this year. I haven’t driven by that area in Detroit since then. I can imagine that I’ll feel it in the pit of my stomach when I see it, or when I DON’T see it. I’ll likely even shed a tear or two for that piece of my childhood that’s gone the way of doubleheaders, heroes that retire with the team they became heroes with, 25 cent packs of baseball cards with gum in them and affordable family afternoons where there was always hope right until the very end.