Typically in Detroit, after the ice thaws and smiles return to people’s faces, Spring has been the best time to be a Detroit sports fan. The Red Wings make their annual run to the Cup, the Pistons (until the last couple years) were known for deep playoff runs, the Lions were preparing to be on center stage for the NFL Draft and the Tigers’ optimism was higher than ever heading into opening day. Autumn, however, was a dreary time for fans. The changing colors and thoughts of the upcoming holiday seasons did little to cheer the mood of professional sports fans in the city, and certainly didn’t keep our minds off the rapidly disappearing green and the snowy winter around the corner.
In the fall, the Pistons and Red Wings are not playing meaningful games yet (or at all) and a non-factor. The Lions were promising success that it took only a marginal NFL fan to know they could never deliver on. And the Tigers, oh the Tigers, were wrapping up another disappointing season where their playoff hopes were spiralling wildly down like an orange-colored leaf from a tree preparing for a harsh winter. Sure there’s college football for some, but to me it’s a time filler…a once a week event with a nearly unattainable end goal. I want to know without a doubt when my team is best.
Michigan is a great place to live during the summer. The winter can be brutal. Seven or eight months of white and grey and the cold, damp dreary days take a toll on us. It’s evident how rough they are by the sheer number of Tigers fans that we see all over the country in warmer cities. In Tampa, Detroit fans seem to be the majority as the “Let’s go Tigers” chants are met by low volume boos from a smattering of Rays fans. In LA, the Old English D is suprising well represented in the stands. These are people fleeing Michigan out of want or need or necessity, but not forgetting where they’re from. Their winters will be milder, more bearable than what we’ll endure here.
They’re gonna miss out on something special this fall, though, as the Autumn sports scene in Detroit is about to be at it’s brightest in forever. The Lions are showing more promise than we’ve seen in decades. Fans in Detroit seem to be the most pessimistic about the Honolulu Blue fortunes. Rightfully so, after empty promises from the Millens, Mornhinwegs, Mariuccis and Marinellis of the world led to disappointing autumns for Lions fans. A complete reversal of fortune, national prognosticators love the Lions this season. Granted, sometimes they’re wrong, but when the fascination is this universally widespread among the big heads, there’s usually something to it. My heart tells me same old Lions, my head, however looks at the talent on the field and knows there’s no comparison to previous embarrassments. The Lions season kicks off Sunday and we’ll have a good understanding if the excitement is warranted.
The real reason to push the pending snow and sleet back a bit in our minds, however, is the instantly juggernaut Detroit Tigers. Maligned, passed over and generally ignored nationally for much the season, the Tigers were seen as a third place team at worst and at best, a playoff road bump for the Yankees and Red Sox. What makes the optimism surrounding the Tigers so incredible, is that it seemed to happen in the blink of an eye. A month ago, the Tigers were basically indistinguishable from the Indians and White Sox. The trio of teams were the Three Stooges, eye gouging and head slapping their way through a cringe-worthy AL Central season, that saw no one able to take control. A season that must have had fans in New York, Boston, Dallas or LA licking their chops at the thoughts of getting one of these also-rans in a first round series.
Not surprisingly, the White Sox and Indians continue to stumble, crawl and limp their way to the finish line. The Tigers, however, grabbed the season and ran with it squeezing any life out of Chicago and Cleveland. Spearheaded by the outstanding season from Justin Verlander, they put themselves square on the map of the baseball elite. People have taken note, they’re not a one man team but a talented, deep squad. Maybe not quite there with the Yankees or Red Sox in the eyes of most, but screaming past the Rangers and Angels and lying quietly in the weeds as a dangerous opponent no one wants.
So as we prepare for another Harsh winter, enjoy this last gasp of mild Autumn air. Enjoy a promising Lions team learning to win, but mostly enjoy the dwindling pennant chase and the electricity of playoff baseball inevitably returning to the cold October nights in Detroit, this time feeling like the Tigers have a leg to stand on.
Welcome back optimism, it’s been awhile.