My prolonged absence Motor City Bengals is in part because of my grandpa, who has recently been having serious health problems. It’s been hard to function in my daily life with worry in my heart and miles gained on my odometer. I say this not to gain pity or explain my lack of contribution, but as an introduction to this: without my grandpa, I’m not a Tigers fan.
The same can be said of my own father. In fact, my grandpa scored four tickets for his family to see a World Series game in 1968. That was the epic 7-game battle between the Cardinals (Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Curt Flood, Roger Maris, and Steve Carlton) and the Tigers (Mickey Lolich, Denny McClain, Al Kaline, Bill Freehan, Norm Cash, and Willie Horton). My dad, a college student at the time, asked his professor if it would be alright if he missed a class to attend the game. The professor replied, almost incredulously, “If you don’t go, I will.”
When I was younger I would visit my grandparents’ condo in Traverse City and play around in their basement. They had miniature cars there from the ‘60s, toy guns that looked like guns, and in a drawer of their coffee table a ticket from the 1935 World Series. I didn’t think it was real until my grandpa explained that yes, tickets were that inexpensive at the time, and that it really was that old, and that if I broke the case that held the ticket I would be thrown in front of a train.
As a generous donator to the Boys and Girls Club of Michigan, he would spring for boxes and boxes of baseball cards. He gave my brother and I our own boxes of 1991 Donruss baseball cards, and I was able to put together the entire Tigers’ roster, including one Cecil Grant Fielder. Slotting his Diamond King, 2nd Series Regular, and team MVP card into my pages of Fielder cards felt like a jackpot.
Speaking of Cecil Fielder, I remember watching a Tigers game with my grandpa in 1995 when Cecil was up to bat. They were playing in Milwaukee, and he just launched a missile into the leftfield bleachers that I swear made a dent. I looked over to my grandpa, and he made a face of quiet disbelief. Trust me, this is incredible because my grandpa is very hard to impress.
In 1996 we were watching a Tigers game and terrified that Detroit would lose its lead. The closer at the time was former Rookie of the Year Gregg Olson. I told my grandpa that we shouldn’t be worried because this guy used to be great for the Orioles and that he was probably one of Detroit’s best pitchers. Seeing as how this guy sported an ERA above 5 and had cobbled together a handful of saves, my grandpa replied, and I’ll never forget this, “If he strikes out this batter I’ll say he’s the best.”
Olson racks up the guy on three pitches.
Grandpa: “Well…I guess he is the best guy they’ve got.”
Over the years our lives have branched in different directions: He has always been interested in hunting, boating, cars, planes, and anything military related, while I can’t even think about shooting something with eyes and any old war movie puts me to sleep. The one thing we’ve always had is the Tigers.
I grew into a baseball zealot, and eventually he started asking me questions about the current teams: who was good, who was overrated, and why Jim Leyland couldn’t set a lineup correctly. In turn I’d ask him about the old teams, about the history that he saw develop as the decades passed from his youth to his golden years. Even now, frail, tired, and sometimes cranky, we’ll still talk about the Tigers.
When I initially signed on to write for this blog, he was one of the first people I got to tell. I knew he was proud, and that’s something I’ll take to my grave.
And now when I watch the Tigers, at some point during the game I’ll think of him, and I know I always will.