Earlier this week Justin Verlander was interviewed by WXYZ in Detroit and was, of course, asked about his feelings for the Tigers and the city of Detroit. His response was yet another reason why he is the face of the Tigers – “Obviously the first question everybody asks is, how do you like Detroit? And my answer is I love it…I think that it’s a very unique city, the people here are fantastic, it’s unbelievable. I think we have the best sports fans in the world.”
Of course, every baseball city (except maybe Miami and Tampa/St. Pete) thinks they have the best fans in the game. Verlander has a solid case though beyond the normal athlete speak. Detroit and their relationship with the Tigers (and Lions/Redwings/Pistons) is something to behold.
Everyone knows the story of Detroit. All of us are aware of the hard years (and years) the city. While the national writers question how a city in such trouble as Detroit can afford to compete with New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and other spots of affluence, they seem to ignore the willingness of its people to support something they love. Yes, the Tigers have an owner in Mike Ilitch who cares more about the product on the field than the impact on his bank account. That cannot be said about many others in the game. Baseball in Detroit is about more than that though, it’s about the fans who show up consistently despite the hard economic times. It’s about the people who tune in every night to watch Mario and Rod and their silliness or listen to Dan Dickerson tolerating Jim Price on a nightly basis, Detroit fans endure. We watched like children through covered eyes as our beloved Tigers make AL history with 113 losses in 2003 and then we celebrated in 2006 like it was Christmas morning. As the pillars of industry the city was built on began to crumble, the Tigers were there to keep our spirits buoyed. A distraction for some, a religion for others, but a relationship for all.
Those who look down from on high, having to survey the scene of 30 different teams are bound to miss and forget things. Doubtless they forget that when General Motors and Chrysler were on the verge of bankruptcy Mike Ilitch gave the Big 3 free advertising all season long by putting them in the place of what had been “General Motors Fountain” free of charge. So, when they wonder how Detroit, of all places, can support a team that must deal with not only the contracts of Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera but now also Prince Fielder , many just can’t understand. The fans show up and fill the stadium despite everyone outside of of Michigan thinking that Detroit is some sort of ghost town. People all across the country buy merchandise because they want to show their support for the team they love. Some may have grown up in Michigan and moved away. Perhaps they went to school in Ann Arbor or East Lansing and their friends introduced them to Tram and Lou or Cecil, Tony Phillips and Mickey Tettleton’s batting stance. Some will remember spending the summer with their grandparents, listening to Ernie Harwell as they fell asleep. Those sports journalists from around the country who think they know the Tigers…the Tigers of Detroit, Michigan…they don’t have a clue. It is isn’t about dollars and cents or black ink or red ink to their owner. To the fans, it isn’t about the disappointments of the past or any of the troubles that may exist beyond the walls of Comerica Park. Its about hope, its always about what can be, what they could do. Sure, when we talk amongst ourselves we may get down on the team…but that is family, talking about family business. And just like family, if you aren’t part if it, you just would not understand.
This morning, Christopher Czar wrote a great piece here that stated the Tigers, Ilitch and the fans needed a World Series in 2012. I could not agree with him more. The Tigers, OUR Tigers mean so much to us. The savvy businessman Mike Ilitch doesn’t care if he loses money on this venture he wants to win so much. The fans will drive from all over Michigan (and the Midwest) this summer to watch Verlander, Miguel Cabrera, and Prince Fielder at Comerica Park. Those of us who can’t make it to the park will be watching and listening intently ever chance we get. As soon as Justin Verlander gets through the first inning without giving up a hit, we know something special might happen. We will stop whatever we are doing whenever the Tigers Linemen, Cabrera and Fielder, come to the plate – knowing that with the next swing, the baseball could cease to exist.
Yes, we need a World Series this year, we deserve one. Tigers fans have gone through so much, regardless if they live in Detroit or not. Sometimes the only escape are those 3 hours of watching men play a kids game. While hundreds of players will don their home jerseys in 2012, only a select few of them will have an Old English D right over their heart. That collective means so much to us. They are OUR Tigers – the Tigers of Detroit, Michigan.