The Detroit Tigers have celebrated various promotional nights throughout the years. Fiesta Tigres is one of those promotions that I will miss the most from the perspective of a fan.
Growing up as a Detroit Tigers fan in the suburbs of Detroit, the opportunity to head to Tiger Stadium was always an adventure and a trip I would look forward to. The trip aspect would be piling into my father’s 1978 Chevy Blazer or the various other cars he would be fixing only to sell later. The ride down to Detroit was only 15 to 20 minutes.
The adventure side of it all was to see the sights and smells of the ballpark and the random chance a foul ball would come my way. Afterward, we would head to Armando’s Restaurant in Mexicantown where we would get carryout to take home. The vehicle would smell of chunky beef burritos and my mind would be flooded with trying to remember the faces I saw at the back entrance of Armando’s. It was a shrine of the 1984 Detroit Tigers and how they celebrated their World Series victory in the same building I was getting carryout at and would always go with my family.
Marty Castillo (I was excited because he had the same last name as me) Aurelio López, Willie Hernández and others graced the walls of the restaurant. Now maybe other places in the Southeastern Michigan area had players from various teams on their walls but in my youth, this stood out to me because Lopez, Hernández, and Bárbaro Garbey all spoke Spanish.
Growing up in a household that spoke Spanish and English, my father, who left Cuba to have a better life, met my mother in Spain and they came to the United States. My father swore up and down that he had a relative who played with Garbey in Cuba but I have never confirmed it. But those players were the Latin players that represented the language I spoke that wore the Olde English D.
Wearing the orange sash for bleacher tickets.
When I got into middle school, my adventures to the ballpark were limited but I join the Triple-A safety program at school because it would include a trip to Tiger Stadium for free. I would always look for a Latin player, so I could use that as a topic of conservation for my father. Felipe Lira was one of the first starting Latin pitchers that I remembered who I saw play that came up from the system.
The Detroit News used to have a farm report that had the numbers of each player at levels throughout the Tigers’ system. I wanted to see Lira play because I saw his numbers between London and Toledo looked great. Jose Lima, Deivi Cruz, and others were part of discussions of baseball at the Castillo household.
As I got older, more Latin players came to Detroit, and that also reflected in the population across Metro Detroit and baseball. It’s not just Southwest Detroit anymore. Parts of Downriver, Pontiac, and the surrounding areas have seen growth in the Hispanic population.
This year would have been the 15th annual Fiesta Tigres celebration. I am sure among all of you there is a favorite theme night you love. From Polish night that goes back to Tiger Stadium to the popular state college cap theme where you can celebrate your college alumni, there is something for every Tigers fan.
As a first-generation Hispanic growing up, Fiesta Tigers was the first time I saw something at the ballpark that was geared towards the cultures I was around my entire life. To see the jerseys spell out “Tigres” similar to the one-time jerseys the Tigers had during the 1960 season, that was just a nice touch.
The day Al Avila was promoted to general manager, he was the first Cuban-born general manager in baseball history. I remember discussing that with my father the day it happened. Per usual, he would say the last name and try to figure out what section of Cuba he was from and if he knew him somehow. He did that when Detroit signed Cuban born Brayan Pena as a catcher and anybody else I would mention in our conservations. After all, my father knew everyone.
Unfortunately, my father passed away on May 1st of this year. As a token of my appreciation for him introducing me to baseball, I conducted my first interview in Spanish with Pena as he is the new manager at West Michigan. I am not sure why I did not do it before. Nervous about how my Spanish would sound? Not sure what the case was. When speaking two languages and one becomes better than the other, you start to grow self-conscious when you speak to your family or strangers. You always want to make sure you are understood.
How does one night of the year that promotes Latin culture provoke so much thought? Well, it’s simple really. It allows me to feel more comfortable in my skin and to show it’s okay to have pride in not only yourself but in your culture. Mainly, it also provokes thoughts of my youth. We all love reliving the past, being in a nostalgia blanket that keeps you warm. But in this case, I just miss the talks I had with my father about baseball and life.