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Sports

Play ball! — and an outpouring of memories

We put out the word we were looking for Tiger memories — and you had a lot of them

SEE ALSO
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Published 4/7/2010

One of the most famous days in Tiger history was June 28, 1976, when phenom Mark Fidrych (who would go on to be the first athlete ever to grace the cover of Rolling Stone) outdueled the Yankees on ABC's Monday Night Baseball. It also happened to be my 11th birthday, and my gift just happened to be tickets to the game with my granddad. My granddad was a devout Catholic and was the volunteer accountant for the church just southwest of Tiger Stadium on the I-75 service drive. They saved my granddad a VIP parking space whenever we came to the ballpark. One quick swing around and we were on the freeway, headed for home. Except, after Fidrych's victory, the streets were clogged with revelers chanting, "The Bird is the Word." We could only make it a block from the church, so my granddad parked on the service drive and let me sit on the hood of the car as exuberant Tiger fans sprayed beer and high-fived everyone in sight. It was my first of thousands of "tailgate" parties, but the only one I ever got to share with my granddad. —Jimmy Doom, local musician and spoken word performer, Pleasant Ridge


I have a photo dated June 7, 1996, from a Tigers game I attended at old Tiger Stadium when I was a kid; I still have no recollection as to who the opposing team was that day and which team won. What I do remember is: That experience was the best Tigers game I ever attended as a kid. My parents let me take my baseball buddy, and we were told that at this game we were going to run the bases and meet the players when the game ended! My friend and I both made sure to wear our favorite Tigers baseball caps and bring our mitts, just in case a fly ball came our way. When we arrived at Tiger Stadium, my dad made sure we each had a hot bag of roasted peanuts from a local vendor, as this was tradition (and still is). As the game progressed onward, the announcer reassured the kids that we were going to be a Tiger for the day when the game was over. 

The excitement was building and the game finally ended. The announcer told the kids to make our way down to one of the entrances to the field and said that everyone was only allowed to run around the field once and then go line up to meet their favorite players for pictures and autographs. Being kids, we thought it was a better idea to run around the bases at least three times as the lines to meet players were too long. Our plan was a success as we reached our fourth lap, until one of the security guards caught us and directed us to a random line for autographs. This was one of my most cherished memories of the Tigers and being a kid. —Mallory Schwartz, twentysomething, Detroit suburbs


Well, my Tiger memory is the victory over the St. Louis Cardinals for the World Series. That was quite a thing. Detroit had just experienced the horrors of the rebellion of '67, and there was a sort of racial aspect to the series. The Cardinals were led by Bob Gibson, and the Tigers were led by Denny McClain. It was almost like the L.A. Lakers-Boston Celtics rivalry of later years, a drama with a racial subtext egging it on. My father was rooting for St. Louis, but, as a very young lad, I do remember being happy that Detroit came out victorious. —Saxophonist, author and educator Salim Washington (See a full interview with him in this week's music section.)


One of my first memories of a Tigers game came when I saw a lady get hit in the face by a foul ball. She had to be carried away on a stretcher. What makes the story, though, is that she was sitting a few rows behind us, and I swear my dad could have at least knocked the ball down if my sister wasn't on his lap, and his hands were full of beer and hot dogs. —Jeff Lewis is a pipefitter living in Livonia. His favorite Tiger is Hank Greenberg.


Opening day '78 or '79: Skipped school and went with some friends and one of the guys' older brother. He asked me to hold his radio. Once we were in, on a beautiful sunny day in the bleachers, and seated, he remembered his radio. Then he opened the battery compartment lid and the whole back popped open: Not a single radio part in it. Just a pint of Bacardi and a half-ounce of weed and a pack of Zig-Zags. The back made a good rolling tray too. A couple of years later, they caught on to this and made you turn the radio on as you entered the gates. —Name Withheld 


My favorite memory with the Tigers has to be from about 11 years ago. When I was 7, my dad took my brother, mother and me to see the Tigers play. It was my first major league baseball game. My dad had gotten seats right by the dugout, and I was so excited. We got to the game early enough to watch them warming up for the game. I was so anxious that I was looking all around the stadium: watching people, watching the players, and seeing the thrilled look on my father's face taking his kids to see his favorite baseball team. My family considers the Detroit Tigers to be a family team; no matter how good or bad they play, they're always our team. Anyway, my dad started tapping my shoulder and saying my name. I looked down, and Luis Gonzalez was standing right in front of me! He told me how pretty I was, and handed me the baseball he was warming up with! Eleven years later, and being 18 years old now, I still remember it like it was yesterday, and the baseball sits proudly in my room. I'll never forget that moment, ever. —Alyssa Petree attends Anthony Wayne High School in Whitehouse, Ohio. She plans to attend Western Michigan University or University of Toledo for Nursing in the fall.


The first two games of the World Series in 1968, all the sixth-grade kids had to run home from school to try to catch the last innings of the games. There was so much excitement in Mt. Clemens that even the girly girls (which I wasn't!) were watching the games. Then, that weekend, I had a horrible bout of stomach flu — the only thing I mustered any interest for was the Tigers games, which I watched between bouts of vomiting. Monday morning, I nearly passed out from dehydration, and my mother had to take me to the doctor who said I was OK, but that I couldn't go to school for the week. That, of course, broke my Tigers-loving heart, and I was the only one in school who saw every inning of the last three games of the World Series! After we won, I skipped all the way to the city library only to be told that I couldn't come in on a school day, even if I was "sick." Horrible people. —Cyndie Bradburn, Royal Oak


Comerica Park opened April 11, 2000, on a day when they had to shovel snow from the field, the kind of day that Ernie Harwell says wasn't made for baseball. Brian Moehler pitched the home opener, putting his father's initials into the new dirt, and the Tigers won 5-2. And I can say I was there with 39,000 others, shivering in the cold wind.

It's August now, and I've seen a half dozen games this season, including this one, a Tuesday-night affair against the Griffey-less Seattle Mariners.

Comerica Park differs from Tiger Stadium: Its wider green seats accommodate about 10,000 fewer fans, and there is no double deck. The outfield opens toward the downtown, and fans walking by along Adams Street can see the action. A scoreboard dominates left field, and two levels of stands, separated by a double band of luxury boxes, run from foul territory in left to near first base, ending before a membership-only restaurant. Hardly any seats have obstructed views, though those in the upper deck are much farther from the action. Amenities abound — roomy restrooms, numerous concession stands, a Ferris wheel and carousel, lounges and spacious walkways.

There is much I like about Comerica Park. It feels part of the downtown, and the streets show life after games; people linger, intrigued by the exterior, by the decorative tiles and huge statues of tigers and baseball bats. I like the shape of the field. It's a pitcher's park, with deep alleys. And the club has honored its heritage with displays of memorabilia that tell of Cochrane and Crawford.

I've brought my sons to Comerica Park, and they've enjoyed it. ("These seats have cup holders," one of them pointed out.) We usually sit along the third-base side with a clear view of the field.

But my favorite spot takes me away from the action behind the upper deck near right field. There's a wide walkway where you can stand in the breeze and look down Columbia Street. And on the horizon you can see the top of Tiger Stadium, its darkened light towers silhouetted by the setting sun. And if you listen beyond the silence, if you listen with your heart, you can hear all sorts of things. You can hear your childhood, you can hear your dad and your uncles, you can hear Kaline connecting, you can hear the muted cheers of distant ghost crowds, and you can hear your grandpa calling out from the bleachers.

It's a beautiful sound, and it echoes across the decades. —Excerpted with permission from The Final Season, Tom Stanton's memoir of the last year at Tiger Stadium. One of Stanton's four baseball books, The Final Season won the Casey Award, given annually for the best American book about baseball. Stanton teaches journalism at the University of Detroit Mercy. 


I first entered Tiger Stadium in the spring of 1971 and saw the Tigers sweep a doubleheader from the Washington Senators. This was the era when all 55,000-some seats were wooden and painted dark green. The sheer beauty of the place was overwhelming. I went on to attend more than 1,300 games there up until, and including, the finale in late September 1999. Abandoning that great landmark 10 years ago was a crime, as was moving into that chintzy, silly "mall park" they play in now. I guess many who claim to have loved the old park have forgiven and forgotten judging by the big crowds they've drawn in recent seasons. I haven't forgotten, nor will I ever. That old park was an absolute monument and I miss it to this day. —When we asked onetime (1984-1999) Detroit organist, and baseball fan, Bill Heid, for his thoughts, his e-mail began like this: "I'm in China until July and in a hurry to get up to Shanghai now, but I'll try something." 

I remember the first time I went to a Tigers game: It was in 1992 and I was 8 years old. My family just moved to Michigan from Virginia and I had no idea where Detroit was or who the Tigers were! My dad had won tickets from work and took one of my younger brothers and me. I decided I should collect baseball cards and learn everything that I could in the two weeks we had until the big day. Finally, after I thought I knew everything and everyone associated with the Tigers, we started on our three-and-a-half hour ride from Higgins Lake to Detroit. Along with the game, dad also received tickets to a breakfast featuring Cecil Fielder and other top players at that time. We wore the new Tigers shirts that we had bought and brought baseballs to get signed. We took pictures with the team members and received hats and pennant flags. After the breakfast we headed on over to Tiger Stadium to our seats behind the Tigers dugout. Smells of popcorn, hot dogs, and the presence of vendors selling cracker jacks and peanuts made it all the more exciting for the three of us. We almost caught a ball, but our dad had to hold us back so we would not be trampled. The Tigers won 4-2. Since then, I have made it a staple to attend at least one game a year. I still remember that first game every time I look at my tickets and we settle down in our seats. It will always be a wonderful memory to share with my dad and brother. —Samantha Carr, Ashdown, Ark.


Like everyone I know who was born and raised in Detroit, I grew up an avid Tigers fan. My summers were filled with rooting for such names as Kaline, Cash, McAuliffe, Brown, Wood, Wert, Freehan and others. However, my most indelible memories as a Tigers fan all center around Mr. Willie Horton. Among young black boys living in Detroit's Conant Gardens section, Willie Horton was practically a god. We imitated his batting stance. We took magic markers and wrote the number 23 on our shirts. We kept track of Horton's batting statistics. His was our favorite baseball card. We listened to our fathers and uncles speak proudly about how Willie Horton was from Detroit, a graduate of Northwestern High School. He was one of our own, and he was the baseball player we all wanted to be. I remember attending a Tigers contest in which Horton drove in the game-winning run. My father was so happy, he took me and my brothers to get some ice cream afterward. But my favorite Willie Horton memory actually took place away from the ballpark. When I was in sixth grade, Willie Horton came to our school. I was selected to be master of ceremonies for the special program we put on for him in our auditorium. When I actually got to shake his hand, I was thrilled beyond description. Years later, I worked for the Detroit Tigers and got to speak with Mr. Horton often. Willie Horton will always be my favorite Tiger memory. —Cliff Russell has held innumerable positions in Detroit media, in addition to work as a media and political consultant. 


In 2004, I started announcing games for the Miracle League of Michigan, an all-volunteer baseball league for special-needs kids with a rubberized, wheelchair-accessible diamond in Southfield. Each player is teamed with a "buddy," an able-bodied volunteer who gives a little help when needed, whether it's pushing a wheelchair, helping a boy with Down syndrome swing a bat or high-fiving an autistic girl after she crosses home plate.

Several Tiger players and coaches came out to buddy with the kids that first year; Jeremy Bonderman was one of them. He seemed deeply affected by what he saw and took an unusual joy in helping our players with the game. Since then, No. 38 has been one of our best friends.

In 2007, he participated in a program called Autographs for a Cause, where he asked people who requested his signature to make a donation to the Miracle League of Michigan, generating $10,000 for us. The Tigers were on the road for our 2008 Opening Day, so a team PR representative presented us with the donation and read a note from Jeremy apologizing for not coming by often enough and promising us a visit soon.

Just a couple days later came the news that he'd be having season-ending surgery. With all of the thoughts weighing on his mind — including, perhaps, whether he'd ever be able to play again — a couple weeks later he and his family came to see us.

He ran around on the field with our kids, posed for dozens of pictures, signed autographs for all comers and took home an armful of get-well-soon cards. No matter his own troubles, he still remembered a promise he made to a bunch of kids with disabilities.

For that, he'll always be my Tiger. —Vic Doucette is an underemployed journalist, who would have appreciated having Miracle League had it been around when he was kid — so he has to be in it now. More information at michiganmiracle.org.


Friday evening at Tiger Stadium, Aug. 8, 1974, saw the Tigers facing the Cleveland Indians. Under cloudy skies, the stands were less than one-quarter full, and the game was delayed by rain for more than an hour before it started. But after the game started, at the end of the first inning, over the P.A. system, an announcer declared that President Richard M. Nixon had resigned the presidency. The announcement brought rousing and sustained applause from the crowd of 12,408. Later, with the Indians leading them 3-zip, the Tigers poured it on for a ninth inning 4-3 victory. For many Tiger fans, it was the perfect day. —Michael Jackman is Metro Times associate editor. 


My fondest memories with baseball and the Tigers involved going to Opening Day as a kid. My dad belonged to the Men's Lutheran Luncheon Club at Historic Trinity Lutheran Church (in downtown Detroit). Every year, they would have a pregame tailgate at the church. Fathers would bring their sons, and grandfathers would bring their grandkids. We'd even get to skip school in order to go to the game. The church served plenty of pops (or sodas) and hot dogs for everyone. Even "adult beverages" for those old enough to legally drink. After everyone had eaten, we'd all board school buses (provided by the church) and be shuttled over to Tiger Stadium. Once at the stadium, we would always buy the $1 bags of peanuts outside of the stadium. The games themselves weren't always memorable, but the electricity in the stadium was. Regardless of how the Tigers were expected to do, the stadium was always filled with excitement and hope. I'll never forget my amazing experiences with my Dad, the Tigers, and Opening Day! —Dave Rowden is a Die-hard Tiger (Lions and Red Wings) fan living in Nationals country, married to a Red Sox fan. Born in Royal Oak, raised in West Bloomfield and schooled at the University of Michigan, he is currently a Web strategist in D.C. 

The Roar of '84: We had tickets to Game 5 (the final one, where we won it all) of the 1984 World Series. We guessed right, got four tickets, and an old friend and our dates went down to the stadium. We got all the way down there, looking for parking, and he says, "I left my tickets at home in Livonia!" We made it back in time for the start of the second inning, and had to sit separate from the girls we brought. (How's that for male bonding?) It was rainy, awful weather. After we won, we ran onto the field from the lower deck, center field bleachers and grabbed handfuls of sod. (The cops were protecting the dirt infield.) There was a young couple dancing buck-naked on the roof of a car outside the stadium. Then the overturning and burning started, and we got the hell out of there, slapping hands with Detroit denizens out the window of my van all down Michigan Avenue. ... —Alan Madlane, Ferndale


I was a young girl in the early '60s when my uncle made a rare excursion to Tiger Stadium, my cousins, brothers and I in tow. We climbed onto the bleachers amidst the hot dog sellers, peanut men, and the wondrous noise, excited to see real baseball.

As the game went on, two white men — drinking too much -— became louder and coarser. Our uncle tried to shield us, talking a bit too much to us to distract our attention. But the shouts of the men ramped into racial epithets. Their faces grew red and twisted; beer and spit sprayed round their heads. No one tried to stop them. I was terrified.

Unable to ignore them any longer, my uncle stood, turned around and yelled, "Can't you see I've got children here?!" Miraculously, the men shut up and we watched the rest of the game; but it was not so exciting after that. I reluctantly went to another one 20 years later; but I was never at ease. That was 30 years ago and I never went again.

Recently, I was driving down John R; it stops at Comerica Park. I paused, riveted by the magnificence of that slumbering green field; a silent, verdant pasture as beautiful as heaven. This year — God willing — I'll go, so that perhaps, in such an enchanted place, that clear, ugly memory from so long ago will fade. —Marsha Cusic blogs at Marsha Music at marshamusic.wordpress.com. She appeared in THE HBO documentary City On Fire: The Story of the '68 Detroit Tigers.


My favorite Tigers memories are all of the summer nights that end with fireworks, especially after they won a game they were not expected to or came back from behind to win one in the late innings. Few things are as fun and celebratory as fireworks lighting the sky, the fountain pumping, and thousands of Tigers fans reveling in victory on a Detroit summer night. —Ryan M. Dinkgrave, Manager, Government Affairs & Grantwriting for Focus: HOPE


When I think of Detroit now, my memories are led first (and frequently) to Tiger Stadium. It's the little things that come to mind first — the football lights on the scoreboards (remnants of the Lions era), the dog run that Ty Cobb reportedly used for his pit bulls, and the tiny press elevator that groaned its way upward, inducing pangs of terror and claustrophobia with every lurch.

Most of those thoughts lead to 1999, the final season at the old yard. My wife, Monica, and I were scared new parents, but it wasn't just the baby keeping us up. Most of that year focused on events related to closing Tiger Stadium, and I felt that we had to nail every one of them. As the calendar marched toward that final game, the stress level was high. Tiger Stadium had meant so much to so many, was home to countless Hall of Famers and generations of fans. Now it was up to us to capture all of that in a tidy little package.

The day came more quickly than we would have liked, but I remember the relief of seeing some sun ("Please don't rain, please don't rain ... !!!") when I woke that morning. We had a plan on paper, but who knew if it would work? Arriving at the stadium very early that morning, I took a moment to look out on the field. It's one of those mental snapshots that I hope to carry for the rest of my life. Peace, green, quiet. ...

The next few hours moved along at warp speed. Late in the game, we went to address a group of approximately 70 alumni who were to be the stars of the closing show. I was to give them cue cards, and walk them through what I hoped were simple instructions. Run to your former position, form a line, pass a folded Tiger Stadium flag.

All day, I felt like I had been on autopilot, but when I entered that room, I felt like I had been hit by a truck. Kaline, Horton, Gibson ... the list was endless, but every face stood out. Addressing that group was beyond humbling. I remember thinking, "Who are we to be telling these legends how to say goodbye?"

At the end of the day, I just hope people believe that we gave a memorable sendoff to the old place. I'm grateful to have worked with a group of about a dozen staff who put everything they had into planning those ceremonies. And in the rush of events, I hope in hindsight that we collectively thanked the Ilitches, John McHale and the late, great Dave Glazier for giving us the opportunity to give it a go. —Tyler Barnes is the vice president of communications for the Milwaukee Brewers. He lives with his wife, two sons and a beagle named Satchel Paige. He says he has thousands of memories from his time with the Tigers.

 

They were going to blow it.
Again.
Every time I go to a game.
Lions, Red Wings, Tigers.
I am a curse.
If I want them to win, I will just have to stay home.
I had barely gotten over losing the 67 pennant race to the Red Sox.
By one game.
A four team race, Tigers, Red Sox, White Sox, and Twins.
My Dad took me to the last home game with each of them.
And we lost all three.
By one run to the Twins, 2-1 to the White Sox, and 4-2 to the Red Sox.
It was all my fault.
It was another year, hope springs eternal, the week after Easter, so I was home from 8th grade,
and took the bus with a friend to Tiger Stadium.
General Admission tickets were $2.50, and included the last five rows all the way around the lower deck in foul territory.
Sudden Sam McDowell versus Denny McClain, another duel between the two hardest throwers in the American League, if not the majors.
I looked up the box score:
McClain: 7 innings, 6 hits, 2 earned runs, 9 strikeouts and only 2 walks.
And he even had a hit, going 1 for 2.
But McDowell outpitched him: 9 innings, 1 earned run, 7 hits, 11 strikeouts, 2 walks.
But, the Tigers got an unearned run off him, tying it in the 9th inning, I think on a pinch single by Jim Price hitting for Ray Oyler, whose batting average never crossed the Mendoza Line.
Oh, my heart raced!
I knew there was such a thing as comeback wins, I had read about them, but, could they do it for me!
Please, God!
After 2 perfect innings in relief by Pat Dobson, Fred (The Whip) Lasher comes out to start the 10th.
Single.
Sacrifice bunt, man on second, one out.
Single, runs scores, Cleveland takes a 3-2 lead.
My heart sinks.
This is worse than just losing in nine.
Mayo Smith pulls Lasher for Jon Warden, who gets the last two outs.
Top of the order for the Tigs in the bottom of the tenth.
Mickey Stanley retired, no problem.
Dick McAuliffe, ditto.
My all time Tiger hero, Al Kaline.
Fleetingly, I think tying home run.
Cleveland's reliever apparently thought the same, gave him nothing to hit, and walked him on 4 pitches.
Batting cleanup, Willie Horton, Detroit native, dubbed "Willie the Wonder" when he came up to the
bigs and smoked every fastball he could reach.
Not on this day, he could not touch Sudden Sam, stepping up to the plate 0 for four.
Oh, well. I never leave a sporting event early.
I do not remember the count, but I can see that pitch today, waist high inside half of the plate.
Willie got all of it, a line drive to the power alley in left, around the 365 mark.
And over it.
Less than 10,000 fans in the park for that midweek afternoon game, but it was the loudest crowd
noise I had ever heard.
Kaline scores the tying run ahead of him, greeted by the entire hooting and hollering team, and
they all swamp Willie as he scores the winning run, 4-3 Detroit.
The curse is lifted.
—Kurt O'Keefe is an attorney specializing in mortgages. He lives in Grosse Pointe Woods.


Bill Holdship's request for "Best (Detroit) Tigers Memories" coincided with my own screed last night on the futility of being a KC Royals fan. It's not just that the Royals don't win divisions but that local fans actually get excited when we don't have the worst record in baseball. I guess it should be easily understood by Detroit Sports fans — we're baseball's version of the Lions, I suppose. Anyhow, ...

Being from an opposing city, my "worst" Tigers memory may well be among your "best." In 1984, we believed our Kansas City Royals were ready to bring home the city's first baseball championship since the Monarchs of the Negro Leagues. From 1971-1975, we watched as what had been our former Kansas City Athletics (the Oakland A's) played in five consecutive ALCSs, winning three straight World Championships. Then for three consecutive years, from 1976 to 1978, our Royals lost the ALCS to the New York Yankees — twice losing in the ninth inning of (the then-final) Game Five. In 1980, the Royals finally vanquished the Yankees only to perform miserably in the World Series.

Ignoring the somewhat disparate season records with the Tigers at 104-58 and the Royals at 84-78, we somehow convinced ourselves that, having finally broken the Yankees jinx in 1980, these Detroit Tigers should be little more than a speed-bump. This confidence seems like hubris considering the Royals had won their division by a mere three games over two teams playing .500 ball.

What happened instead is that the Tigers swept in three games with the Royals scoring a total of four runs in the entire series. Game 2 in Royals Stadium was a classic — with the home team losing 5-3 in 11 innings. With Game 2 as the classic, it goes without saying that the tickets I bought from scalpers were for Game 1 — lost by the Royals 8-1 and the final score deceptively close. The line shows the Royals scored a run but I can't recall any Royal touching second base.

Game 3 turned anticlimactic as the Royals wasted Charlie Leibrandt's pitching effort, limiting the Tigers to three hits and one run. The Royals "supported" that effort by matching the number of errors and hits (three each) en route to a shutout. Kirk Gibson was your MVP, years before his epic walk-off against the Yankees. In 1991, he'd join the Royals — an early entrant in our history of salvaging big names from the scrap heap where it turns out they actually belonged. The Royals finally won the World Series the following year then gave the home fans 25 years of such futility that being swept in a league championship again would be a highlight. —Mike Webber, Kansas City, Mo.

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