When I was a child the baseball season was a magical time. I would grab my plastic bat and wiffle ball and go out to the back yard. I pretended that I was the Detroit Tigers and the New York Yankees. I would throw up the ball in the air and hit it. If it went over the fence, It was a home run. If not, it was an out. I had the lineups of the Tigers and the Yankess memorized. I still remember Jake Wood (2b) Bill Bruton (CF) Al Kaline (RF) Rocky Colavito (LF) Norm Cash (1B) Chico Fernandez (SS) Dick Brown (C) Steve Boros (3b) and of course Frank Lary, the Yankee Killer was always my favorite pitcher.
The Detroit Tigers were in my blood already at the early age of six years old. In 1961, the only team that mattered other than the Detroit Tigers were the much hated New York Yankees. Yes, they had Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, but the Tigers had Kaline, Colavito, and Cash. Unfortunately, the Tigers faded in September and the Yankees went on to the 1961 World Series.
Dad started to take me to the games when I was six years old. He always liked the $2.00 lower deck reserved seats in section 17 by third base. He also liked the special days, such as Free Ball Day, Free Bat Day, or Picture Day. One time on Picture Day, a free-lance photographer had me stand by Joe Sparma. A couple of weeks later there was my photo in the Highland Parker with Joe Sparma!
Dad had a special tradition about going to the games at Tiger Stadium. He had the idea that we needed to be the first ones there; so that we could get a good parking spot on one of the streets near Tiger Stadium. Dad never parked in one of the parking lots around Tiger Stadium because of the expense. Being early, had its advantages, we could see the grass grow, and then batting practice take place and get settled into our seats. Dad would buy me the fifteen cent program because I liked to keep score of the game.
Dad didn’t believe in spending money on the ballpark food because it was way too expensive. Occasionally, we could buy the popcorn, which came in what looked like a megaphone with the Detroit Tiger symbol on it.
My most exciting time at Tiger Stadium were the few occasions when my cousin was able to get us free tickets for the box seats at the side of the Tiger dugout! She was Max Fisher’s secretary, and when he wasn’t using the seats, he would give the seats away. We would occasionally be the beneficiaries! It was great to see all of my favorite players up close, such as Mickey Stanley, Norm Cash, and Bill Freehan. For some reason, Dad had a strong dislike for Al Kaline, so I never included him as one of my favorites.
Being a Detroit Tiger fan, also meant that I would listen to the Detroit Tigers on WJR. Ernie Harwell was the best broadcaster. When he was announcing, it felt as though you were right next to him in the broadcast booth watching the game. I never knew until I was an adult how he knew that a fan from Kalamazoo, or Muskegon caught the foul ball. Even when I would spend a week or two in Pennsylvania, I would take my transistor radio to bed with me and listen to the game. I was glad that WJR had a powerful signal.
The highlight for any Tiger fan was 1968. It was the magical year of Denny McLain winning thirty-one games. The Tigers were the American League champs. The World Series was my total focus. I was glad that the teachers at Ford Middle School brought their televisions to class. We received an education about what it was like to have a team in the World Series. Mickey Lolich was my hero because of his amazing feat of winning three games in the World Series. Can you imagine a pitcher today starting a World Series game on two days rest! Lolich did it and won the game against Bob Gibson!
After 1969, my interest started to wane a bit in the Detroit Tigers. Yes, I was glad when they made the playoffs in 1972, but I was a teenager and the magic of the Detroit Tigers had worn off. I no longer collected baseball cards. I no longer played baseball. I no longer listened to Ernie Harwell. Our trips to Tiger Stadium became very infrequent. I wonder if Dad missed my enthusiasm for the Tigers. If so, he never told me.
When I became a parent, Dad kept my children in Detroit Tiger gear. He wanted my children to be Tiger fans as he was all of his life. I am glad to say that all of my children are Detroit Tiger fans. Yes, I still keep up with them and I am excited with the possibilities of winning another World Series, but the magic of the Detroit Tigers of my childhood is no longer there. However, I am thankful that my Dad made the Detroit Tigers a very special part of my growing up years in Highland Park!
P.S. Please visit my other blog; http://www.markjemilbooth.com. I share spiritual thoughts such as “Does Jesus Care” and “Candid Thoughts about Crowds”.