As I was walking down the stairs from my upper deck view of the Rocket taking the loss from our Detroit Tigers, I heard children chanting the familiar, “we are the Tigers mighty mighty tigers,” and I thought to myself, these kids have no idea how lucky they are. I have been born and raised in the Detroit metro area, and success for the boys of summer was more closely associated with the travel baseball team I played with than with our Detroit Tigers. For a string of almost five years my dad would take me out of school, and take me out to the ballgame for opening day at the Corner. My most spectacular memory of opening day was when playing the Indians, nearly 10 fans were arrested after running on the field, Kenny Lofton and Albert Belle were bombarded by bottles, and it seemed the fans thirsted for anything but Tiger baseball. But today is a new day, the boys of Summer are most certainly not the U.S. world cup team, the Bronx Bombers, or even the recent underdog champs in Oklahoma, the Beavers of Oregon State. There is new king of the jungle, and this summer baseball is in the air. I don’t care who you are and what you like, baseball is our Nations pastime, and after years of hopeless seasons, cheap and readily available tickets, there will postseason baseball in Detroit.
This team has shown that they will not go away, headed by Pittsburgh native Jim Leyland, the Tig’s listen to the roar of the crowd as they take the field each day not only with a chance to win, but expecting to win. They are the best team in baseball, in the best division in baseball. We have reached the all-star break and I couldn’t have asked for a better half. It took a while for the analysts to comes around, but sure enough after 54 wins, the talk is not if they are for real or not, rather which ONE of the AL East teams will be joining them in the postseason. Imagine that, people that are paid to tell you how the Tigers will inevitably fail believe this October will be a lonely one for the Red Sox or Yankees. They would be idiots not to, in the latest route of the National League their starting pitching has been nearly unhittable, complimented by an offense that is second in the bigs in homeruns, and recently shelled last years NL Cy Young winner Chris Carpenter. There is no easy out in this lineup, it seems even no names like Alexis Gomez find a way to hit the ball. Young Curtis Granderson is a clutch emerging star getting closer to .300 each game, he may not steal bases like a leadoff hitter, but then again most leadoff hitters don’t have 11 jacks at the break. In my mind Pudge and Magg Pipes are both all-stars, surrounded by a supporting cast that is arguably the best in baseball, Thames, Shelton, Guillen, Monroe and Polanco. And if you haven’t watched Web Gems lately, I’ll fill you in, Brandon Inge. Night after night Inge locks down the hot corner making superman stabs with the leather showing off a cannon that comes along with being a former catcher. And for all those screaming to trade him, with 16 homeruns, who cares if he’s hitting less than I weigh, I’m a big guy, and he’s our eight hitter.
I could talk all night about the statistics of this team, but there’s only one that matters, 2. Despite the Tigers losing as often as Hondo watches soccer, the Reigning champions trail by just two games. With a streak of sweeps that compares to last seasons longest winning streaks, Detroit’s first order of business after the break must be taking it to Ozzy Guillen and his team from the wrong side of Chicago. The last series between the two teams was a tough one, and although the Tigers played solid baseball, they only escaped with one win.
The second half of the 2006 MLB season waits with more anticipation than this fan has ever experienced. Could we have seven 20+ homer guys? Will the Tigers have their first 20 game winner since Bill Gullickson’s 20-9 season in 1991? Even more exciting, will they have multiple 20 game winners? With the crafty 41 year old seasoned veteran Kenny Rogers and rookie fire-baller Justin Verlander half way there, this Tigers fan says “you betcha.” Bonderman may not reach 20, but he does have 102 strikeouts, including back to back 12 k performances. Robertson is likely to win 15 games, and proved he’s a big game pitcher after going 7 innings toe to toe with Roger Clemens. Rookie Zach Miner is showing that Verlander isn’t the only young gun we got, winning a quick 4 games after being called up from Toledo. And even with his 20 saves, the Detroit faithful do not believe in you Mr. Jones, you are not funky, and everybody most certainly does not love you. But we sure as heck love seeing flame thrower Joel Zumaya light up 100 time and time again in the 7th or 8th , and hope maybe Leyland’s preparing the rookie for a postseason run comparable to K-Rod of the Angels, or Jenks with the Sox, both World Series champs by the way.
In the jungle, the lion may sleep tonight, but the city of Detroit and their Tigers will be celebrating a fourth of July weekend, one that celebrates independence, freedom from one disappointing season after another. No longer will we pay more dollars per beer- than players we can name in the starting lineup. This club has given the youth of the motor city a reason to love baseball again, and to that I can attach no dollar amount. The trade deadline for once marks the acquisition of a player that can take us all the away, rather than the small hope of giving Bobby Higginson away. If you do one thing this summer take your boy or girl to the ballpark. Show up early and appreciate that there are players worth acquiring autographs from, I wasn’t so lucky growing up. Buy a program and tell your kid how much money these guys make for playing the game they love, buy some Ballpark franks, and don’t complain that the only ticket you could get is in the upper deck two rows from the top, it means we’re a contender now.