“There comes a time when all the cosmic tumblers have clicked into place and the universe opens itself up for a few seconds to show you what’s possible.”
Ray Kinesella- Field Of Dreams
I should have written sooner but I’ve been afraid I would break the spell.
After over a decade of consistent failure the Tigers are not only in first place in their division, but indeed have the best record in baseball. Friends who in prior years wouldn’t be caught dead using my season tickets are now calling to see if I have any games to sell. The new Tiger Stadium is jam packed with people night after night.
So what’s going on? Well, as long time Tigers victim fan I’ll try to bring the you bandwagon jumpers up to speed.
When last we left our heroes
At the tail end of last season things were bleak for the Tigers. High priced free agent signings such as Magglio Orgonez, Troy Perceival, Pudge Rodriguez, and Ugeuth Urbina had gotton the team nowhere. Magglio missed large chunks of the season with various ailments, Perceival was diagnosed with a career ending arm injury, Pudge was in a nasty funk due to being in the middle of divorcing his wife, and Ugeuth had been offloaded in a trade to the Philadelphia Phillies for second baseman Placido Polanco.
Every time the Tigers reached the .500 mark they would start another losing streak. Eventually the wheels came off and they ended up 20 games under (71-91). But the really disturbing thing is that they seemed to get worse once they began to get their player back from injury. I came extremely lose to giving up my season tickets. I love baseball and enjoy going to games but the teams seamed to be regressing.
I hoped for a major shake-up in the offseason. And we really didn’t get it. The Tigers fired Manager Alan Trammell and brought in Jim Leyland to replace him. At the time this didn’t seem to be that big of a deal- more on this later. They also signed pitcher Kenny Rogers and relief pitcher Todd Jones. These were hardly the signings I had hoped for. Kenny Rogers had been involved in an off-the-field incident last season where he got into an altercation with a cameraman and Todd Jones has previously been with the team. Ugggh.
So as the season began I had muted expectations to say the least. I figured if everyone stayed healthy the Tiger might end 5-10 games over .500 but then again I thought they should have finished near .500 in 2005.
And then an amazing thing happened. Actually a number of amazing things. The Tigers starting winning…and winning…and winning. They’ve developed a swagger that you rarely see. They honestly believe that they are going to wing every game no matter how far they get or what happens.
Down in the 9th inning? No problem.
Ken Griffey hits a grand slam late in the game to take the lead? No sweat.
Five runs down in the 6th inning? Yawn.
Jim Leyland has taken control of the club that floundered last last season. He’s created an atmosphere where veteran and rookie alike knows what’s expected of them. The Tigers have been remarkably injury-free. An injury to starting pitcher Mike Maroth was filled with prospect Zach Minor. The biggest change was bringing in veteran pitcher Kenny Rogers. By him having a great season (and remarkably not getting into fights with the local media) he has solidified a Tigers pitching staff that looks incredibly strong right now.
A kind of magic
I don’t know how long this ride will last. But over the last four months I’ve seen some things happen that are just amazing. Baseball is a sport ruled by statistics and probablities but there is no explanation for things I’ve seen this season while watching the Tigers.
Two out opposite field home runs in the bottom of the ninth inning. Infield singles. Opportune errors by opponents. Five run rallies. I’ve been at games this season when the Tigers have been down we sit there and wonder how they’re going to come back this time…And they do. I’ve seen the stadium packed with over 40,000 screaming fans calling for a ninth inning comeback…And the Tigers have responded. A starting pitcher get hurt…Just call the next guy up from the minors and watch him run off a string of victories.
These are seasons that make life long fans.
It’s the sweet mystery of baseball when inexplicably the mathematically probablities stop applying for certain teams. When you’re head tells something can’t happen but your heart tells you it will- that it must. When what happens on the field seems less determined by probablites and more by what’s possible.
I don’t know how much longer this ride will last. Maybe the Tigers won’t even make the play-offs. Perhaps the wheels will fall of as many naysayers have been predicting all season.
But one thing is certain. If you haven’t been paying attention who’ve missed on the great sport stories of the year. And anyone trying to describe it you will fail miserably. It’s like trying to describe sunset- words are inadequate to get the job done.
You have to be there for yourself. So if baseball’s not your thing, go about your business. It’s your loss.
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