Friday, March 30, 2007

Take me out to the ball game.......

It's that time of year again; a time of renewal and rejuvenation. Baseball is back. It actually started with Spring Training in February. But now March is winding down and the real season is about to begin. And a little explanation is necessary.

I am a DETROIT TIGER fan by birth. My earliest memories are those of what was then Briggs Stadium (later Tiger Stadium) on the corner of Michigan and Trumbull near downtown Detroit. My cousin Mark Klinger and I would sit in the centerfield bleachers (over 400 feet from home plate) hooting, hollering and heckling the opposing players and thoroughly enjoying ourselves. It was a different age. As preteens, we had a ritual of taking a bus to downtown Detroit on a Saturday morning, stopping at Lefkofsky's Deli in the Broadway Market where I invariably got a friend salami on rye sandwich and a fruit drink and then walked out Michigan Avenue (occasionally stepping over drunks) to the stadium. After the game, we would catch the streetcar on Trumbull and ride it back to a block from my house. Imagine any of us today allowing 11-12 year olds to go to and from games the way Mark and I did in the early '50s!

For too many of the years, being a fan of the Tigers was an exercise in futility. Don't get me wrong, we don't suffer the way Cubs fans do. It's just that the not-so-great seasons far outnumber the great ones. Last year was wonderful. I know, the Tigers got blown out by the Cardinals in the World Series. . .but they were in the series. And when the eliminated the hated Yankees in ALDS (is that the right set of letters?), it was a successful season. It also was the team's first winning season since 2002.

My fondest Tiger memory is of the fresh-out-of- hgih school Al Kaline joining the team in 1953, beginning a long and thrilling career. The team even removed some seats in the rightfield corner making it possible for Kaline to record a few extra outs a season because he could catch up to balls hit in foul territory. Another great memory is of pitcher Frank Lary (my blurry memory places him the late 1950s/early 1960s) who, while an average pitcher against most teams, always pitched his best against the Yankees and had an incredible winning record when facing the Bronx bombers.

I am also a Los Angeles Dodgers fan. . .by marriage. In the summer of 1980, I met Donna and she came from LA to visit me in Springfield, IL where I was living at the time. My son Bill was (13 at the time) was with me for the summer and he decided Donna was all right because she knew more about baseball than he did. In fact, Bill was our Best Man when we married the following New Year's Day. (Visit his Billyblog, see the link in the sidebar) Living about 90 miles from St. Louis, one of my pre-nuptial agreements with Donna was that we would see at least one game of every series when the Dodgers were visiting. As it happened, the only game we got to see (before moving west) was the last game before the baseball players went out on strike in 1981. Donna was 8 months pregnant with Alicia and Bill and his friend Derek were warned not to make any comments about the number of stops we might have to make on the drive to the game.

Anyway, we got to see Fernando Valenzuele pitch an incredible game which, alas, he lost 1-0 when Pedro Guerrero, playing rightfield that night , charged a line drive that should have been a single, ran right past the ball as it landed in front of him and watched it roll all the way to the wall for an inside-the-park homeroom. To this day, neither Donna nor I have forgiven Guerrero.

These are my thoughts as I sit here on the eve of the season watching the Dodgers playing the Angels in the 2nd game of the pre-season freeway series. Also watching to see if we spot Seth, who is at the game sitting on the 4th row of Aisle 1.

GO TIGERS!! GO DODGERS!! May our marriage be challenged by both of you having wonderful seasons and facing each other in the Worls Series.

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