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October 11, 2006
Confessions of a Tigers Fan
I admit it. I'm a Detroit Tigers baseball fan. There, finally—it's out in the open. No more hiding, no more pretending, no more trying to be something that I'm not.
It's not easy being a lifelong fan of the Detroit Tigers. I have no 'normal' association with the Tigers—I'm not from Detroit, and I have no family in Detroit. In fact, the closest I've ever gotten to Detroit has been the airport, while on a business trip a few years ago to visit Chrysler in Auburn Hills (an affluent nearby suburb).
I grew up in central Connecticut—West Hartford, to be precise—and the baseball sensibilities among us kids were split evenly along the Red Sox—Yankees fault line. (It's interesting that in the 1960's of my youth, one's baseball loyalties were still a major identifying aspect of our childhood. Nowadays, it seems that the major identifying aspects of kids' lives are things like the color of their iPod, and whether or not they get a brand—new or used car the nano—second they turn 16.)
The Harford area of Connecticut is hardly a major media market. The city's newspapers (the morning Harford Courant and the long—since defunct evening Hartford Times) were typical small—market efforts: long on local stories, but because of their severely restricted resources, short on any kind of serious analysis of national and world events. Because of this, 'local—boy—makes—good—in—the—big—time' stories were always popular. Avon, a small town that bordered West Harford, was the home town of the Tigers' second baseman Dick McAuliffe. McAuliffe was a pretty good player, even making the All—Star team one year. He was BIG NEWS locally and my dad always liked him because he was from the area. The Courant and the Times gave McAuliffe pretty good press, and so, without any actual intend on doing so, they gave the Tigers pretty good press as well.
My dad was a great guy. We were always real close. Through the years, we shared many interests in common: baseball, boxing, jazz and classical music, hi—fi equipment, aviation, cars, lots of things. But baseball was the first. If my dad liked McAuliffe, then that was good enough for me. I liked him too. And those Tigers must've been ok, right? After all, they were McAuliffe's team.
A Sunday family tradition of ours was to visit my grandmother, who at the time lived with my uncle. After finishing lunch, everyone would retire to the den for small talk, and to catch up on family matters. Uncle George would light up one of his trademark cigars, and begin to regale the assemblage, as was his wont, with his pointed view of the goings—on in the town, his Synagogue, the current events of the day, and life in general.
In the background, the Red Sox played on TV, pretty much unnoticed. It was spring 1966 and the Red Sox were a pretty unnoticeable team—perennial second—division finishers. During a momentary lull in the conversation, the Sox' announcer punctuated the silence with, 'And Wilson strikes him out to end the inning.'
'Wilson?' my Uncle George said. 'He used to be pretty good. Now he's just a .500 pitcher. Win one, lose one.'
I took notice of Wilson. He was Earl Wilson, a journeyman veteran pitcher, who'd put together some fairly respectable seasons for the Sox. Nothing spectacular, but Wilson, along with Carl Yastremski and Dick 'The Monster' Radatz, were the lone standouts on a mostly forgettable team.
As luck would have it, a few days after seeing Wilson on TV at my uncle's house, the Red Sox traded him.
To the Detroit Tigers.
That sealed the deal for me. Wilson AND McAuliffe were now on the same team, and so the Tigers had my undivided attention. The mid—sixties Tigers were a very good team (with stalwarts like Al Kaline, Denny McLain, Mickey Lolich and others, they'd win it all two years later in 1968 and Wilson and McAuliffe would earn World Series Championship rings), and with their backing, Wilson went from 5—5 with the Sox (.500, just like my uncle said) to an outstanding 13—6 with the Tigers.
So that was how my emotional association with the Tigers began. Ever since, it's been a strange relationship. I've been sort of a man without a country—a New Englander with Mid—Western baseball loyalties. I'd go to Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium to see the Tigers play and people around me—hearing me root for the Tigers, wearing a Tigers cap—would invariably ask if I was from Detroit. 'No,' I'd say, and the conversation would abruptly end, the quizzical looks on their faces unresolved.
(Oh, on that aforementioned business trip to Auburn Hills, I took the opportunity to go to a Tigers game with a good friend, and for the first and only time, I saw the Tigers—wearing the white good—guy uniforms— on their home field. I rooted for them as a member of the MAJORITY, no explanations required. They lost, but what fun it was.)
In a way, my emotional relationship with the Tigers has proved to be a precursor to other out—of—the—ordinary positions I've taken in my life. As a Northeastern born—and—bred Jew, my social and educational background should bespeak sharply liberal political leanings, yet I find myself strongly aligned along conservative—traditional lines. Is there any similarity to being a Tigers' fan in a sea of Yankee—Red Sox fandom to being a Conservative in the land of Kerry—Kennedy—Harvard? Who knows.
The Tigers endured something like 12 straight losing seasons from 1993—2005. It was tough to keep the faith. Rooting for the local Red Sox became a matter of convenience, especially since the league has been divided into three divisions, and the Tigers' Central Division gets virtually no local press here in Boston compared to the Red Sox—Yankees' Eastern Division. But as this is being written, the 2006 Tigers have surprised the odds makers and beaten the heavily—favored Yankees in the first round of the American League playoffs. If they progress any farther, it will be icing on the cake, but the season has already been a resounding success.
I found myself making strange deals with the Keeper of the Fates: 'Please, just let the Tigers beat the stuffing out of the Yankees, just this once, and you can let the Democrats take back the House.' Wow. For those who know me well, they know that that's a real deal with the Devil, but that's how much it meant.
Dad died in 1998, but he—more than anyone—certainly knew how much the Tigers meant to me. He'd be happy. Earl Wilson died last year. But he'd be happy too.
Steve Feinstein 10 11 06