How the Detroit Tigers Forced Me to Love Sports
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Patience is not my style.
Anything that I didn’t master instantly as a kid (geometry) was branded an enemy and vilified.
Sports fell squarely into that category as soon as my body started going through “changes.”
As for watching sports? I’d rather listen to Gilbert Gottfried sing the entire score of Evita.
It wasn’t until 2006 that a team forced me to appreciate the love of the game, any game.
That team was the Detroit Tigers.
And now, with the Tigers back in the World Series six years later, I’m reminded again of the pimply, plump kid I used to be.
That same kid that, years later, would take the stage in his first high school play and find his true passion. A passion that left little room for sports (or so I thought.)
However, being a young boy in a small town, I suffered through years of team sports before finally having the epiphany onstage that I wanted to be an actor. My flings with organized sports were as follows.
Soccer was the first team sport I ever played. It was great fun at first. Rules? What rules? There is a ball. Find the ball. KICK THE SHIT OUT OF BALL!!!!
My Dad, who coached my AYSO soccer team for a year, recently described the prevailing strategy in youth soccer:
“We called it cluster ball. Everywhere the ball went, a cluster of children wearing bright colors followed.”
The entire roster of each team, sometimes including the goalie, would surround the ball like Joe Pesci in Goodfellas and kick it to death.
After a few years, I found this approach tiring. I then discovered the position of defender. My role as defender consisted of standing stationary until a member of the opposing team approached. I would then kick them in the shins.
And that became my new concept of soccer. Standing in one place and shin kicking. I did this for a few years until hormones finally caught up with me in seventh grade, transforming a spry, curly haired kid into a husky dinner roll.
The coach began talking about positions, and “rules,” and how in soccer it was actually against these “rules,” to kick people in the shins. Then he made us run laps. After the first lap, I had submerged my uniform in sweat and was hearing my dead relatives beckon.
FUCK YOU SOCCER, I thought, HOW DARE YOU BECOME A REAL SPORT!
I quit the next day, and would only play soccer again years later in Vietnam. But that, dear readers, is another story.
It is every father’s dream that his son, once he’s stopped filling diapers, will instead pick up some sort of ball and become an instant phenomenon.
For my dad, his sports dreams for me were rooted in the games that he loved: basketball and baseball.
With the jury still out on how tall I’d be (not very) and how athletic (pathetic), basketball was not approached at first. Instead, Dad put a baseball in my hands and we went into the backyard to throw a couple of pitches.
Dad will still say to this day with a gleam in his eye that my pitches had power and speed. Perhaps, but I was about as accurate as Ray Charles throwing in a blizzard.
With pitching out of the question, maybe I was a crazy power hitter?
T-Ball is the ultimate klutz proof sport. The ball is, literally, sitting on a rubber tube in front of you, motionless and helpless. You could trip on home plate and hit the ball. I COULD NOT HIT THE BALL. I kept hitting the rubber tube and STRIKING MYSELF OUT! I think they gave me a walk or two just to preserve my dignity.
I determined, while sitting in the outfield picking grass, that baseball might just be the most boring sport ever invented. T-Ball IS the most boring sport ever invented, but I was missing the three T’s that make baseball interesting:
THE THREE T’S THAT MAKE PLAYING BASEBALL INTERESTING
My first season of T-Ball was also my last. I figured that, rather then doing it before a crowd, I could beat a rubber tube repeatedly with a baseball bat at home.
How do you play football?
It was high school; all of my friends had just joined the Reed City Coyotes football team. My greatest goal in life was to be popular. This was my golden ticket.
My only problem was, once again, how the fuck do you play football?
I’d watched countless Superbowls, but football made about as much sense to me as a Japanese game show.
Also, my previous inability to throw a ball farther then my shadow still stood.
HOWEVER, unlike my previous doomed forays into sports, I was ready to suffer this time. I was ready to sweat, to ache, to sacrifice my youth towards the everlasting glory of the Reed City Coyotes and popularity.
Once training started, it mattered zilch that I didn’t have any idea how to actually play football. I didn’t need to. All I needed to know how to do was run for long periods of time without having an aneurism.
And run I did. And a strange thing happened. I got into shape. I could run until only the tips of my toes were touching the ground, the way I used to when I was seven.
HUSTLE became the only word that mattered to me. When our first game approached, I imagined our hardened band of Coyotes crushing the opposing team without mercy.
I became an offensive and defensive tackle, the perfect position for someone who still had no idea how to play football. All I knew was that when someone shouted BLUE 42 I had to attack someone.
It was like kicking people in the shins all over again! I knew how to do this!
Our first game came and, lo and behold, WE WERE TERRIBLE.
Not that there was anything wrong with our coaching, or our players, we just never clicked as a team, and went on to lose all of our games except for a single glorious victory over Newaygo.
SUCK IT NEWAYGO! SHOULDA WORN SUNBLOCK CAUSE U JUST GOT BURNED BITCHES!
It was shortly after my first season playing football that I tried out for the Reed City High School production of “You Can’t Take It With You,” directed by Timothy Locker.
The show changed my life. I knew from the first moment I stepped onto the stage that it was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I’d never felt that way playing any sport. It was the end of sports for me, as a player and a fan.
Or so I thought.
FLASH FORWARD TO 2006….
I was working third-shift as the Short Stop gas station in Reed City. I had come home for the summer after my sophomore year of college.
My only customers were drunks and cops for most of the night. It was only in the last hour of my shift that any members of the general public would wander in. They were all first shifters, working at the factories still open in Reed City, or old timers that had made early rising a routine.
One thing connected all of these people – the love of the Detroit Tigers.
I began to learn more about the Tigers as a way of connecting with these first shifters. Pretty soon, I was swapping stats with the best of them. Jim Leyland as the new manager and the pitching prowess of Kenny Rogers (the singer?) would propel the Tigers to the World Series, the first shifters all agreed.
Summer was over, and I returned to Grand Valley State University to live with fellow BFD contributor Joey Z. It became apparent that the first shifters in Reed City had been right; that the Tigers were indeed on a roll. With Joey Z being a fervent Tigers fan as well, my transformation from naysayer to fanatic was complete.
I finally understood that baseball was not just a collection of dumpy dudes in their late 30’s munching chaw. Each at-bat was like an old west standoff, with the pressure and tension building with the stakes until it became unbearably exciting.
The Tigers were the venerable heroes, the crusty gunslingers riding into town to save the day. They faced down many nefarious villains, the worst being the St Louis Cardinals (the dirty red birds).
And then, despite setbacks, the Tigers did it. They made the PLAYOFFS!
Leyland had orchestrated a miracle! The scrappy Tigers faced down the indomitable Yankees and sent them packing, then squashed the Oakland A’s like little green bugs. All that remained between us and total world victory were the St. Louis Cardinals, those damn dirty red birds.
And… everything fell apart. A young rookie named Justin Verlander took the mound in game one and was destroyed by the dirty red birds. I remember cursing Verlander’s name then, ignorantly and drunkenly, little grasping or caring about his future potential.
Kenny Rogers (who I now knew was not the singer) pitched in game two and shut the dirty red birds down. Perhaps there will never be a pitcher that I admire more than Kenny Rogers, who as every turn reminded me of Tony Danza’s character Mel Clark from, Angels in the Outfield. This was Kenny’s last shot, the old gambler walking into the saloon to go all in on his final poker game. Gritting his teeth, Kenny won the game for the Tigers.
Kenny gave it his all, but alas it was not meant to be. The Tigers went down in flames, losing the World Series to the dirty red birds in only five games.
And that might have been the end of my love of the Tigers. They had wined and dined me all year before leaving me at the altar. But a strange thing happened…
I kept loving the Tigers.
I didn’t care that for the next couple of years they didn’t make the post season. They had become my team, my boys, and I would be with them until the end from now on, through thick and thin.
I would be there in 2007 at Rothbury, a music festival held in Michigan, to boo the foolish fan holding up a St. Louis Cardinals jersey on the mega TV.
I would be there in 2009 in Bushwick, Brooklyn, watching the season end in heartbreak as the Twins stole our spot in the postseason.
And I’m here in 2012, still in Brooklyn, despite a game 1 setback that saw Verlander fall once again and a game 2 that came out flat. All I can do is grit my teeth and cheer for Justin Verlander, Jim Leyland, Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez Delmon Young and the rest of the Tigers to slay the Giants and win their first World Series in my lifetime.
Thank you, Tigers, for forcing this cynical ex fat-kid to love sports.
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