By CEAN BURGESON
Manistee may be 253 miles from Detroit’s Comerica Park, but local fans’ hearts were still with the Tigers as they opened up their season against the Toronto Blue Jays on Monday afternoon. Fans who were able to catch the game on television at AC’s First Street Tavern were excited at the Tigers’ prospects for this season.
“I think they’re probably favored, and deservedly so,” said Manistee native Steve Duchon, whose brother Dan, a season ticket holder, was actually at the game. “They’ve got the pitching staff that’s second to none.”
“I’m hoping they’ll go back to the World Series again,” said Aaron Wemple, owner of AC’s. First Street had the game on all of their televisions, and fans enjoyed lunch, a few drinks, and of course, talking baseball.
Most baseball fans enjoy trading opinions about players, sharing their statistical knowledge, and just enjoying the company of other fans. Manistee locals who watched the game were no different.
One hot topic was Tiger pitching. Duchon wasn’t concerned about recent news of ace pitcher Kenny Rogers’ surgery and subsequent absence for the next three or four months.
“It won’t hurt them without Kenny Rogers, in this period between now and July,” Duchon said. “Detroit’s solid — pitching, in their lineup, defensively. They’ve got guys in the minor leagues that would be playing professionally somewhere else.”
Other talk among fans watching the season opener was about the Tigers’ young team and their prospects for the years to come.
“That’s going to be their security blanket for the future,” Duchon said about the youth of the team, “because they’ll make some trades. They should stay pretty solid for a long time.”
During the four or five seasons previous to 2006, fans didn’t have much of a reason to be excited about our team. This was punctuated with the Tigers posting the worst record in all of baseball in 2003 — 119 losses, just one loss away from the worst record ever posted in the sport.
But last year’s turn-around, with the Tigers maintaining the best record in the major leagues for a good portion of the year, gave everyone a reason to cheer once again.
“How could you not be excited about the Tigers, really,” said Jim Kaminski, who was also watching the game over lunch at AC’s. “I was a 21-year-old kid when they won it in ‘84. That was exciting, and last year was exciting. I just hope they get to the next level, and get that World Series win. That’s what I hope, and that’s what we’re looking for.”
That is what all fans are looking for — another shot at making it to the big series — and a second chance at the title that eluded us last year.
Last season’s loss in the World Series to St. Louis didn’t get the fans down, though. Most were happy just to see the boys end up in the post-season, and perform so well. They hadn’t even made it to the playoffs in 19 years, their last appearance being back in 1987. “They were young, and really, the Cardinals just played a little bit better than they did when they needed to,” says Kaminski. “I think they had two good teams there, and one of them has gotta win, and one’s gotta lose.”
Part of the appeal of baseball is that on any given day, any team can come up a winner.
What it came down to, in the October Classic last year, was batting.
“I think the Tigers didn’t come up with the key hits, like the Cardinals did, when they needed to,” Kaminski said. “They (St. Louis) got the hits when they needed to — and that’s what baseball’s all about, coming up with the big hits at the right time.”
With Rogers out, the question of keeping the team healthy is always on the minds of fans. Last year’s slide at the end of the season, with the Tigers winning only 19 of their last 51, was puzzling. Without the wild-card berth, they wouldn’t have made it to the playoffs.
“That just happens, its baseball. Stuff like that happens,” says Kaminski. “You know, Polanco’s injury was huge, too. If you look at when he went down. He’s probably our best hitter, maybe the best hitter in the American league and all of baseball, for that matter. Look at the spring he had.”
If baseball fans are anything, they are optimists, and local fans are no different. “They just had a little slip. It’s all about when you peak, and they peaked at the right time,” says Kaminski.
Wemple has observed that baseball fans seem a little closer to the game than other patrons who come into his business to watch other sports like football or hockey. “I think baseball is a game that everybody had an opportunity to play as a kid,” he ways. “And we feel we’re still tied to the game a little bit.”
The fun part of a new season is the anticipation, and the speculation on our favorite team. I think we’ll see that Tiger fans can look forward to another great year of watching our team take another shot at baseball history.
“Last year, towards the end of the year, when the pennant races were going on, it was really exciting, and it was full here. A lot of people were excited and having fun. It was a good time,” says Wemple.
One thing can be sure — with 161 games left to watch yet this year, there will be plenty of clutch hits, walk-off homers, shutouts, great catches, and fantastic moments to entertain every fan of the Tigers this summer.
Cean Burgeson can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org