Wednesday, October 7, 2009

America's pastime

Last night, I happened to have both my Facebook and Twitter accounts open while researching some social media opportunities for a potential freelance client. I was also watching the Detroit Tigers take on the Minnesota Twins in a do-or-die battle for the AL Central Division title.

As I worked and watched, I also watched the tweets and status updates rolling across my screen. Many people appeared to be doing the same thing I was. I couldn't believe how many status updates were about the Tigers, even as I was posting one or two myself.

The thing I probably miss most frequently about Detroit is obviously sporting events. Most of my regular readers know that I am a huge Red Wings fan. But before I loved the Wings, the Detroit team I had seen in action repeatedly was the Detroit Tigers.

We went to a few games in the old Tiger Stadium when I was younger (way younger - I'm talking about Cecil Fielder walking up to bat while "The Phantom of the Opera" music played over the loudspeaker). They weren't great then - after their World Series win of 1984 (we've all seen the picture of Gibby jumping victoriously in the air) the team had started a downward spiral. They were OK through the rest of the 80's, and in the early 90's traded hands from one Michigan-based pizza man - Tom Monaghan of Domino's - to another - Mike Illitch of Little Ceasars, who also owns the Red Wings. By the time I was in middle school, they were beginning their eleven-year stretch of losing seasons.

In 2000,  the controversial Comerica Park was opened. Comerica was very different than Tiger Stadium, not just because it was newer. For starters, it was located in a prime downtown location by the historic Fox Theater, the Detroit Opera House, and Hockeytown Cafe. This was a much fancier location than Tiger Stadium's corner of Michigan Aveue and Trumbull in Corktown. Secondly, the original distance to left-center was brought under fire for being too hard to hit home runs (it was later shortened). Then there was the historical factor - Tiger Stadium was tied with Fenway as the oldest active baseball stadium in the country.

Certainly not the least of the criticisms was the rumbling that the Tigers were so bad they didn't deserve a new ballpark. The supporters of Comerica Park argued that the new stadium would put fans in the seats - something the team and its losing record was struggling to do.

The new park was certainly a novelty, but the striped kitties were quickly becoming to baseball what the Lions are today to football. Even having popular veteran Tigers like Allan Trammell on the management and coaching staff did not keep the Tigers from a dismal 2003 and pretty crappy 2004.

(You are probably thinking at this point that I'm not telling you anything you don't already know. Or if you don't know, you're probably wondering where I'm going with this.)

Where I'm going is here: the Tigers may not have deserved that park; they may have been the worst team in baseball, but I loved them - and that ridiculous park - because I got to go to games.

At that time in Tigers history, you could barely give tickets away, let alone find people to pay for them. Which is exactly why the company my grandpa worked for at the time always had 4-6 tickets behind the first or third base line in the lower section to give away. AND they came with parking passes.

There were multiple times we'd gather up a group of friends and head to games. Sophie, Anthony, Eric, Becky, Kelli, Rose, and more all went to Tigers games with me, and we always cheered for the Tigers and always had a great time. And I am attached to that team out of more than just the proximity of where I grew up - I am attached because I got to see them play fairly often.

2004 and beyond were a renaissance period: first came Pudge, then Guillien, then Mags, then old-man Leyland came along to replace Trammell. By the end of 2005 the team looked good. My grandpa was retired now, and all of a sudden tickets had gotten harder to get.

Still, even though we weren't going to games on a regular basis at this point, we were invested in that team and felt entitled to cheer for them because we jumped on the bandwagon when they were so bad. And we were firmly on the bandwagon when the team made their (failed) World Series run in 2006.

Flash forward a couple years: I live in Connecticut. Professional sporting events are not easy to come by. I live between two rival baseball teams that have rabidly passionate fans (Yankees and Sox) but don't really watch either. I don't really make much of a point to watch the Tigers, truthfully, not the way I do the Red Wings. But I follow the front office and the Free Press on Twitter, read the scores in the paper, and in general keep up with them, even though I'm not a fanatic.

And last night, I watched hundreds of people all over America engage in conversations about "my" team. Even being stuck out on the east coast and not at Sticks in Ypsilanti, the Arena in Ann Arbor, or anywhere in Metro Detroit, I was still part of the Detroit crowd cheering for the hometown team. You can't convince me social networking is worthless after that experience.

And I'll call the Tigers "my" baseball team no matter where I live or how out of the MLB loop I am. It doesn't matter why you become attached to a team (in my case, it was free tickets during the reign of despair) if you still harbor a genuine attachment and desire to see them do well.

See you next year, Tigers.


Bobby G said...

Amazing Post Amy! You forgot Buffalo Wild Wings A2, thats where my heart was broken!

Decorations By Design said...

Ha! Love it! I fondly remember Tiger's Stadium from when I was 6 or 7. My dad has always been a fan. However, I have somehow NOT been to Comerica Park. Driven by it a lot when I went to Wayne State, but have yet to go in. Maybe next summer I should make an attempt!