The Detroit Tigers were my first love. My affair with the Tigers officially began one summer afternoon when I was four years old. My dad took my brother and a friend to Detroit for a game. My mother, not yet willing to let her younger son visit the rough streets of downtown Detroit, made me stay home with her.
As I watched the car drive off without me, I started to cry. But these weren’t tears of a whiny four-year-old who wasn’t getting his way. These were tears of genuine sadness. I knew then that I was in love with the Tigers. There could be no other explanation.
I always dreamed of playing first base for the Tigers. I was going to be the next Cecil Fielder, only I’d be faster. Not only would I hit 50 home runs, but I’d steal 30 bases as well.
Going to Tigers games was right up there with Christmas and my birthday. I remember making the trek to Detroit at least once a summer to watch a game in person. We’d pile into our minivan and head for Detroit, arriving at least an hour early so that we could attend batting practice.
Entering Tiger Stadium was always a magical experience. The dark, dank tunnels beneath the stands built up my anticipation, offering no sight of the field inside. Only after climbing the stairs to our seats did I catch my first glimpse of the lush green grass and the two decks of seats wrapping around the stadium. Every time was like my first – it just never got old. Forget Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon – there was nothing more beautiful than Tiger Stadium on game day. This was my church.
But, as with any relationship, the Tigers and I fell on some hard times. In the mid ’90s, my favorite players retired or left for other teams, among them Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Kirk Gibson and Jack Morris, and I began to lose interest in the team. Following the work stoppage in 1994, I was down on baseball in general, and I decided to take a break from the game in its entirety.
A few years later, while I was out for dinner with friends, there happened to be a Tigers game showing on a big-screen TV, and all the memories came rushing back. Sure, the team was awful and I didn’t recognize many of the faces, but they were my team.
I fell in love all over again, dedicating myself wholeheartedly to make up for lost time. Between 2000 and 2002, I rarely missed a game, making the trip to Detroit for several.
The Tigers kept on losing, but I kept on watching. It was only a matter of time before they got back on track and won another World Series. I thought they were on the right track when the team announced that Trammell would be returning to manage the team in 2003.
But what the team failed to mention was that Trammell would be provided with a team of rejects who would have trouble competing in the minor leagues. These weren’t the loveable variety of losers either. These guys were pathetic and embarrassing.
It was a tough season to stomach. I tried to follow the team, and I attended a couple of games, but I must admit that I wasn’t entirely devoted. Who can blame me? Watching a team I followed so closely for the majority of my life fail so miserably was tortuous.
With a win in their final game last Sunday, the 2003 Tigers improved their record to 43-119, one loss shy of the 1962 Mets’ record of 120 losses. So, they’re only the second worst team ever. Big deal. They’re still pathetic.
Much of the blame for the Tigers’ failure can be placed on the team’s owner, Mike Ilitch. He runs the team like he runs his Little Caesar’s pizza chain: He offers a terrible product made from the worst ingredients and expects us to happily eat it up. Meanwhile, Ilitch throws millions upon millions of dollars at the Red Wings.
To invest so much into one team and so little into another is disrespectful to both the fans and a Tigers legend like Trammell.
It’s not that Ilitch couldn’t make money if he actually invested in the Tigers and got some decent players, either. Detroit has historically had loyal and fervent fans who will eagerly rally behind their team. In 1984, the Tigers set franchise attendance records that still stand today.
It’s time for an ultimatum: If Ilitch fails to put together a decent team (i.e. one that doesn’t lose 100 games a year) in the next few years, this will be the end of our relationship. I can only take so much pain and suffering. It almost brings me to tears to say this, but I will have to dump the Tigers.
It will have to be a clean break, too, just to be fair to the fans who stick around. There can be no looking back and no jumping on the bandwagon when the team gets good again. It’s a terrible thing to say, but I’m prepared to do it.
By the way, do you know if the Yankees are looking for new fans?
– Joel is starting a support group for other souls in love with the hapless Tigers. If you or someone you know suffers from this condition, contact him at email@example.com.