There”s Old Faithful. There”s Haley”s comet. And for me, there”s Michigan State in the Final Four.

Paul Wong
David Den Herder

It”s a reliable benchmark that seems to accompany every cigar-worthy occasion.

Once upon a springtime, somewhere on Lake Michigan”s eastern shore, there was a proud former Spartan, nine months pregnant, cheering her alma mater through the NCAA tournament and into the Final Four. Michigan State crushed Penn and Indiana State to earn its first national title but this Spartan didn”t have any time to celebrate. Just as Sports Illustrated was publishing its headline “The Magic Show” she was giving birth to a future Wolverine.

That was 22 years ago today.

I don”t really remember it, but that”s what I”m told.

Some people say that the Final Four in 1979 was the most important ever. The title game featured Magic Johnson against Larry Bird, two players that would go on to redefine the NBA.

I don”t really remember it, but that”s what they say.

People back then sometimes called Larry Bird “The Bird.” Turns out the nickname was even in a Detroit Free Press headline after the title game.

Of course The Bird in Detroit those days was actually Mark Fidrych the eccentric Tigers pitching ace.

Curiously, the same day that Larry Bird was losing the NCAA title, The Bird was busy telling reporters that he was still injured, was not going to pitch any more in spring training. He might not, he said, be ready for opening day.

His story got buried under the one about Larry losing in the Free Press.

Opening day was snowed out that year. Twice. I don”t remember it, but that”s what I”ve read.

It was 37 degrees for the first pitch, not thrown by The Bird. He was still injured and wouldn”t be ready for the next opening day, or the next, or the next after that all the way up to tomorrow.

Presumably tomorrow, that is. Yesterday”s snowfall had me a bit worried.

Either way, I plan to see the first pitch first hand. Unlike Michigan State”s Final Four appearances, opening day in Detroit happens every year, be they cigar-worthy times or not.

I try never to miss it. This year, seats cost me about $30, about the same as a cap and gown.

In 1979, box seats were $6. So I”ve heard.

I imagine there are plenty of people who remember.

I imagine there are some who remember each of the 21 opening days since I”ve been around. But I doubt anyone could name each starting pitcher.

Opening day is special, I think, because it happens every year. It”s like May Day or New Year”s Eve an annual chance for a new beginning. Everybody knows it”s coming a yearly chance to celebrate. It”s like a birthday.

Except for your first birthday, of course. That”s something that more or less happens unsystematically, give or take nine months. It”s more like the Final Four cause for a cigar.

Mine just happened to coincide with Sparty.

At least I thought it was a coincidence.

The Spartans played in the Final Four again Saturday night, their third appearance in as many years. But this Wolverine didn”t have much time to think about it he was busy buying a cap and a gown. He has to wear them so he can graduate and smoke a cigar.

It”s something that doesn”t happen every year, didn”t really have to happen at all.

But tomorrow, just the same, he”ll be watching baseball, like he does every year about this time.

Like he will do every year about this time, cigar or not, snow or not, 37 degrees or not.

And someday down the road, among opening days, there will probably be a wedding, maybe be a kid or two or three. But before rushing out to buy any more stogies, this Wolverine might keep an eye on those hoopsters in East Lansing.

For some reason, we click.

David Den Herder”s loyalty belongs solely to Michigan basketball. He can be reached at dden@umich.edu.

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