A Tigers fan goes missing
“I hit the ground with a jarring THUD… fearing the worst and expecting disaster. –
In the Billy Crystal movie “City Slickers”, there is a line where the character of Daniel Stern tries to explain the baseball draw to Helen Slater. Stern’s character “Phil” says, “Even when I was 18 and my dad and I couldn’t communicate about anything… we could still talk about baseball.”
My dad and I were never in a place where we couldn’t talk too much because of the anger … but I guess to polish up Stern’s line a bit, baseball made sure we never ran out of things. to say. What is important for fathers and sons / daughters.
My father, John, passed away peacefully last week at the age of 83. It is a sad time and it is not an easy thing to accept. But the realities of life end up writing the final story. My father’s health had been declining for about six or seven years. They say it mentally prepares you for the eventuality and you might even think about believing it yourself… but it really isn’t.
The markers on the map until the end were there. The year he stopped deer hunting. The year he stopped picking wild blueberries. In the summer, he stopped playing golf. In winter, he stopped clearing the driveway. Little by little, life receded as it will happen to many of us.
However, one thing that stuck with him all the way was Detroit Tigers baseball. A lifetime of following the club was something that didn’t need to stop because his heart wasn’t what it was. Which is a wonderful thing because it’s a game that meant so much to both of us.
My dad has lived his entire life in Upper Michigan and wouldn’t have done it any other way. He married my mom and they shared a life of just four weeks before 60 with my sister and me for the ride. He worked in the copper mines and when they closed he eventually settled down as a successful beer seller. You can’t find a soul with a bad word to say about it.
– After touching the ground I looked towards the fence to see if the ball was rolling away from me… I was sure at least two runs would score and our 7-6 lead would be gone. –
My dad gave me my first two baseball gloves. (note that my mom bought my third… I needed $ 115 for a top notch first base glove when I was 15 and didn’t want to ask her! Thanks, Mom!) remember the excitement of having them. My dad gave me his old glove to start with. It was small. He was worn out. It was dried until it took a bit of “bear fat” and rubbed it down from an ugly gray tone to an almost black dark brown color. It was the glove he used in the 1950s. Any company logo had been worn for a long time… no clue that it did. It was paper thin in places and hurt like hell if you had one in your palm.
My dad was a really good local pitcher in “The Twilight League” playing for Wolverine. He was known to have precise control… so much so that his nickname was the 100% ironic “Wildball”. I’ve always kidnapped him for my reputation as a first-pitch hitter because when he threw me batting practice, I rarely had to take a pitch. He used this old glove and liked it immediately. I still have it. Then I remember him telling me that I needed “a man’s size glove” for my 12th birthday and handed me a Mizuno glove which has served me well for years. It’s still there too!
I remember so many stories, listening to the late greats Ernie Harwell and Paul Carey, attending games and watching countless games of the Atlanta Tigers and Braves. Mostly stories about the Tigers. His stories about Al Kaline, Stormin ‘Norman Cash and the ’68 World Champion Tigers. We watched every Tigers batting win the 84 World Series and the gemstone thrown by Frank Tanana on the decisive final day of the 87 season to beat Toronto for the AL East crown.
– I didn’t see the ball rolling. I felt it now. It was in my glove… my first and finally last game as a central defender… I lay down stabbing the air and if I found the ball or the ball found me… it was in the strap ! –
My father and I watched the famous Mark “The Bird” Fidrych launch his Monday night masterpiece where the eventual Rookie of the Year ended the mighty Yankees with a complete 5-1 victory. All the Tigers fans of the time remember it. Crazy reactions from the crowd. The Bird makes a spectacle unlike anything that has been seen before or since on a diamond. I remember the smell of the popcorn we ate that night and the big glass bottles of Coke. Most importantly, I remember the bright yellow t-shirt with the photo of the bird my dad brought home two days later with a beaming smile on his face. I wore it everywhere. Best t-shirt ever, dad.
My dad could really throw a baseball. The sheer number of unsolicited stories I would hear from his teammates was proof of that. I loved it.
I’m pretty sure I could retire now if I had $ 10 for every time we were talking about a full shutout my dad threw in an all-star game where he drove in the only inning in a 1-0 victory.
My dad started an “Oldtimer’s Game” in his mid-fifties. He had literally never touched a bullet in years. He took the mound and hit 5 of the 6 batters he’s faced in the current Wolverine baseball team, which is made up of 20-25 year old guys. He just kept dropping his big 12-6 hammer from a curved ball out of the sky and nothing could be done with it. It was a good laugh. A lot of these guys have told me he should still throw all the time.
– I was told that my teammates and parents were yelling in the stands. I do not remember. But my most vivid memory … perhaps the most vivid of my childhood … was looking up and immediately latching onto my father hopping from his seat in the canoe and waving both arms in the air when I showed that the ball was in the glove. Game over… but the memory will never die. –
My mom and dad watched Tigers games throughout the last season like they did every year. Unfortunately reduced to 58 games for Detroit by the pandemic. Most of the time, they had watched the replay the next morning because they hadn’t stayed late enough to watch it live. COVID also prevented me from one last trip to see him last summer, which is a disappointment that will always persist. However, it’s nice to know one thing my mom would tell me… almost every time the Tigers would win a game, my dad would look at my mom and say ‘Jon will be happy’. He was right.
– I don’t know if it was just luck, my eyes were on my father’s reaction to my take or if it was just a natural inclination to seek out the people who matter most to you. Either way, it’s etched in my brain long after someone cared about a 12-year-old making a maybe lucky take and Williams Parts & Supply beating Lake Linden, 7-6. It’s a pretty good memory. –
Hope you are a Tigers fan reading this and have similar stories about your mom or dad. Most importantly, I hope there is still time for everyone to go to a game with your parents or kids and make more memories or just rehash all the old ones. This is what baseball and my dad gave me and I know the game has countless more.
The man may be dead, but his memory will not fade anytime soon. I love you dad.