Written by Nick Cooper
February 12, 2022
I started collecting trading cards when I was no more than five years old. My grandmother started collecting cards to have a common ground of constant conversation and fun. Immediately we ditched basketball and football cards in favor of baseball cards. We weren’t looking for any specific player or for a rare rookie card. We weren’t in search of a card that contained a piece of jersey or a signature. Grandma and I were strictly collecting as many Detroit Tigers players as we could find for our own separate collections.
This hunt quickly led to trading pieces of our collections all while we watched each Tigers game that we could find. This continued for many years. From well before Robert Fick to far beyond Armondo Galarraga’s pre-replay disappointment. I lend a vast portion of my love for the game to these times. Sitting with Grandma and watching even through the tough years was my joy of each game day.
Soon I began playing baseball and she was there for as many games as she could attend. Our favorite players came and went. Time went by and Grandma’s health waned. Yet, she would still follow me outside as I tried to emulate my favorite Tigers. After years of Grandma helping to tweak my techniques and sharpen my skills, I became a serviceable catcher and developed a close-knit group of friends who were like-minded in the love for the game and mainly the Tigers.
In 2005 the first snap of the mitt felt different, more exciting even. Not only would the season begin after a cold winter but also the All-Star game would be held in the Motor City. My friends and I saved every dime that we could in hopes of saving enough to buy tickets to for the game. We did well at saving just enough to attend the Futures game. We were giddy with anticipation as we made the two hundred fifty-one-mile, 3 hour and 54 minute, drive without a lull in conversation.
As we entered the stadium, we noticed a familiar face. It was our new high school baseball coach. Unplanned, we congregated with he and his son and talked about who would be the next big star in the league. Coach said that he had to meet some other people that he knew and that we would meet up again later. We found our seats and shortly thereafter me and another friend went to get food because we didn’t make a single stop on our drive down. By some happenstance we saw coach again walking down the stairs behind home plate and he waved us over as he left the good seats where you can stretch your legs and hob-nob with the higher profile people attending the game.
We half jogged over realizing that coach was in the premium area. The three of us talked about the game and joked about not being invited to sit with him in the upper echelon area. I’ll never forget Coach saying, “Why don’t you boys come check out the seats we got.”. At that we forgot about our trek for food and hurriedly followed him. As we walked into his seating area, I immediately noticed a familiar face. Not one that I had talked before but one that I had talked about during games with Grandma.
We were introduced to the bunch that Coach was with, and I remained silent most definitely awkward in the way that my eyes were fixated on the person in the room that I could not believe I was in the presence of. The older man realized my awe, looked at me and said, “It’s nice to meet you too.” Coach had a chuckle with the man and conversation switched to the game and I was kicking myself for not having said anything and worrying that the heat and my nervousness would show how much I was sweating. I’m sure that Al Kaline had had this happen on many occasions. Maybe it was a way to show that you were in affect “kissing the ring.” I was in the presence of greatness, the presence of absolute royalty.
The warmups were wrapping up and I was deaf to anything on the field as I listened to Al talk and after a while was ushered out with my speechless friend, as Coach wanted to get closer to the field and talk to some of the players. We walked not speaking but flashing looks at each other that meant everything from “Oh my god!” to “I can’t wait to tell the boys what they missed!” All I could think about was how I wish grandma was there and what she would say when I told her about my encounter with Mr. Tiger. The game was played, hits and outs were had, but my eyes darted between the on-field action and the spot where I had been. I had to get everything just right when telling Grandma what had happened.
I returned home and giddily spilled the whole experience when Grandma asked, “How was the game?” She was beside herself with joy. We talked about it at length for days and Grandma told me about all the things she would have said to Al and joked about how nervous I was all while we had our baseball cards out and we watched highlights on ESPN of the game. Unforgettable happiness that I will remember forever.
Four years later I left to play baseball at a college where my very same coach had put a good word in for me with the college coach. Grandma asked about how I was doing and how baseball was going but all the while health was failing a bit more. I should have returned home more than I did but time flies by the older you get. I met my wife at college and introduced her to Grandma who talked with us about life and how the Tigers were doing. Months short of our eventual wedding, Grandma passed away and I was absolutely devastated.
She remains on my mind daily even more so when the Tigers are playing. The familial love of the game has been passed down to my 4-year-old son who now cannot get enough of hitting soft baseballs off of a tee or a well place soft toss from hand to bat. He has developed a love for the game such that even in ankle deep snow he is ready to go outside and hit in the bitter cold weather. I lend a large portion of his newfound affinity for the game to Grandma instilling the love of baseball in me. Ultimately baseball and the Tigers have been a linchpin in our family for more than thirty years. I’d wager that they will continue to be a source of much conversation and happiness for many decades to come.
About the author:
Nick Cooper grew up in Northern Michigan but now resides in Homer, Michigan with his wife and two children. Nick is an Analytics Reporter for STATS Perform LLC. specializing in Men’s and Women’s NCAA Basketball and Major League Baseball game statistics reporting for several outlets including the NBA, MLB, DraftKings, Yahoo Sports, and others. He is a Communications Major at Indiana University with an emphasis in Journalism and Mass Communication. Nick is an everything Detroit sports fan, for better or worse.