Baseball Series Collection from the Readers
Written by Steve Sobaski
February 11, 2022
As I begin this piece, I find myself gazing out my window this afternoon, viewing what nature and a skittish groundhog hath wrought upon us. Six more weeks of winter. Which makes me recall the days of my youth in Chicago when snow, surely an order of magnitude deeper, and wind chills of Arctic proportion made trudging to and from school a challenge. Especially given that that trudge was uphill both ways.
The thing that made these winters always a bit easier to take, though, was the anticipation that the calendar brought. Looking forward to Valentine’s Day and the holidays of Lincoln’s and Washington’s birthdays was great. Several days off of school and a candy binge to tide one over between Christmas and Easter. But what was greater to me, was that it meant pitchers and catchers would soon be reporting to spring training camp. The Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues would soon begin the annual cycle of professional baseball anew. And with it the hope that the spring and summer might bring a World Series or even a playoff- bound team to the Windy City.
Of course, this is Chicago that we’re talking about circa 1960’s and 1970”s. Home of the Northside Chicago Cubs and Southside Chicago White Sox. Teams not known for their winnings. The only playoff teams in Chicago were just visiting. In fact, in my youth, there had been one World Series team since my birth. The 1959 “Go Go White Sox” White Sox, under mad Hall of Fame owner Bill Veeck who faced off against the Los Angeles Dodgers, only to lose the series in 6 games.
At five years of age, I was too young to recall the panic that overtook the city as the Chicago Fire Department Commissioner blew all of the fire horns in town to celebrate the clinching of the American League pennant that year. It being the depths of the Cold War and, well, this was winless Chicago after all, many Chicagoans mistook this as a warning that nuclear attack was imminent. In hindsight, “Duck and cover” would have been a good replacement for the seventh inning stretch at most Chicago ball games.
No, I didn’t really take much interest in baseball until 1963 when my Dad, a pressman at the Chicago Tribune, brought home a copy of the White Sox 1963 yearbook, “Operation White Sox.” In it were bios of every player and stats – lots of stats. To this day I think my love of numbers and statistics, skills I later employed as a biologist and database administrator for the State of Illinois, began with this book and, later, the back of baseball cards. Speedy Venezuelan shortstop and Hall of Famer Luis Aparicio soon became my favorite player. Not a power hitter like Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, or Hank Aaron, but his clutch hitting, ability to steal bases, and agility in the field seemed like skills that I could aspire to.
That said, those skills were reaaallly slow in developing for me. I had one season of organized ball in my youth as a Pee Wee League outfielder. In 1964 my season plate appearances culminated in two singles, two walks, two hit-by-pitchers and countless outs. My WAR would like be somewhere south of -10. Still, my love of playing the game of baseball grew through pickup games in our city streets, whiffle ball with class mates and later playing softball. Chicago-style. Which meant using a 16” Clincher softball, which was a beast to field new. Most kids, including me, had any number of sprained fingers during the summer because you NEVER played with a mitt. However, once broken in, those balls went from impossible to catch to impossible to hit. A fly ball to the outfield would be a victory for any hitter.
Over those youthful years of following baseball, I learned lifelong skills like “patience is a virtue”, “tomorrow is another day”, “never count your chickens until they’re hatched”, and be gracious in winning, always be humble, and. yes, the power of superstition. Never speak of a developing no hitter or how someone has never lost a game pitching in a given ball park. In 1969 I learned the lesson of always keep your hopes realistic.
That year the Cubs had a historic great beginning to the season. By August 16th they were nine games over their closest rivals in the newly formed National League East Division, the New York Mets, and World Series fever gripped Chicago. The local food chain Jewel weekly gave out glossy photos of Cub stars with the purchase of groceries. The great Ernie Banks didn’t seem so masochist when repeating his famous motto “Let’s play two today.” Or “three” if a doubleheader was scheduled. Yes, hope sprang eternal for their first trip to the World Series since 1945, and maybe even their first World Series victory since 1908.
It was at this moment in time, August 26th to be exact, that I went to my first major league game with friends, an afternoon (as was always the case in those days) game between the Cubs and the Pete Rose/Tony Perez/Johnny Bench Cincinnati Reds. The day was great. I got to witness the first major league start for outfielder Oscar Gamble, who later went on to fame as a White Sox as one of their 1977 “Southside Hitmen.”. I “enjoyed” a Ron Santo Pro Pizza. Not real Chicago pizza, but, hey, it had the endorsement of a future Hall of Famer.
I even got doused with beer on my back thanks to an excited fan leaping up to watch a fly ball hit toward the ivy-covered walls of Wrigley Field for a long out. That scent of stale Schlitz on my shirt? That required some splanin’ later with my Mom at laundry time. As the game went into later innings, I noticed on the great green manual Wrigley Field scoreboard that the White Sox were miraculously beating the Boston Red Sox.
By the end of the game at Wrigley, the White Sox were victorious and the teenager in me gave into hope and rebellion against being a trendy Cub fan and decided, if I had to declare an allegiance within Chicago ball clubs, the Sox would be my team. Of course, what followed in the weeks to come was an awful finish for the White Sox (next to last in the new AL West division) and a historic collapse of the Cubs. Maybe it was the curse of the owner of Billy Goat’s tavern (of SNL Cheezburga fame), William Sianas, for not being permitted to bring in his goat to attend Game 4 of the Cubs 1945 World Series. Or maybe it was the black cat that jetted out of the Cubs dugout at Shea Stadium the night of September 9th. Either way, the Cubs tumbled from being 9 games up in first place in mid-August to finishing 8 games out of first behind the Miracle Mets.
Take home lesson for me? Karma will kill those who don’t respect a good superstition. Don’t believe me? The Cubs defied all odds and finally won a World Series in 2016. Their first in 108 years. What has transpired since? It may be mere coincidence but climate change? Deep political division in the U.S.? Covid?!? Yeah, I’m blaming you Cubs. You have to respect baseball superstition. In hindsight witnessing such a brutal dashing of hopes and expectations built the kind of character that I needed to make transitioning this new Michigander to following Detroit professional sports during the current millennium a whole lot easier.
Fast forward some 45 years and I receive a call from one of my best friends down in Austin, Texas, a heritage biologist with Texas Parks and Wildlife. Frank Thomas, the pride of the Chicago White Sox in the 1990s and early 2000s has been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, joining Tom Glavine, Gregg Maddux, Bobby Cox, Joe Torre, and past/future White Sox manager Tony La Russa in the Class of 2014 inductees. My friend insisted it was time for a road trip to upstate New York. “Gotta see the Big Hurt get his ring.” I was intrigued, but this felt like a totally guilty pleasure for me as I would be abandoning my family for the first time in my memory for extended “me time”.
Fortunately, my very wonderful wife gave the trip a thumbs up. If you ever feel the urge to search for a fountain of youth and you’re any sort of baseball fan, Cooperstown is your destination. Setting foot in the Baseball Hall of Fame dropped those 45 years off of me and I stood wide eyed at countless displays devoted to every aspect of the game. I saw players HOF plaques displayed, most of whom I hadn’t thought of since my childhood. There was Luis Aparicio, Nellie Fox, and Carlton Fisk from the Sox. Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins from the Cubs. Even my favorite announcer of all-time Harry Carey. Ho-ly Cow. Even better than this, though, was an event being staged the evening prior to the induction ceremony on Sunday.
The Hall hosted its fifth annual “Parade of Legends” where 51 Hall of Fame players returned to help celebrate the weekend, riding in downtown Cooperstown in a flotilla of Fords. I marveled at seeing, in the flesh, giants of the game like Willie Mays, Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Al Kaline, and Hammerin’ Hank Aaron. Better yet, though, was what I witnessed at the end of the parade. Cal Ripken Jr. stood and chatted with fans and signed autographs for a good hour while the other players exited into the Hall for a reception. That show of graciousness and love of the game is something that will stick with me forever.
Finally, about the Tigers. Thanks to an Albion College Day promotion at Comerica, my whole family got to experience my joy of baseball on Sept. 14, 2019. I explained to my daughters that it was wise to keep their expectations low as the game featured Gabriel Ynoa of the Baltimore Orioles vs. Daniel Norris of the Tigers. Two teams with the worst records in the entire Major Leagues, with starting pitchers who ended the season with a combined record of 4-23. For me, I was really excited to see Miguel Cabrera. The game attendance was listed at 17,760, some 46% of capacity. However, if you ever wanted an introduction to social distancing, this was the game to be at.
The park is beautiful yet seemed immense and cavernous with all of the empty seats. The game was a tight affair going into the 8th inning. The Tigers clung to a 2-0 lead. Then things got interesting, thanks, primarily, to the bullpens of each team. Baltimore took a 3-2 lead on a Trey Mancini, bases-clearing, homer in the 8th. You could sense the air going out of the ballpark as rapidly as fans streamed to the exits. Then, with two outs in the ninth, facing the Orioles closer Mychael Givens, Victor Reyes hit a home run to send the game into extra innings. Electrifying!
The game continued through a number of relievers into the 12th inning when the Orioles regained the lead on a single, a steal, a walk, and another single. “Small ball” baseball at its best. Again, the Tigers backs were against the wall, the basement wall. Fortunately, maybe it was because he was a native of Flint, Orioles reliever Paul Fry decided to make things interesting. Harold Castro opened the bottom of the twelfth with a walk. Following a Jeimer Candelario strikeout, Castro advanced to third on a Travis Demeritte double. The Orioles then opt to intentionally walk Dawel Lugo to load the bases, setting up the potential for a double play to escape the inning and go home with a win. The tying run – 90 feet from home. The winning run on second. My family is swept up in the tension.
At this juncture the Orioles bring in journeyman reliever Paul Eades to close out the game. In all of 2019 Eades will see only 11 innings of work between the Twins and the Orioles. So, this was a big moment for him and the O’s. What followed next was nothing short of amazing. Eades proceeded to walk Tiger Brandon Dixon, with nary a pitch close to the strike zone, forcing in Castro to tie the game. The now very sparse crowd is glued to the edge of their seats. Sadly, they have no other option, as all of the concessions closed after the ninth inning.
John Hicks then steps to the plate. He treats me to something unbelievable. A play that I had not witnessed in my then 56 years of following baseball. Hicks drills a ball into the stands for a walk off grand slam home run. Holy Cow!! And I escaped without a beer being dumped on my back. For two doormat teams of the MLB, it was the most fun that I’ve ever had at a ball game. And my younger daughter, the only truly Michigander amongst us, remains a Tigers fan to this day.
So, yes, here staring at the frozen, well, now thawing, tundra of Albion, I’m looking forward to another year of baseball, another year of hope for the Tigers and the White Sox, and more fun enjoying the challenge of competing in fantasy baseball. To quote the political writer and lifelong Cub fan George Will, “”Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona. Not all holes, or games, are created equal.”
About the writer:
Steve Sobaski is a retired biologist, database administrator, and geographic information specialist with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and The Nature Conservancy. He’s a 17-year resident of Albion with his wife Sheila and their two daughters. When not navigating the challenges of participating in rotisserie fantasy baseball, he enjoys learning the art of creating craft, bean to bar, chocolate at the Yellowbird Chocolate Shop; as well as being active on the board of the Friends of the Albion District Library and assisting the Albion Community Foundation and AYSO youth soccer. You may also occasionally catch him around town blowing harp at the Blues at the Bohm or serving up eclectic grooves with the band Good Thang Goin’.
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.
Written by Tim Krause
February 13, 2022
I sat on the patio of Albion Malleable Brewing Company on July 24, 2020 with the self-styled Friday Club. Our lives were upended over the previous four months. Priorities were rearranged. “Ordinary” no longer existed. Everything had a bizarre disconnect from our previous lives despite no change of scenery or characters. But that day, something finally felt familiar and comforting after months of ambiguity.
The Friday Club met early for our traditional beer, so there was time to get back home. A few of us ordered coney dogs to celebrate, and the mood was noticeably lighter. Another friend came over to say hi and laughed at our cuisine. “I see you’re celebrating, too.” Yes we were: The Detroit Tigers were finally playing their first game of the 2020 season. In a year that brought so many unknowns, this felt good. Familiar. Comforting. Ordinary.
My earliest memory of Detroit Tigers baseball was in 1992 on the day when Mike Ilitch bought the franchise. My mom’s family always went to a game together at least once a year. Two grandparents and their four daughters, four husbands, and four grandkids. Grandpa always insisted on listening to the radio broadcast while watching the game live in the stadium. Grandma always had a perfectly color coordinated navy blue and orange outfit on, complete with orange and navy blue bracelets and earrings. I am sure mom and dad dressed us up in cute Tigers clothes, too. We were that family, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Grandpa grew up within walking distance of Tiger Stadium off Trumbull Avenue and worked as an usher there for years. He knew all the best seats in the place that only insiders knew. That night, we sat in the orange upper deck seats along the third base line just past third base. They gave us each a white and navy blue “Homer Hankey” as we walked in to celebrate the new owners. Mom and dad bought me and April each a Tigers pennant that night, which hung on my bedroom wall for years. I am pretty sure if I looked hard enough it’s still around somewhere. And I know the Homer Hankey is still around:
My years as a young baseball fan were filled with games, but two games were particularly interesting. In 1998, dad happened to sit next to Jim Evans, a major league umpire, on a flight from Florida. They chatted about baseball and Jim said he was umping the next evening and invited us all to the game. When we picked the tickets up from will call, the attendant looked at the tickets and asked “Who do you know?” We sat in Tigers Den seats just a couple rows up from the on-deck circle. I mostly remember it being really cool that they brought our concessions directly to our seats – well that and the fact that the game went on for 15 innings or something like that.
The second memorable game was in 1999, we saw Mark McGuire and the Cardinals play the Tigers at Tiger Stadium. It was the year after he broke the homerun record, and the stadium was packed. It was early June and quite possibly the hottest, muggiest game I have ever attended in Detroit. (Ask my mom about the margarita dispenser, next time you see her.) He didn’t hit any long balls that game, but it was fun to see him.
The Tigers v. Cardinals game was also the last one I saw at Tiger Stadium, but I have a meaningful piece of Tiger Stadium history in my apartment to keep my memories of “The Corner” alive. During the auction to clear out the stadium, my parents bought me some of the lawn signs that marked the different sections of the outfield seating from when the Three Tenors came to Detroit and performed at Tiger Stadium in 1999. It is a gift I still cherish because it combines my beloved worlds of baseball and singing.
I lived in Dallas from 2009 to 2012 during the Ron Washington era of the Texas Rangers. It was well known in my office that I followed the Rangers only because of MLB blackout rules and the limited availability of livestreaming forced me, but at the end of the day I was a Tigers fan. I went to several Tigers-Rangers games in person when they came to town. Yes, that was before Globe Life Field was built with its cushy roof and air conditioning. So, I attended several games in 90- and 100-degree temperatures at Heatstroke Stadium (as locals liked to refer to Globe Life Field’s predecessor during the summer) to see my Tigers play. I think I’m still sweating from those games. That’s devotion!
In 2011, the Tigers played the Rangers for the Pennant. I was so disappointed that my Tigers lost the first couple games and had to endure the jabs from coworkers the next day. One of those games was a heart-breaking extra innings walk off loss. Then, the Tigers won their first game in the ALCS. I proudly wore my Tigers cap the next day in the office. Of course, everyone reminded me that the Tigers were still behind in the series, and one coworker even refused to talk to me while I was wearing my Tigers cap. It was all in good fun though. Unfortunately, the Tigers never caught up to the Rangers that year and lost the ALCS in Game 6.
In 2012, I moved from Dallas to Columbus for a short stint but it still did not solve the MLB blackout problem, and I would never dream of watching a Cleveland game “just for fun.” Luckily, it was also a record year for the Tigers so I saw plenty of nationally televised games. I watched the ALCS and then the World Series so closely, hoping that my Tigers would finally win the championship for the first time in my life. Unfortunately, after sweeping the Yankees to win the Pennant, the Giants swept the Tigers to win the World Series. I guess there’s always next year.
The best stretch of time I had as a Tigers fan was while I was living and working in Metro Detroit from 2013 to 2016. I could finally see every game I wanted on TV and I was close enough to go Downtown anytime I felt like catching a game. Since April and I were both there and mom and dad are big baseball fans, we bought season ticket mini-packages. In 2014, I attended the most games in one season – 12 games – between the season ticket package and one off trips. One of my friends who’s into baseball too and I would text each other during the day at work and go on Stub Hub to buy cheap tickets, then meet downtown and watch the game for the evening.
This was also the year that dad retired from Albion Department of Public Safety, so naturally a baseball family celebrates big milestones by going to baseball games. We all went to the game to celebrate and as a surprise for dad we bought a scoreboard announcement to congratulate him. He was completely surprised. We really “leveled up” as a baseball family that evening.
The best game of my life was during that era, too. Dad bought tickets to Opening Day in 2015 but told mom that it was just him and her going. So, Dad, April, and I conspired to surprise mom by not letting her know April and I were going to meet them there. April and I showed up after mom and dad got there and sat next to them. Mom was so surprised her first question was, “How did you know where our seats are?” There are too many wonderful memories from that game to share in this article. The only thing I’ll say is that if you’ve ever wanted to go to Opening Day, do it! Everyone is a baseball fan that day. The stadium is packed. Downtown is bustling. The crowd is loud and energetic.
I could go on and on about my many baseball memories, but we’re starting to get into the ones that are only interesting to baseball fans (like the game dad and I saw where Justin Verlander and Chris Sale were pitching against each other). Now, I live in Los Angeles, but I’m still a Tigers fan. In fact, when the strict COVID restrictions were finally lifted, I rounded up my friends to celebrate in the typical Krause way: going to a Tigers (at Angels) game. To me, there is no better celebration than friends, family, and baseball.
Nearly 30 years after my first Tigers game, my allegiances have not changed. I am still a diehard Tigers fan always waiting for “next year” when they’ll finally win the World Series for the first time in my life. There is comfort in baseball because it is familiar – even if that familiarity is “There’s always next year!”
About the writer:
Tim Krause is currently a doctoral student in psychology at Claremont Graduate University near Los Angeles, California. He grew up in Albion and graduated from Albion Senior High School in 2003. He served as Executive Director of the Albion Community Foundation from 2016 until 2020. His parents, Cheryl and Eric, still live in Albion and he visits town a few times each year.
Written by Mitch Lutzke
February 14, 2022
My first take on this season’s forecast for the Detroit Tigers, was I wish they would have taken from about 1990 to about 2005 from our collective memory. During that time frame the Tigers had exactly one year season above the .500 mark. For good measure little positive has happened since their last winning season in 2016. But I digress, we are now talking about the 2022 version.
The exciting 2021 season of the Motor City crew saw rookie outfielder Akil Badoo cranking out a solo home run, as the first pitch he saw in the big leagues left Comerica Park and plopped down about ten rows from where I was sitting with one of my sons in left field. The Tigers’ lost to Cleveland; but it was an exciting game. A few days later with daughter in tow, we saw Badoo come through with a tenth inning hit to seal the win over Minnesota. Again, another exciting game. That seemed to be the theme of the 2021 season- exciting.
We had Miguel Cabrera surpass the 500 Homerun mark, Robbie Grossman joins the 20 HR/20 SB club, the trio of young arms of Mize, Manning and Skubal make plenty of appearances on the mound, Dearborn phenom Eric Hasse blasting homers in the middle of the summer and the electric Badoo doing his baddest. Manager A.J. Hinch seemed to be a few steps ahead of the game, as opposed to the previous regime, who rode the game wherever it took them. With all of this in mind, where does 2022 lead the Tigers?
First, they finished in third place, under .500 at 77-85. They were terrible in April, while May, June and July brought winning records, excitement, and fans to the stands. However, those three months placed the team only four games above the even mark, while September was under the break- even point and they limped to the finish line to place behind the White Sox and Cleveland. To put it in perspective, two of Brad Ausmus’ four seasons had the club finish with a better winning percentage. In short, the Tigers were way better than they had been, but have a way to go before printing post season tickets.
How can it go south this year? If the pitching wizards have a sophomore slump and Badoo shares their experience, too. Grossman’s career year by any stretch of metrics has him stumbling back to reality. Miggy is a year older. The outfield doesn’t have a set starting line-up. And can anybody play second base around here? The much-improved bullpen was still middle of the pack, statistically, and relievers effectiveness seem to fade in and out from year to year. So, last year’s version could show-up again and possibly perform a bit worse.
How can the Tigers show improvement this year? Well, the trio of aces skip the sophomore slump phase and take another step toward being top notch tossers. Badoo builds on his first year, Jeimer Candelario (the season leader in WAR) continues to get better, Grossman proves last year wasn’t a fluke and Tyler Alexander is given the opportunity to pitch in the rotation all season. One of the Castro’s or Kody Clemens grabs the second base position to settle down the infield. The signing of Javier Baez the hitting stud at shortstop will be a big positive for the Tigers, as will Tucker Barnhart, a two-time gold glover behind the plate. Signing Eduardo Rodriguez just adds to the talented pitching rotation. And if you thought those three new line-up additions were exciting, just wait until two of the top prospects in all of baseball, Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson make their appearance at Comerica Park.
Greene is the projected centerfielder of the future, with decent speed and well above average hit tools. Torkelson is a hitting machine who is pegged for first base and designated hitter. He has elite power according to the scouts and will have no trouble driving the ball out of any part of Comerica Park. Combine these new and returning players with a second year Hinch knowing his team a bit better, and this season is looking up. However, the Tigers finished 16 games out of the American League Central race and 15 back in the Wild Card, so the climb to improve is still a steep journey.
With the labor strife in full swing, whenever the white orb begins being chucked around major league ballparks is anybody’s guess. But the Tigers will eventually don the old English D in downtown Detroit, as they have since 1901. Here’s hoping that soon, a Tigers club will join the 1935, 1945, 1968 and 1984 squads in hoisting a fifth World Series banner atop the flagpole of Comerica Park.
About our Author Mitch Lutzke
Among Mitch’s claim to fame is that he is a board member of the Southern Michigan chapter of SABR- Society of American Baseball Research; wrote an award-winning book on the Page Fence Giants 1890s championship Black baseball team, whose organizer, Bud Fowler, was selected to the Baseball Hall of Fame for a 2022 induction. Lutzke also played tee-ball in Albion and later led his Albion High School junior varsity baseball team in stolen bases (7), as the team posted a 0-22 record in that glorious spring of 1977 around the Twin Valley league diamonds.