Opening day last year found me in France far removed from the world of baseball suffering from extreme food poisoning! This year, following an off-season in which Mr Ilitch allowed Dave Dombrowski to put together a lineup that most Fantasy players could only dream of, I determined would be different.
I’d had quite an off-season myself as I got engaged to my long suffering girlfriend and thus at a stroke put on ice my plans for a two-week summer baseball vacation at Comerica (weddings, honeymoons & fiances don’t come cheap!). The wonders of the internet mean that once again the Tigers will be playing their season out in my own English village.
I’d read all the previews, studiously studied the stats and decided that this was indeed the type of batting lineup that may only come along once in a lifetime so I was sure going to do all I could to enjoy this season despite the restrictions of cyberspace.
As Tigers fans packed into Comerica I was racing back from work to my fiances parents home (housesitting for the week). No sooner was I through the door than I was already logging onto my future father-in-laws pc and happily downloading the software & plug-ins required to maximise my enjoyment (I’m sure he’ll thank me when he returns). The picture wasn’t the best & I had to turn the sound off but live action was before my eyes. Just after 1’o’clock in Detroit and just after 6’o’clock in the UK Justin Verlander began the ’08 season.
Used to waking up in the middle of the night to find me watching baseball my fiance enquired how long I was likely to be “stuck in front of that computer?” as her sister was arriving and they were hoping to go out. The undertone of her enquiry implied I was expected to be going to. “Should be over by 9” I informed her and a compromise was reached as we could still enjoy a couple of hours down the pub (an opening day celebratory beer would go down nicely I reasoned).
The game seemed to be going well, Verlander pitching with confidence while that awesome lineup just kept on coming to the plate and seemed just an at bat away from breaking into a run fest. Mags carried off from where he’d left off last season hitting the ball with apparent ease and when Cabrera launched his first Detroit home run I shouted with delight. This caused my fiance & her sister to enquire what the fuss was about. As I began to enthusiastically explain all about Miguel Cabrera & his new contract & how The Tigers had put together this amazing lineup of baseball players to two confused looking english women those pesky Kansas City Royals went & got themselves back in the game. Even worse was to follow as they then went & took the lead (this wasn’t in the script). Thankfully the ever reliable Carlos Guillen tied things up but by now I was beginning to get the feeling that the Tigers bullpen was as shaky as all those experts had been predicting. But Todd Jones made it through the ninth and I confidently expected to see a walk off home run to round out opening day. Regrettably there was no walk off home run in the ninth and as the clock rolled well past 9 I was dragged away from the action (a deal is a deal & I had said 9) so I missed the Royals go ahead run in the 11th inning & I missed seeing both Renteria & Polanco failing to get the runner home in the bottom of the 11th.
It’s true that the game’s not played on paper and despite this opening day disappointment I am not going to abandon my pre-season predictions that the Tigers will pass the 100-win barrier this season, that the starting pitching & bullpen will do better than the experts predict and that come October I will be keeping a night time vigil as the Tigers play for the World Series.
Outside the bedroom window all was quiet as the night time chill began gathering in readiness of becomming the familiar autumnal early morning mist that would await the villages early risers. Although an ocean and half a continent away, courtesy of one of the endless satelites that circle above us, inside the bedroom Brandon Inge was striking out for the last time in 2006.
"Did they win?" my girlfriend enquired, awoken from her slumber by the sudden loss of the MLB international commentary that had been accompanying her dreams.
"Never mind, there’s always next year." she responded before nestling back into the land of dreams.
At that moment her words had little comfort and as I lay there wide awake, courtesy of the 3.00 a.m. espresso I’d drank as insurance against extra innings, I decided that for now rather than ponder next year I would replay the delights that had been 2006. The optimism that greeted every new season had, for the first time in over a decade, gathered momentum as the Tigers kept on winning and I along with every other Tiger fan had rode that wave until it finally broke on the shores of St Louis. In those dark early October morning hours there were two highlights that kept replaying in my mind. The first was that of watching Joel Zumaya firing in 100+ mph fastballs that exploded into Pudge’s mit. They required a new viewing skill that my eyes never quite mastered, namely ‘watching’ the pitch and then diverting the attention to see the radar reading, as I was too often caught in the initial open mouthed "wow" to notice the mph reading in the corner of the screen. The second, and more enduring, was that of Kenny Rogers pitching displays throughout the play offs with that game against the Yankees being my personal favourite.
Dave Dombrowski and Jim Leyland though, it seemed, had heard my girlfriends consolling words because almost before you could say "Off-season" they had traded for Gary Sheffield, secured Sean Casey’s return and effectively ensured the winter months would not be spent checking for trades or free agent signings.
Winter in the village ambled along as life in the village has a habit of doing. The ‘temporary’ traffic lights on the southern approach to the village celebrated their second birthday. The local store/post office continued it’s sterling rear guard fight against the removal of its post office status as Blair continued his assault on rural living. We enjoyed our 48 hours of snow in early February that saw our school, along with every other in the county, closed as children with their sleds demonstrated a greater readiness for the white stuff than the local authorities. One of the joys of an English winter is that we get a couple of days off work thanks to the road agencies and local authorities inability to deal with even the mildest of snow falls.
All the while, of course, ‘Next Year’ was getting closer and the retention of nearly all of the 2006 Tigers together with the addition of Gary Sheffield kept bringing back my girlfriends words. As the players finally made their long anticipated return in sunny Florida I was encouraged to read, with rain lashing against the windows, of how focussed they all seemed and of how they had collectively bought into Leylands mantra that 2006 was to be confined to the memory banks. I decided that it was now time for me to buy into this mantra as well so signed up for the MLB Premium TV package. The pound/dollar exchange rate made doing so a bargain as did the knowledge that for me every Tiger game is ‘out of market’. The cable channel here NASN has promised even more live games will be shown as part of their 2007 schedule and the Tigers success should ensure they will feature in a greater number of these than previous years.
Everything I have seen and read coming out of Florida to date has meant that the pre-season hope all fans enjoy has been accompanied by a greater dose of belief than previous years and with every passing day next year’s almost here.
These through the night games are so much easier to deal with when we win!
I managed to get about an hours sleep before the alarm on my mobile got me up for the pre-game broadcast just before 1 a.m. I was as sleepy as the English country village where I live and it seemed, as the game got under way, that so were the Tigers bats. Nate was doing his best to keep us in the game but the pressure with every scoreless Tiger inning looked to be taking its toll and it was no surprise to see him finally crack. It was pleasing that he managed to limit the damage to just 2 runs because at least we were still in the game. But we never got going, my eyes became heavier and the banter between Jonny & Josh on Five became more annoying. Do they watch re-runs of old Carry On films before they go on air?
It was heavy dejected steps that took me back upstairs to bed just before 5 a.m. with the game over and the depressing thought circling my brain for the first time this post-season that maybe the best has now been and is no longer still to come.
Three hours sleep and then it was time to get up for work! I shall do the whole thing again tonight and will be hoping that Jeremy pitches the game of his life, Pudge, Pacido and Curtis rediscover their batting prowess and the Tigers level the series at 2 games each. The alarms set!