THE NEUROTIC TIGER

The Detroit Tigers narrowly missed being no-hit by the lowly Oakland A’s today and, as of this writing, lead 1-0 on an Austin Jackson home run. Had they been mowed down without a single hit, it would have been proof positive of one thing, and one thing only: that I have not been diligent enough in warding off evil spirits and bad luck.

Baseball in general, and the Tigers in particular, have turned me into full-fledged neurotic, grasping at tokens, icons, and any number of voodoo charms and curses to help usher this mangy club of mine to a World Series win. Thus far I’ve been quite successful–they are the division winners, after all, and in pretty heady fashion, if I say so myself. Thanks to my labors there’s no question Justin Verlander will take home the Cy Young award, and he might actually win the MVP award. The latter is important because the Tigers have never won a World Series when they didn’t have the MVP. Even more intriguing, their last three World Championships their MVP was a pitcher–Hal Newhouser in ’45, Denny McLain in ’68, and Guillermo “Willie” Hernandez in ’84. Actually, I’m this way with sports in general, as I know deep down that I owe the people of Holland an apology for not wearing my Netherlands World Cup t-shirt during the final, when I’d worn it every game prior (and thus taking that underdog to the championship game.)

Since I no longer have my City Pages gig covering the Twins (having lost it due to low readership, no surprise), I’m going to have the pleasure of covering the Detroit Tigers here, at my blog, for the remainder of the season, and hopefully, oh God hopefully, up to the World Series. Should they fail in that Herculean effort, I’ll still do some write-ups on baseball’s October Country, as my loyalties will shift, from the Tigers to the Phillies to Milwaukee.¬†Everyone thinks I should love the Diamondbacks for having former Bengal Kirk Gibson at the wheel, with Alan Trammel as his loyal sidekick. But I can’t. Whenever I think of Arizona I think of John McCain and that sunburnt state’s crazy hatred of immigrants and I want no part of it, not now, not during the All-Star game, nor in the World Series. In short: Arizona can go fuck itself.

But these 2011 Detroit Tigers are exciting as all hell. I love that they’re a combination of home grown talent (Verlander, Avila, Rayburn), intriguing trades (Cabrera, Jackson, Peralta, Betemit), and have a nice one-two-three punch on the mound in Verlander, Doug Fister, and Max Scherzer with his one-blue-eye/one-red-eye glare. And what’s not to like about cranky, chain-smoking, Twinkie-eating Jim Leyland, whose contract negotiations prompted this Onion article that made me both laugh and cringe:

Tigers sign Leyland through his death in 2012.

Yes, the 2011 version of the Detroit Tigers move me more than any of the clubs in recent memory, including the 2006 pennant winners. Sure, it’s exciting to root for a winner, but this winner, well, I don’t know–it’s different. There’s been so much loss, both personally and as a Tigers fan, that this year seems almost cathartic. ’06 marked the first time the Tigers went to the playoffs since my Grandmother Schilling had died, and she was the one who really nurtured my love of this damn sport. But since ’06, I’ve seen my Dad pass away, and Tigers fans no longer have Mark Fidrych or Ernie Harwell in their lives.

But it’s important, I think, to move on. I could moan and cry about Fidrych, Harwell, hell, about Tiger Stadium and the new petri dish that lacks much, or any, character. But there’s batches and batches of kids out there who only know Harwell Park (fuck if that bank’s getting any free advertising on my site) and who go crazy over Cabrera and Verlander like I did about Gibson and Fidrych (and Verlander seems like a hell of nice guy to boot.)

So I’m doing my best. As you can see I’ve fully capitulated to my lunacy by constructing a Shrine of the Tiger as seen above. Yes, that is a genuine seat from Tiger Stadium, flanked by a pair of white bricks from same. Pictures of Harwell, Grandma at an ’84 game, and six cards from the current crop–Verlander, Leyland, Inge, Jackson, Scherzer and Porcello, all standing in front of a long line of palm trees (it’s a throwback series meant to look like cards from the 60s.) Denny McLain’s awful album of Hammond Organ music on Capitol, Iffy’s Book of Tiger Tales (celebrating the ’34 pennant), and cards from the World’s champions from my lifetime–’68 and ’84. Of course, there’s plenty of other Fidrych in there, cards and his Sports Illustrated cover (with Sesame Street’s Big Bird), and a loony tunes Shazam comic from 1977 with Fidrych who inexplicably tries to get out a fat tiger named Mr. Tawny who seeks a tryout with his namesake team, which somehow correlates with his attempts at taking over the world. Captain Marvel stops him, as he would.

Yes, this godless fool has become someone who might just take you up on your offer to take me to a palm-reader in the hopes at predicting the Tigers’ fate, who will light a candle every day when his Shrine is built (it’s true), and whose little amulets and well-worn t-shirts will get a bit more well-worn over the next month or so. I’m not saying it’s smart, it just is what it is. I don’t really believe it, of course.

Unless the Tigers win.

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