Today I invoke the spirit of the crazy 1970s, the decade when I was weaned on baseball, and when I first met the man who would be my stepdad, James Younger. And I celebrate my new favorite Tiger, southern California son-of-a-fireman, jogger, zen-master, Doug Wildes Fister, who saved the season for the mighty men of Detroit last evening.
Furthermore, though I have absolutely no evidence of this, I like to think that the man from Merced drives to work right down the center of Woodward Avenue, toward the mighty fist of Joe Louis, screeching left at the Fox Theater and into Harwell Stadium, blasting his tunes from behind the wheel of the sexy Tigermobile you see to your left. He smacks the horn and Tom Jones’ “What’s New Pussycat?” roars. If we’re lucky that motherfucker does the hydraulic thing in that beast, disrupting the Rangers’ BP before peeling away, leaving angry batting coaches eating his exhaust.
Dude’s the Tigers’ Kelly Leak in my mind. I know Leak wasn’t a pitcher. Fuck you, OK?
Whew. That’s a lot of imagination to put on a guy who probably likes the same shitty music that ruins every other ballplayer’s at-bat. But I get to dream, don’t I?
It’s a time for dreaming: tonight the Tigers are on the brink of going down three games to one, and like a previous post noted, the team’s giving the ball to one Rick Porcello, who scares the living behoozus out of me.
Sometimes I like to imagine Porcello as a reincarnation of my favorite Tiger, Mark Fidrych, himself a low-strikeout, ground-out pitcher. Maybe if Fidrych had lasted, he’d have been as all-over-the-place as Porcello for the 1980s teams. But he’d also be a lot more fun, I’m sure. Porcello’s a bit of a square, a good kid, but not a 70s-style dude.
Doesn’t matter: there’s good times. The old saw is that it takes a tragedy, or a hardship, to put the game of baseball into perspective, and that’s a saw that sings true. My stepdad, Jim, is on the mend, heading home, and himself ready to sit on that couch and talk endlessly about this afternoon’s contest. I wish I could be there, but I’m heading back home to Minnesota, listening to the damn thing (I hope) on the plane.
Jim watched last night’s game in its entirety from his bed at Mid-Michigan Medical Center, and this morning we spoke of Fister’s awesomeness. Dude really cooled off those Ranger’s bats. Did you see that crazy Baltimore chop in the 8th? The one Fister grabbed and, seeing Cabrera wasn’t covering first, sprinted like a quarterback to the end zone to beat a speeding Endy Chavez to the bag?
That was Fister’s last play of the game, a testament to his life on the run. Supposedly the dude jogs, five miles a day at least, even on game days. In the off-season he plans on running a marathon. A marathon? So 70s man, so 70s.
Jim looks pretty 70s, nearly all the time. In my life with him–a boyfriend to stepdad process that began in 1975–he’s had the same damn look. The exact same damn look. Longish black hair, black beard and ‘stache. Vietnam vet, peacenik, lover of Johnny Rivers and canoeing. Yellow-dog Democrat. Teacher and astronomy buff. Dude probably’s the one who turned us to Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, to my family the iconic show of that strange decade (along with M*A*S*H, a show that Jim totally related to, as many veterans did at the time.)
That, and the Tigers. He’s always loved the team, and he liked that I got turned on to the noble sport. As I said before, Jim can talk and talk and talk–especially about the Tigers, pulling up any and all statistics and ephemera about our favorite ballclub. We spoke of Fister, of Cabrera’s double and home run, of the Tigers various injuries, and of the coming apocalypse that is often Rick Porcello. A glum silence fell over us, but Jim mention he’d had some good games, we’ll see. We’ll see, we’ll see.
The mojo took it easy these last days–my Fidrych card tucked in MetaMaus, no candles lit, no scoring. But I did get to catch the games on the radio, and in my time here the team’s gone 1-2, still a lot of this series remaining. Like the Tigers, Jim’s not out of the woods yet. Unlike the Tigers, his prospects are infinitely better.
Go get ‘em Tiger…
I’ll advertise this book ’til the day I die: apropos of the 1970s, you’ve got to read my pal Dan Epstein’s classic book, Big Hair and Plastic Grass. I’ve read it twice and I just love it to death. Dan’s a great storyteller, and he captures this wide-collared decade with all its flair (and its smoky bleachers…)
The cliches are rampant: with the Detroit Tigers in the playoffs, and the Lions sitting at 5-0 for the first time since Adlai Stevenson was considered a good candidate, the news can’t get enough of stating “Detroit’s Back!” Yeah, well, we’ll see. After last Monday’s game, the cameras were there to show Kid Rock and Bob Seeger yukking it up in the Lions’ locker room, the various crowds tailgating, people cheering on their team. NBC’s Brian Williams enthusiastically said “people are getting a taste for success in Detroit after all these years.”
Well, I’m not interested in lighting any God damn candles in your God damn darkness, in part because I think that smell in the air is still natural gas. The city, and the state, is still in rough, rough shape. On NBC, it was all sports: there was no “good news” in terms of unemployment, real estate values, foreclosures, or in Governor Snyder’s draconian austerity bullshit that’s eviscerating schools.
And I’m going to play the race card because once in a while it needs to be played. According to the 2010 census, African-Americans make up 84% of Detroit’s population. But I didn’t see a single black face in the crowds before the Lions game, tailgating from the backs of their SUVs in what is undoubtedly $30 parking (at least.) Same goes for the people in the Ford Field stands. Look there in Harwell Park: very few citizens from Detroit there in the stands.
What fun is success if it is not shared? The people of the city of Detroit are paying for these stadiums. And yet I’m guessing that the burg that boasts a 27% poverty rate and unemployment just under 30% (and the rest are probably just missing the poverty line and are chronically underemployed) can’t even get their people into the stadiums to see the teams that bear the city’s name.
Damn it all. In Michigan, and probably everywhere else, those of us who have means can enjoy our sports teams with Kid Rock and Bob Seeger helping us to feel the city has “come back.” God damn it all. This shit can sure harsh a mellow.
A tip of the Olde English ‘D’ to the great Detroit Free Press. I’ve been reading their wonderful coverage of the Tigers playoff run, and they not only get the job done right, with crack sportswriting, photos, and thorough coverage, but unlike many papers, they do it with simple honesty… and a great sense of humor. The Freep’s book on Tiger Stadium, The Corner, is one of my top ten favorite baseball books, chock full of great stories, pictures and memorabilia, but not at all afraid to address the riots, the marijuana smoke, the racism, all the good and all the bad.
So, too, the coverage of the playoffs. My favorite is “Detroit cliche bingo.” As the paper sez, the national media will be trotting out every possible cliche about the city. So play along and mark an ‘X’ whenever you hear: “gritty”, “struggling”, “Packard Plant”, “burned out house”, “Kid Rock” (check), “resilient”, and more!
Thanks, Free Press. As usual, you rock. Not as much as you used to, but what paper does?