I came across an old family photograph recently that really got to me.
It was a shot of me and my father, on my tenth birthday. What stands out about the picture, and that birthday, was that my parents gave me a present that I never forgot — my first Detroit Tigers jacket. I was thrilled out of my mind to get it; in fact, I think it was the first piece of clothing I’d ever been happy to get in my life.
Before that Tigers jacket, there’d been shirts, socks, a ridiculous winter hat or two, and the obligatory underwear — “Gee, thanks Mom, what made you think of this?” I hadn’t wanted any of it. But that jacket … man, what a gift.
I loved that jacket so much that I hardly ever wore it. I know that sounds a bit idiotic, but I was afraid of getting it dirty, or wearing it out or something. Mostly I just looked at myself in the mirror in it, or hung it in my room so I could gaze at it from my bed. You don’t want to subject a jacket that cool to normal earthly challenges.
It was dark black, with orange stripes at the shoulders and cuffs, and the brightest and most glorious orange olde English “D” on the chest. That was another benefit of wearing it in front of a mirror or looking at it hanging in my room — I could see that terrific “D” that way, whereas wearing it in public made it difficult for me to see it without walking around all day long with my head down, bumping into things and people.
No, that jacket was a work of art, and too good to be worn much in public. Oh, I took it out for a few cruises in front of my friends, just to make them jealous. To do that I had to look, and act, nonchalant.
“Wow … where’d you get that cool Tigers jacket?”
“What? Oh, you mean this one?“
We had a semi-organized baseball team in our neighborhood by the time I turned ten. Our team played at Von Steuben Field on the east side, and when we weren’t playing semi-organized ball at Von Steuben a few summer days a week we were playing non-organized ball every single summer day in the streets around our neighborhood. Now, the last place I would wear that fabulous Tigers baseball jacket was to play baseball. A kid would have to be nuts to do that.
Playing baseball — in the street or on a field — involved a lot of running and sliding (yeah, we slid on the streets; it was a matter of honor) and sweating and getting hit with things like short hops or line drives or bats that flew out of some idiot’s hands. Plus, there was always the chance of a fight breaking out, or a quick summer rain sneaking up on us. In short — baseball was no place for a terrific baseball jacket.
No, that jacket — as stated — was a true work of art, something too cool to be subjected to the real world. Wearing it — meaning looking at myself while I was wearing it — made me feel, for a few fleeting seconds, that maybe I looked a little like Al Kaline. Or Frank Lary, or Ray Boone or Harvey Kuenn. Even Reno Bertoia or Jim Small, or J. W. Porter, or catcher Frank “Pig” House, who was a favorite in our neighborhood because we read on a baseball card somewhere that he was called Frank “Pig” House.
I’d seen those guys in their Tigers jackets, on TV and in the papers in my 1955 and 1957 Tigers Yearbooks — which had black and orange covers with blazing orange olde English “Ds” on them — and THEY looked absolutely cool, so there was a chance that so did I. When you’re a kid you can believe stuff like that. That’s what being a kid is for.
As I say, it was the greatest piece of clothing I ever got, in my whole life. I remember every stitch in it like my tenth birthday was yesterday … but for the life of me, I can’t begin to tell you what ever happened to my so-cool and pretty-damn-official-looking Detroit Tigers jacket. If my Mom smuggled it out of the house when I was, like, 36 or something, I’ll never know. It was just that, well … one day I was an adult. And most of the fun had gone out of my life. And so did that jacket.
I miss it. Mostly I miss what it represented to me. It was proof that my wonderful Mom and Dad really loved me when I turned ten years old. And it was Exhibit A for all those special dreams that kids dream. I’m too old now to ever feel like that again. But if I had a nine year-old kid around my house, which I don’t, I’d be sure that he got a Detroit Tigers jacket on his next birthday. A chance to share the stuff of dreams.
I guess it never really goes completely away. Because, no kidding, there’s a brilliant red Tigers jersey, right here in the apparel section of the Detroit Athletic Co., that I’ve been staring at for months. I don’t know why it appeals to me. It’s Red Wings-red with a bright white olde English “D” … completely the wrong colors, after all … yet for some reason I keep bringing it up on my computer. And staring at it. Over and over. Again and again. I guess I’m tempted to buy it. But …
I mean, I’d have no use for it. A guy my age. The idea is ridiculous. I couldn’t wear the damn thing anywhere.
Except maybe in front of a mirror.