As a guest at a dinner party in West Bloomfield a few years ago the host asked a room field of people if there were in any Detroit sports fans who would like to take a walk for a few minutes.
With that offer, fifteen people walked down a subdivision street chatting away and crossed Lone Pine Road and into Pine Lake Cemetery.
Climbing up a slight incline and into a row of headstones, the chatter became suddenly silent as we looked right at the headstone of Norman Dalton Cash, one of the most beloved players in Detroit Tigers history.
Carved into the beautiful headstone was an image of Stormin’ Norman running away from first base looking to catch a pop up. With that, we all began to share our memories of number 25, his prodigious home runs over the right field roof at Tiger Stadium, the corked bats that were used to help him win the 1961 batting title, and of course his delightful sense of humor that included the time he brought a table leg to home plate as the last batter to face Nolan Ryan who threw his second no hitter.
But then to see that he died on October 11, 1986 at only 51 years of age, we were sadly reminded that he tragically passed away from drowning at Beaver Island after a night of drinking.
As the group started to walk away, our host said there was something he wanted us to see.
We walked perhaps 40 feet from Cash’s grave and saw the headstone of former Lion fullback Nick Pietrosante, another Detroit star who like Cash graced the cover of sports magazines in the early 1960s.
This time we reminisced about number 33, the former Notre Dame All-American and 1959 NFL rookie of the year who was a powerful runner, a good receiver, a great blocker, and just the quintessential fullback in the old T formation. Nick had passed away in 1988 at age 50 following a battle with cancer, just two years after Norm Cash’s death.
To say the least, it was a bit sobering to see two of your heroes’ graves so close together and to be reminded that they tragically died much too young.
Yet that walk also served as a reminder of how these two gentlemen had brought so much joy to a little kid who loved to imitate them with a swing of a bat and a jump over a pile of leaves clutching a football.