Thankful memories from a Tigers’ fan

Ernie Harwell was one of the most beloved figures in Detroit sports history.

Ernie Harwell was one of the most beloved figures in Detroit sports history.

As a lifelong Detroit Tigers follower, I am thankful for:

Frank House. Lou Berberet. Reno Bertoia. The names I dimly remember from my childhood. I didn’t know much about them beyond their intriguing names on their baseball cards. Magical incantations. Gus Triandos. Gail Harris. Coot Veal. Gus Zernial. Never saw them play but thanks—you may have had forgettable careers but I’ll never forget your names.

Thanks to Paw Paw. The Sunday Punch. Another home run while we’re sitting down to Sunday dinner!

Special gratitude to my dear older sister Peggy, for taking us to so many Ladies’ Day games in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Women and children 13 and under, 50 cent seats in the upper beck behind first or third—fantastic.

“Harvey Kuenn’s favorite ice cream!” cries a vendor on Ladies’ Day.

Thank you, Stormin’ Norman, for tearin’ off the table leg and bringin’ it up to bat against Nolan Ryan. And for all your other wacky stunts and big blows.

The calisthenics of Colavito, bat stretched behind his bat like a rubber band. Don’t knock the Rock..

Thank you, Frank Navin, for building your stadium, and Walter Briggs, for expanding it to make it the best place to watch a baseball game. Anywhere. Ever.

Thanks Ernie. On a transistor in the backyard on a July afternoon. Under my pillow during a West Coast road trip—falling asleep soothed by the gentlemanly Georgian lullaby. On the car radio driving up north. The house by the side of the road. Two for the price of one. A high pop behind third base, and a woman from Clarkston makes the catch. A boy from Belleville grabs it. A gentleman from Flat Rock. A girl from Flushing.

Squeaky turnstiles, peeling green paint, “Get yer red hots,” stale popcorn in a cardboard megaphone…the Corner.

Watching 10 cent beer night in Cleveland on TV: seat cushions flying everywhere. Watching Disco Demolition Night in Chicago: mounted police riding in from the bullpen to quell the riot and Al Kaline in the broadcast booth declaring “This is a great moment for America.” Really, Al?

But also thanks for gunning down some rookie trying to go first to third on a single to the right-field corner. Over and over I saw you do this.

The upper deck bleachers on a raucous Friday night in 1968, in 1972, in 1984, in 1987…and even during the depths of 1975.

Gorman Thomas turning around and giving the bleachers the finger.

Tommy Matchick clouting a game-winning homer in 1968; my date jumps up and hugs me. Underdogs unite!

Dave Bergman. Twelve, or was it fourteen, pitches before launching that big home run?

Walt Terrell, for coming the closest I’ve ever been to witnessing a no-hitter by a Tiger pitcher—an unexpected brush with fame (until Wally Joyner singled with two outs in the ninth).

Darrell Evans, picked off third base in the 1987 playoffs but still applauded.

Cecil Fielder, for smacking 51 home runs.

Senor Smoke. Juan Berenguer. Guillermo—don’t call me Willie.

Lou and Tram, Tram and Lou, day in, day out, for twenty years, Hall of Famers both—the best DP combo in the game.

Tony Phillips, born a decade too soon to be a Moneyball poster boy: a versatile on-base machine.

Jhonny P and Billy B and Mickey T, bat frozen, menacing, above his head then dropping at the last second for a lusty cut.

Pettis, Cuyler, Kimera Bartee, Cedeno, Sanchez—the endless parade of speedy centerfielders who couldn’t hit. Welcome to the club, Anthony Gose!

Hit the Ball Willie! The Gator. Lankus Hankus Aguirre.

Brookens You Bum and his latter-day counterpart Brandon Inge (let’s hear it for overrated fan favorite third basemen).

John Wockenfuss and Rusty Kuntz and Damion Easley and Billy Bean (the less famous one) and Matt Nokes and Pat Sheridan.

Above all, Mark Fidrych and his love-in during the glorious goofy summer of 1976. And the ball Ivan Rodriguez pops into the fantasy broadcast booth that I can reach out, on air, and catch, my son at my side—a miracle.

Thanks for the memories. Now pass the cranberry sauce, Milt Wilcox.