It’s days like this I miss being a sports editor. Without the broadsheet pages on which to print my thoughts, I hope you will kindly forbear as I indulge in a bit of nostalgia.
We Detroit Tigers’ fans have been in the doghouse for more than a decade. It’s been a long, dry, painful spell for those loyal to the Olde English D – especially long to someone like me who was a junior in high school the last time the Tigs finished a season with more wins than losses, a prepubescent 5th grader the last time they went to the playoffs, and a mere 7 years old during that magical 1984 World Series run that seems like ancient history now.
In 2002, hope that a true turnaround was coming started to take shape as Detroit hired Dave Dombrowski as general manager, then brought my childhood baseball hero Alan Trammell on board to take the helm in the dugout. After the 2003 debacle, when the franchise appeared to hit rock-bottom (an embarrassing 43 victory total), Tigers owner Mike Ilitch made a serious pledge to open up his pocketbook and build a winning team again.
Fan optimism took a giant step forward with a revitalized offensive lineup stepping up in 2004. And now with an improved bullpen and maturing pitching rotation in 2005, Tigertown is believing what not long ago seemed like a distant delusional dream: our boys in blue have a serious chance not only to break .500 but also to play for a pennant. Sure, the Tigers aren’t the favorites in the American League Central (give that justly, but grudgingly, to the Minnesota Twins), but a highly plausible case at last can be made that meaningful late September baseball games could be played this year in Motown.
The Detroit Tigers kicked off the 2005 season this afternoon with a convincing and confident statement: we are for real again, and we are ready to pull this storied franchise out of its pathetic malaise. Sure, it was the lowly Kansas City Royals they defeated. But the Tigers beat them in resounding fashion, 11-2, showing that they aren’t in the Royals’ lowly class any more. Twenty-two year old phenom Jeremy Bonderman looked every bit like the ace and Cy Young contender he will soon become, with seven dominant innings; and Dmitri Young slapped around Royals pitchers, going 4-for-4 with three home runs and five RBIs.
The record Comerica Park crowd was on Cloud 9 today. The baseball season is long, and there will be ups and downs. But that old feeling has started to return: enthusiasm is soaring, and the voices of cynics are lightly regarded.
This could be the most enjoyable summer in The Motor City in many years.