I wasn’t a baseball guy until the summer between my senior year of high school and my first year of college. It wasn’t anything against baseball itself, it just wasn’t high on my list of viewing. I knew of most of the Detroit Tigers players. I had been to games as a kid. However, it never stuck with me. That changed when I got to college. I knew no one at school. Fortunately, one of the surest forms of small talk that leads to friendship is sports. It also didn’t hurt that going to college coincided with the Detroit Tigers becoming a great team.
With baseball, who you’re watching the sport with is just as important as who you’re watching. My fellow viewers are the friends I made during the first month of college in 2011. Everyday was the same routine; the person who didn’t have class would have the game on. We would come and go as our schedules allowed. Sometimes we’d do homework with the game on. Sometimes the game would demand our full attention. 2011 is the season Justin Verlander’s arm morphed into equal parts alien ray gun and surgical knife. Earning his way to the Cy Young Award and MVP. A Verlander start trumped all other obligations that year. I still remember sitting in a dorm room with too many people, some of us sitting on the floor or leaning against dressers as Verlander dispatched anyone who dared stand before him.
For some, the Tigers experience manifests itself far away from Detroit itself, but it doesn’t diminish the pull. I talked to former Michigan resident Kaitlin McGuire, who told me, “Every year I’ve lived in Kansas there is a bus trip sponsored by our radio station that takes people to a [Kansas City] Royals game.” Through a nice coincidence, that game has always been against the Tigers while she’s been there. “I’m glad I can still get my Tigers fix 1,000+ miles away, even if my husband and I are the only ones on the bus in Navy and Orange,” she continues, proving how deep sports allegiances run.
Marshall resident Lisa Reed was alive when the Tigers last won the World Series in 1984. Her Tigers experience involves the actual players. She remembers, “It was before they were paid a lot of money and we would run into them at the grocery store all the time. The boys would always want their autograph and most of them were nice about it.”
My dear friend and college roommate Travis Moquin is one of the biggest baseball fans I know. He’s not ashamed to admit he started as a bit of a bandwagon fan. “I will be completely honest, I watched hardly any baseball in my life until they started making noise in 2006.” Still, he now counts baseball as his favorite sport, and of course the Tigers as his favorite team.
The nice thing about watching baseball with friends is the memories of the experience more than the game itself. I remember celebrating with my friends when the Tigers defeated the New York Yankees in the postseason in 2011 and 2012. We yelled and cheered in the cafeteria as the singular Yankees fan we knew walked away fuming. “That dude was so angry,” Moquin remembers with a chuckle. One of the favorite weekends of my life includes driving down to Cleveland with those same friends to visit our buddy Rob. We went to take in a game against the Indians. Everyone shared beers before the game and we caught up on old times. We cheered despite ourselves as journeyman Jerry Sands had the game of his life for the Indians. In the end the Tigers won, but that’s not what mattered about that weekend.
Of course rooting for the Tigers is no different from rooting for any other Detroit team. This means disappointment is always just around the corner. I can hear us groaning many times as the bullpen imploded during important series (hey, that still happens!). I vividly remember the crushing sense of defeat that built in the room as Pablo Sandoval completely rocked Verlander in Game 1 of the 2012 World Series. This was a championship series the Tigers never really got close to competing in until it was far too late to avoid the sweep. Moquin recalls only being able to helplessly listen on the radio in his car as Armando Galarraga’s perfect game came to an end on a call that’s seared into every Tigers fan’s mind for the rest of eternity.
Talking to everyone for this piece brought back memories. It was especially good to speak with Travis again. Although it’s been a couple years since we’ve seen each other or actually spoken instead of texted, talking about the Tigers was effortless. Most of our interview was spent recounting memories good and bad of watching those games together. The details of the game are secondary to the details of our lives and the times we watched together. That’s what baseball can do, and that’s the real reason I watch the Detroit Tigers.
All dates, stats, etc. sourced from Baseball Reference.