“You’re out on the town, safe in the crowd
Ready to go for the ride
Searching the eyes, looking for clues
Theres no way you can hide
The fire inside”
-Bob Seger, “The Fire Inside”
It’s fitting that Nate Robertson gets the start for the Tigers today. With the the Tigers’ first division title in 22 years hanging in the balance, we hand the ball to a guy who, at the beginning of this season, pretty much said if he wasn’t starting, didn’t want to be here. Yet, here we are, four games to go, and Robertson is getting the nod. Shows what happens when you buy into something, eh Nate?
This Tiger team may be the greatest metaphor that the city of Detroit has ever seen. A down-and-out group during the preseason who hardly anyone gave a chance to do much of anything. A division title? Forget it. It won’t happen. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? Detroit as a city rebounding? No way. It’s over.
This city has long held the Tigers close, despite being treated to a number of terrible seasons where hope seemed to run out on Day One of the season. Sure, attendance dropped and money was lost, but the one thing that always stayed constant was the love of a team that most closely resembles the state of the city as a whole. Some will argue that the Lions are a more fitting metaphor: a bunch of losers with no way out and no hope of ever bouncing back. Yet, the Lions did get that first win last week, and although I don’t follow the team that closely, it was a great moment and a step in the right direction. Some will argue that the Red Wings are the face of the city. I disagree. The Red Wings are kings of the city, expected to succeed, and when they don’t, everyone is surprised. They are the gold standard that the city itself hopes to one day achieve. They are the success story that every true Detroiter wishes its city would become.
No, the city itself most closely aligns itself to the Tigers, a group who are constantly up and down and who you are never quite sure will actually pull it off or hang on to do something great. But it’s their character that connects us to them. Their love of what they do, the support that they give the city, the hope that they provide for the downtrodden. They are the great success story of Detroit, and they can put their seal of authenticity on their great tale today.
No, a win today is not a World Series victory, but it doesn’t need to be right now. The World Series experience in 2006 was a glorious and golden moment for this organization, but if you asked any Tigers fan about it, nine times out of ten you heard “This is great, but it sure would have been nice to win the Division.” I was one of those fans. In true “assembly line” fashion, the road to a championship needs all of the parts, and one of those is the satisfaction of grinding out 162 games and finishing what you started. All of those spring and summer matchups against “fill in the blank” that “didn’t mean anything”, well, those now mean a whole lot. Every game this team played this year means something now. Every hit, every run. It was all for the chance this team has today.
It’s fitting that in the year the Tigers are one step short of the division mountaintop, they also lost one of the great symbols of Tiger baseball. In 1987, the old stadium would have been rocking and rolling as the boys of summer put on the long sleeves and brought home the division. Today, it’s a new stadium that holds the opportunity, one that is yearning for a legacy of it’s own. It’s already been host to a pennant win and a World Series appearance, but now it’s time for the new park to wear a division crown. Since Tiger history never seems to fade away, it would be a fitting tribute to the ol’ ball park that used to live at Michigan and Trumbull if the Tigers win the division in the year that it died.
There are so many ways in which a win today would impact this city and this organization. I could sit here and list them for days. The truth is that for each of us, this means something unique. For me, it’s the vindication of growing up a diehard Tigers fan and thinking that I would never ever see this team win the division and make the playoffs. Sure, I’ve seen them in the playoffs. But that division win has been oh so elusive.
It’s in their grasp today. Pardon the pun, but can they finally “grab the Tiger by the tail?” I sure hope so.