Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Detroit Tigers are your A.L. Central Division Champs

Friday night in Oakland, California, the Detroit Tigers exorcised 24 years of baseball demons, winning the American League Central Division title, beating the A's, 3-1.

Doug Fister, a trade deadline acquisition by Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski, pitched 7 innings, allowing just 3 A's hits, and 1 run, striking out 5 batters.

Jose Valvede, baseball's best closer, came on in the ninth inning to get his 45th save of the season in 45 chances.

The Tigers have been my favorite baseball team since I was a little guy in Kalamazoo, Michigan, playing catch with my brothers, and playing baseball on the sandlots, and then then in Little League baseball in Portage, where I went to high school.

From the late 60's with Bill Freehan, Al Kaline, Mickey Lolich, and Jim Northrup, through the 1972 Eastern Division title, then some not so good teams, but memorable players, like The Bird, Mark Fidrych, Ron LeFlore, Steve Kemp, and Rusty Staub.

In the 1980's we Tigers fans were blessed with a good baseball team, young guys like Alan Trammell, Lou Whittaker, Kirk Gibson, and Jack Morris, led by one of the best managers ever, Sparky Anderson.

That nucleus of young players won the 1984 World Series, then hung on for a few more years, winning the A.L. East in 1987, another magical year in the Motor City.

That was 24 years ago.

24 years.

The Tigers had some exciting and un forgettable players in the 1990's, led by slugging first baseman Cecil Fielder.

"Big Daddy" left Japan to come and play for the Tigers, and in his first year in Motown, 1990, he hit 51 home runs, the first big league player to hit 51 HRS since George Foster of the Reds in 1977.

Fielder hit 44 HRS in 1992, and led the A.L. in RBI for three straight years, 1990'91'92.

The Tigers were winners in Big Daddy's first three years, but after 1993, the Tigers would go 13 years without a winning record.

Even though the Tigers weren't winning, we got to see good ball players like Bobby Higginson, one of my all-time favorite Tigers players, Travis Fryman, one of the best Tigers 3rd baseman ever, Justin Thompson, Gabe Kapler, Juan Encarnacion, and Tony Clark, the 6'7" first baseman who could hit from both sides of the plate, hitting prodigious home runs and making him a favorite with Tigers fans.

In the 2000's we had Dimitri Young, who once hit 3 HRS on Opening Day, Jeff Weaver, Todd Jones, and in 2004, Ivan, "Pudge" Rodriguez joined a young team and taught them how to win.

Walk off HRS by guys like Carlos Pena and Eric Munson, former shortstop Alan Trammell becoming the manager, and losing 119 games in '03, were some good, and not so good times through the early part of the last decade.

Then, in 2006, Jim Leyland was brought in to manage the ball club, Magglio Ordonez brought a powerful bat to Detroit, Kenny Rogers brought the pitching staff stability, and the 2006 club ended years of frustration by winning the American League Pennant.

The Tigers continued to build a solid, winning baseball team, trading for Miguel Cabrera,Austin Jackson, and Victor Martinez, and drafting a future Cy Young and super star fire ball pitcher named Justin Verlander.

The Detroit Tigers are winners once again, champions of their division.

So many close calls, so many heartbreaks, starting with that horrible A.L. Championship series against the Minnesota Twins in 1987, losing 4 games to 1.

The magic that was 2006, leading the A.L. Central Division for the entire summer, only to get caught by, who else, the Twins, and then finishing second, and getting the Wild Card playoff berth.

That 2006 post season, hammering the Yankees to win the Division Series, then watching Ordonez crush a Houston Street pitch for a walk off, game winning, series winning, and pennant clinching home run.

The Tigers didn't make the playoffs in 2007, or 2008, 2009, or in 2010.

The 2009 loss to the Twins, who else, in the 163rd game of the season, sending the Tigers back home, was as low as it got for fans like me.
Through it all, 44 years, watching my heroes of the '60s, and the ups and downs of 6 decades of Detroit Tigers baseball, tonight's win was simply magnificent, a crowning achievement of being a fan, never giving up on your team, always giving them your support, 24/7/365.

I don't know how far the Tigers will go in the playoffs this year, but I do know I will be right there, for every pitch, every at bat, ever thrilling moment, cheering on my heroes, just as I did for the boys of 1968, 72, 84, 87, and 2006.

Here's to the 2011 American League Central Division Champion Detroit Tigers, may you continue on this magical ride through October, playing Tigers baseball, and giving us fans one more year to remember.

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