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Where did your love start?

Marc G. Van Poperin

I was asked a question the other day. Actually, a radio host asked callers where their love of the Detroit Tigers originated. It was a great question and one that I thought about for some time. Where had my infatuation with the “Motor City Kitties” begun? Many callers responded that it was that magical year of 2006, when a team of players only 2 years removed from quite possibly the worst season in the history of major league baseball made it all the way to the World Series. The resulting loss notwithstanding, it was a year for the ages, with the emergence of Verlander and Zumaya; Pudge, “Jonesie” and “The Gambler”; Maggs and Brandon Inge; “C-Mo” and Marcus Thames; the gruff, chain-smoking Jim Leyland at the helm. A great group of players and characters.

However, I think back to the early 80’s. George “Sparky” Anderson, a man who was probably born with his trademark white hair. Lance Parrish, Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammell, and Chet Lemon making up perhaps the greatest “up the middle” defense this city has ever seen. A starting rotation anchored by Jack Morris, Dan Petry, and Milt Wilcox. “Gibby” and Tom Brookens. In the bullpen, “Senor Smoke” and, by 1984, a man whose given name was Guillermo Hernandez but went simply by the name “Willie”. Johnny Grubb, Rupert Jones, Marty Castillo, Dave Bergman and a man who possessed one of my all-time favorite names, Rusty Kuntz. The organization was run by two baseball “lifers” in Jim Campbell and Bill Lajoie. They were owned by one of the classiest men in sports, John Fetzer, who sold the team to an up-and-coming pizza magnate (and not the one most think of), Tom Monaghan. These players helped define an era in Tigers baseball that captivated not only a city, but a region. Who can forget “Tiger Town” starring Roy Scheider? Or the 35-5 start in 1984? Gibby vs. Goose in the ’84 series?

These were our heroes. Some went on to bigger and better things with other teams; Jack Morris pitching one of the greatest World Series games ever for the Minnesota Twins; Kirk Gibson hitting one of the most famous home runs in history off Dave Eckersley. Others just left; Parrish signing with the Phillies in 1987 and eventually playing for the Angels, Pirates, Indians, Mariners and Blue Jays; Tommy Brookens playing for the Yankees and Indians; even Aurelio Lopez, a man so beloved he is still better known in these parts by his nickname, “Senor Smoke”, nearly 17 years after his tragic death, finished out his career in Houston.

Nearly 25 years later, I still love reliving those memories, as pure and vivid as the day they took place. “Bless You Boys” and Al Ackerman; Ernie Harwell; George Kell and Al Kaline on WDIV, Channel 4; a Saturday doubleheader; Milt Wilcox flirting with a perfect game against the White Sox in 1983, falling one out short, and Jack Morris pitching a no-hitter less than a year later against those same White Sox; Chet Lemon and his nightly highlight reel catches; Tram and Lou, perhaps the greatest double play combo ever.

So, where did your love of the Tigers start?

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