May 2, 2009–Comerica Park, Detroit, MI. The Detroit Tigers are taking on the Cleveland Indians in the middle game of a three-game set, having dropped the opener last night and hoping to get back to .500 with a win today. It’s Saturday, partly cloudy and sixty-three degrees at game time, a perfect day for a ballgame. If you’re watching on the tube, that’s me, in the straw hat, fifteen rows up behind the home team’s dugout. I can look over the shoulders of right-handed hitters and follow the foul line all the way into the right field corner, 330 feet away from home plate.
Shortly before the first pitch, a young man seats himself to my left; to his left sits his girl. I quickly learn from him that they’ve come down from a small town just north of Lansing to celebrate his twenty-fourth birthday. Tickets to this afternoon’s ballgame (“The best seats I’ve ever had,” the kid tells me) and to Sunday’s hockey playoff game (Wings against the Ducks) are courtesy of his girlfriend. He also volunteers that they’re staying overnight in a hotel in Novi. I nod politely and tell the kid that it seems as if his girl is a keeper. He tells me, “Yeah, that’s what everyone keeps telling me,” and I deduce that, sadly, she is more into him than he is her. He then launches into a brief exposition of what a great game baseball is, filled with subtle nuances, the situation constantly changing. I nod, not just because it is the polite thing to do. A real chatterbox, this kid; I hope that once the game starts he’ll be less chatty.
Zach Miner goes into his windup and sends his first pitch: I hear the sound of the ball hit Gerald Laird’s mitt and the umpire’s declaration–“Striiike!” The kid next to me leaps to his feet, fist pounding the air, to declare, “Yeah!” I wonder if by game’s end he will have a voice left.
The first three and a half innings unfold as a pitchers’ duel, scoreless, the type of game that suits my purist love for this grand old game. Miner’s sinker is flawless, inducing a number of ground ball outs. The kid beside me is growing restless. He wants to see some action. This isn’t just the result of youthful exuberance; he’s just finished his third six-dollar beer. Thankfully, for his girl, this isn’t part of the birthday celebration package. The drinks for this day are on his coin, so I’d learned during the second inning when he flagged down the beer vendor, asking him, “What kind of beer have you got?” “The kind with hops,” I suggested. The vendor, as well as the two guys in the row behind ours–also from out of town on this, their first visit to the Copa (I’d asked them, between innings, whether they’d also purchased the empty seat between them to keep their distance)–laugh. “How many hops?” the kid asked, not wanting to feel left out. “Bud Lite,” the vendor told him. Bud Lite gives me a headache, so I’d opted for a glass of twelve-year-old Glenlivet, along with a cigar in the Camacho Cigar Lounge prior to the game. I briefly considered the eighteen-year-old, but at a dollar a year, the price was too steep for my budget. I watched the second period of the Penguins and Capitals playoff game behind the bar and befriended a couple with season tickets who live in the city. The husband was nearly as curmudgeonly as I, but I had ten years on him. We shared a couple baseball stories and he informed me, disgustingly, that a season ticket at the new Yankee Stadium comparable to his at Comerica Park would cost him four times what he pays for his. “Yeah,” I told him. “Someone’s got to pay for George’s billion-and-a-half park.”
Back to the second inning, the bucks-for-brew transaction was completed, but not before the vendor checked the kid’s ID. The vendor handed back the ID and asked the kid if he was aware that it will expire in two days. “Yeah,” he said. After the vendor departed, the kid explained to me that he’d thought he was getting a new license along with the plate tab he’d renewed last month. He realized his error when the tab arrived sans the license. “They told me it could take three weeks to get my new license, so I’ll have to be careful next week. But I’m not worried. I haven’t had a ticket in two years,” he declared proudly. “Be careful,” I told him, adding, “Murphy’s Law.” “Who?” he asked, blinking. “Things happen when you least expect them.” “Oh. Yeah,” he said.
The Tigers erupt for five runs in the bottom of the fourth frame, four on a grand slam by, of all people, Adam Everett, our diminutive shortstop, acquired from the Twins just before the start of the season. It’s his first round-tripper of the year, and I’m guessing the first slam of his career. It is a Gary Sheffield type of homerun: a low liner that doesn’t clear the fence in left by much, but it gets out in a hurry. The kid to my left is ready to celebrate a Tigers win and promptly orders another Bud Lite from a passing vendor. The kid’s speech is becoming slightly slurred and his comments are peppered with obscenities. I lean over to whisper that he watch his language, in deference to the young children in the row in front of us and in the seats to my right. “What?” he grunts. “Oh, yeah. Sorry.” His girl, who I haven’t heard utter a word thus far, doesn’t seem as into him as I’d initially thought, and instead seems somewhat embarrassed; indeed, the only evidence they are a couple are those occasions when he rests his hand on her knee.
The Indians counter with five of their own runs in the top of the fifth, all resulting from a ball Ryan Raburn misplays in left field, although no error is scored on the play. The kid to my left is beside himself, berating Jim Leyland for not starting Josh Anderson in left field, and is among those who boo Raburn when he comes to the plate in the sixth inning. That Raburn’s batting average is a series of three bagels doesn’t help matters much. But Raburn manages to bunt his way on while moving a runner into scoring position and the Tigers eventually go ahead again by a run.
In the top of the sixth, Leyland had sent Brandon Lyon to the mound to replace Miner, sending my seat mate into a tirade. “I hate Lyon,” he exclaimed. “He should send Bobby Seay to the mound–he’s been the best pitcher out of the pen all year.” “Lyon has been shaky at times,” I said. “But he’s looked good at times, too.” “I promise you he’ll give up a homerun,” the kid said. Lyon pitches a scoreless sixth inning. The kid looked across me to the seats to my right, which had been empty the last inning or two. “What happened to your family?” he asked me. I had no idea whether he thought the woman was my wife, the kids mine, or that they were my daughter and grandkids, but I told him that they were of no relation to me and it was my guess that Mom took the kids for a ride on the carousel. I hoped she hadn’t departed early the result of the kid’s language. Fortunately, they returned for the final two frames.
After the Tigers retake the lead in the bottom of the sixth, the kid departs for the third time for the loo, and I’m reminded of the wisdom of one Archie Bunker: “You can’t buy beer, you can only rent it.” When the kid returns, the Tribe is rallying for two runs and the kid launches a verbal attack of Lyon. “That’s not Lyon out there,” I tell him when he finishes. “It’s your boy, Bobby Seay.” “Oh,” is all the kid manages to slur. Zumaya comes in to mop up the seventh and pitches a scoreless eighth.
The Tigers retake the lead with three runs in their half of the eighth, two on a majestic Curtis Granderson homerun to right, another on a bases loaded walk to Raburn. “Why would any pitcher throw inside to Granderson?” the kid asks me. “Because he can hit with power to left field, too,” I tell him. “Well he doesn’t hit many that way,” he says. I refrain from telling him that’s because most pitchers continue to bust him inside.
Fernando Rodney comes in to pitch the ninth, taking a page from the Todd Jones book on closing: putting runners at the corners before striking out Peralta, securing the win for Zumaya.
All in all, it was an entertaining outing for me, and not just for what happened on the field.