Before I get into this, I want to apologize for the fact I haven’t I had a column in three weeks. I know all 15 of you are disappointed and hungry for another column from a college junior, and I feel bad for making you wait.
But I have an excuse.
The stresses of college homework, exams, papers, mixed in with sleeping, eating and more sleeping were all keeping me busy over the last three weeks. Okay, that was only a small part of it. The real reason was the MLB Playoffs, but more importantly, it was the Detroit Tigers’ playoffs.
On January 24th of this year, I was walking to Philosophy 120, my last class of the day, looking forward to it ending so I could go back to the dorms and relax. As usual, I wasn’t paying attention to where I was walking and was instead glued to my phone, more specifically twitter. As I was scrolling through I saw a couple of my friends tweet at me, congratulating me on the big news.
Although I had eaten a Chipotle Burrito in seven minutes a few hours earlier, no one was with me to witness it, so I new that wasn’t the big news everyone was talking about. Then I saw it from SportsCenter: Prince Fielder had signed with the Tigers for $214 million over nine years. I saw tweets from Indians fans saying they were worried about the division race. I wasn’t worried. I was pumped.
I tweeted “YES” in all caps and threw in anywhere from 10 to 30 exclamation points after it. Detroit, who had fallen to Texas in the ALCS the year before, was going to win it all. I just knew it.
Sure enough, you know the story by now. The Tigers, whom most predicted would win the AL Central by 15 games, trailed the White Sox for most of the season. Thanks to a hot streak over the last two weeks and an even colder one from Chicago in the same span, the Tigers clinched the division title with two games to play, appearing in their second straight postseason.
They won their first two against the A’s, a team everybody seemed to be pulling for, in Detroit, taking a commanding lead in the best-of-five series. They lost game 3, and in Game 4, had a two run lead in the ninth, but Jose Valverde blew a save as the A’s forced game 5 in a matter of five minutes. In game 5, Justin Verlander struck out 11 Oakland batters and sent the Tigers back to the ALCS, this time against the Yankees.
New York was no match for Detroit’s pitching staff as the Tigers swept the pinstripes for their second World Series appearance in seven years. I was excited. Okay, the season didn’t go quite the way I had pictured it, but nonetheless, my team had a shot at a World Series, something I had never seen before. (Detroit’s last World Series victory was in 1984.)
The big issue, like 2006, was all the days off the Tigers were getting because of the four game sweep. Meanwhile, San Francisco couldn’t have played it any better, going down 3-1 to St. Louis only to storm back with three straight victories and going to their second World Series in three years. They obviously didn’t do this on purpose to stay hot, but I like thinking that’s what happened because it helps me sleep at night.
The Giants swept the Tigers, and as Miguel Cabrera froze on Sergio Romo’s fastball right down the middle, I froze as well. I just stared at the television as the Giants players stared celebrating, hearing Joe Buck’s voice in the background, but not listening to what he was saying. I knew what he was saying.
I had never watched the Tigers as much as I did this year. Usually I’m in Pittsburgh for most of the baseball season, which means I don’t get Tigers games. This year, with the help of my roommate and his MLBTV on his Play Station, I was able to follow all of the Tigers games. And for most of the season, I really didn’t know if Detroit would even make the playoffs. But I kept watching. This was the first time I had really felt like a die-hard Tigers fan. I always cheered for them, but how much head-shaking or celebrating can you really do reading a score from the bottom of the SportsCenter ticker?
When they lost in 2006, I was disappointed, but I was younger. I only watched them in the playoffs and somehow shook off the loss easier. This time I really wanted it. I wanted the championship hoodies, the shirts and the bragging rights over all the Indians and Reds fans in Athens. I wanted it for Jim Leyland, the loveable 67 year old skipper who smokes like a chimney, mumbles when he talks, but knows the game as much as anyone.
I wanted it for Miguel Cabrera, who won the Triple Crown, will most likely win the MVP, and a guy who deserves more than just one ring. I wanted it for Prince Fielder, a guy who got so close to winning in Milwaukee but didn’t, but could win it for the team his dad played for when he was a kid. I wanted it for the pitchers and the fielders (not Prince’s family). I really wanted this.
It didn’t happen though, and that’s what sports does to you. It gives you that painful reminder that your team has such a small shot at leaving you satisfied at the end of the season that you’re better off expecting disappointment. And when you finally win, then you can celebrate. When the umpire called strike three on Miggy, I got that painful reminder.
I tried looking at the positives. I wasn’t a Cleveland or Buffalo fan, cities that have suffered in multiple sports for decades. I also realized the Tigers would be back. They still have most of their team, and are only getting rid of players that weren’t good anyway. Maybe I could get by this offseason.
But then I looked at the negatives, I wasn’t a New York or Boston fan, cities that seem to find championships everywhere they look. I also thought about the Tigers in a negative way. Detroit clinched the division on the third-to-last day of the season. It’s not easy going to the playoffs. What if they don’t make it?
Again, that’s what sports do. They make you think about what could’ve been, and make you think that there are fans that are worse off. That’s what we as fans sign up for. We try to find a getaway from all that’s happening in the world, forget about the stresses of homework, jobs, or trying to digest the burrito you just consumed in a rapid amount of time and watch these super-human people perform at what they do best. We know as fans the chances of our team winning it all are small, and even some fans know before the first game starts that they’re out of the race. But we keep coming back. One day, our team will win. (Yes Cubs fans, I’m talking to you guys too.) That’s what makes us sports fans. We’ll always believe.
That’s what I had to remind myself. When my dad texted me apologizing about the series the following morning, I told him there was always next year. “Spoken like a true sports fan,” he texted. That’s what I was, like everyone else. Just being a sports fan, hoping that one season, one year, all of the waiting, disappointment and coming so close but still getting nothing, will be worth it.