NEW YORK -- “Hey, how am I gonna do today?” yells All-Star right fielder Magglio Ordonez across the Tiger locker room, about an hour before the first pitch of the 2011 season Thursday.
“Yeah you, how am I gonna do today?” repeats the Venezuelan slugger with a slight smile directed my way.
Wait a second here, is Ordonez (287 career home runs, 2072 career hits, lifetime batting average of .312) asking this rookie, just called up from the sandlots of Toledo, how he's going to play against the New York Yankees on opening day in Yankee Stadium?
I mean, he’s looking my way, but there’s got to be somebody more legit directly behind me. I’m just in the way.
Quickly, I glance behind my shoulder, in the least lame way possible, to see if there’s anyone else there. Nope, it’s just me and a wall. And now several Tiger players and members of the working press are staring at me too, waiting for some type of insight.
“Three for four with a double,” I predict, fairly proud of the fact that I strung together six reasonably coherent words.
“I like that. I like that a lot,” replies Ordonez, who then proceeds to go hitless on the day. Hey, I’m an optimist, not a journalist.
A year ago, I was probably following the Tigers opening day game like most fans, on my office computer, hitting refresh on the Yahoo! in-game box score every five minutes.
This season, I’ve got a little different view.
People have always told me to keep a journal, but I never have . . . until about 11:15 AM Thursday. So without further ado, here is my Tigers at Yankees Opening Day Journal, live (almost) from the Bronx:
11:22 AM: Tigers first-base coach Tom Brookens meanders over to Austin Jackson’s locker in the clubhouse to discuss, at great depths, the pick-off move to first base of Yankees ace CC Sabathia. Jackson, the speedy lead off hitter, is told after intricate analysis that, in essence, CC has no pick-off move to first base. That was easy.
11:44 AM: Jackson, the aforementioned speedy one whom the Tigers count on for his fleetness of foot, has, what appears to this observer, to be a serious problem. He can’t find his game shoes. Starting outfielder Ryan Raburn suggests he should “play in his sandals.” Luckily, reserve outfielder and all around good guy Casper Wells offers up an extra pair to Jackson, size 12. Crisis averted.
11:46 AM: Wells, now down a pair of shoes, apparently feels the need to accessorize himself. He sets his sights on infielder Ramon Santiago’s quasi “do-rag,” a spandex head wrap with a hole on top. To this Bar Mitzvah boy, it resembles a reverse Yarmulke. Wells summons the equipment manager who supplies said “do rag.” Wells’ new look, however, gets uniformally poor reviews from his teammates and Tiger staff. It is quickly abandoned.
11:58 AM: Miguel Cabrera, the Tigers’ best player, is also the loosest Tiger in the clubhouse. I’m sure his propensity for Scotch has nothing to do with this. Will Rhymes, the feisty Tiger second baseman making his first opening day start, appears to be most tightly wound Tiger. And also the smallest…by far. Perhaps sensing these traits, Cabrera strolls by Rhymes, slaps him with a towel, and bellows “chiquito!” According to the urban dictionary "chiquito" means “Spanish for a kid in elementary school who is shorter than the rest of his class.” Rhymes smiles politely, and nods in response.
12:51 PM: Somehow I’ve managed to slip out onto the field, and I’ve positioned myself about seven feet from home plate. This defies explanation and is against all laws of physics. The starting lineups are introduced, and while Pulitzer Prize winning photographers from the New York Times are using priceless equipment to snap shots of the players that will someday end up exhibited in a museums, I’m using my cell phone camera and immediately posting my pictures on my facebook page.
1:45 PM: My Dad, perhaps the finest Tiger fan of them all, places his third call to me since the first pitch forty minutes ago, and expresses his disappointment in the Tigers only scoring one run when they had the bases loaded, and nobody out, in the top half of the second.
1:46 PM: My Mom, perhaps the finest mother of them all, calls me for the third time since the game started, and expresses her disappointment that the jacket I’m wearing is not warm enough.
1:58 PM: The press box lunch beckons. Since we’re in New York City, the home of health food infatuated Mayor Michael Bloomberg , and his related healthy eating focused policies, I’m expecting a spread straight out of Lean Cuisine. Instead, here is a verbatim recitation of the menu: fried pickles, fried shrimp, onion rings, French fries, fried cheese sticks, macaroni and beef, hot dogs, bacon, sausage, cheese grits, loaded baked potatoes, and ice cream with all the toppings. I ask the chef what Bloomberg would do if confronted with these options. “Head to the salad bar?” meekly offers the cook, while pointing to a meager offering of wilted iceberg lettuce and untouched vinaigrette dressing, hidden behind the ice cream machine.
2:38 PM: Enough of the press box gluttony, I’m heading to the bleachers in right field to brave the elements with the real fans. I find the first guy I see wearing a Tiger hat amongst the sea of Yankee faithful, and plant myself next to him. His name is Joe Dughie, age 27, hailing from Kalamazoo. He’s about five beers in, proudly wearing a Tigers hat, and cheering loudly for the visitors (to the point where Yankee fans are saluting him with repetitive verses of the “A-hole” chant). When asked how he ended up in New York he says “my car broke down while I was driving to Georgia, so I needed a city with good public transportation.” My kind of guy.
3:44 PM: After watching a couple innings with good ole’ Joe, I make my way back to the relative safety of the press area. On the way though, I run across Ramon Acosta, 27, and his son Xavier, 2. The hard core Yankee fans are getting their picture taken in front of Mickey Mantle’s retired jersey. Ramon explains to me that his father, recently passed away, took him to twenty consecutive opening days at Yankee stadium, and that he's now passing on the tradition to his son. “I like to get the pictures with my boy and the jersey numbers, so when he’s older he can say his dad took him to opening day and taught him about the famous Yankees.” While I hate the Yankees to the core, and always will, what a perfect way to cap a perfect day.