Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Ben Konop

Keeping faith in the Tigers

NEW YORK — Fanhood is an act of faith. These days, in fact, it’s probably our most public expression of a belief in something bigger than ourselves.

The requisite elements are all there. Our houses of worship — old Tiger Stadium comes to mind — majestically, if not perfectly, offer us a collective sanctuary to find solace in a topsy-turvy world.

As fans we confront evil, masquerading in Yankee pinstripes of course, that we must overcome, no matter how daunting the odds.

There are rituals to calm the turbulent soul, like watching a game in our sacred chair in the basement, our rally caps on, wearing our lucky boxers, the volume muted on the TV, with Journey’s Greatest Hits blasting in its place for good luck (I can’t be the only one who does that, right?).

 We strive to practice forgiveness after Ryan Raburn drops yet another fly ball in left field. Confession time: I came up a little short in this category yesterday after Raburn, in the third inning, committed a patented flub.

The baseball high priests, sometimes speaking in tongues like Sparky Anderson, guide the flocks, while we fans consult our sacred texts daily on the sports pages, hoping to find the truth hidden in the lines of the box scores.

Everything we watch has its season, which I was reminded of as Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, now 37, couldn’t quite get to ground balls at shortstop that a decade ago would have found a comfortable resting place in the heart of his glove.

False idols rise and fall (can anyone say Barry Bonds?). And, of course, we fend off temptation in the concession line as another funnel cake calls our name.

Our faith as fans is tested inning by inning, by every hanging curve ball, booted grounder, and called third strike.

But we persevere, as the thought of salvation shines off in the faint distance. For Tiger fans our beacons of bliss remain the championships of ’35, ’45, ’68, and ’84. Years the initiated can recite like the beatitudes.

For the last three weeks, I’ve been in fan nirvana, hanging out with the Detroit Tigers as they made their way from the Grapefruit Leagues of Lakeland, Fla., to the big leagues in the Bronx.

On my last day of bliss, I was treated to a slugfest, and the Tigers’ first win of the 2011 season. With a brisk breeze blowing out to seemingly all fields at once in Yankee stadium, a New York crowd growing surlier by the inning was forced to witness Detroit click on several cylinders.

Miguel Cabrera, the Tigers’ slugging man-child of a first baseman, saw his first two at-bats end nicely, with leisurely trots around the bases after consecutive line drive homers to left.

Brennan Boesch, last year’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (he looked like Ted Williams in the first half of the season and Mario Mendoza in the second), was perfect at the plate, notching a majestic homer in the fifth that staked the Tigers to a three-run lead.

Austin Jackson, perhaps not a born leadoff hitter, but absolutely a born center fielder, made two of the sweetest catches you’ll ever see, in the seventh and eighth innings, to thwart Yankee rallies.

And the back end of the Tiger bullpen, maybe, just maybe, the piece of the puzzle that will lift Detroit out of mediocrity and into contention in October, was lights out in preserving the 10-7 victory.

As I spent my final minutes in the Tigers locker room — kind of a Garden of Eden for a longtime fan previously denied access — I was waiting for a piece of insight or an observation that would hit me like a lighting bolt. It didn’t come.

But with all true articles of faith, in whatever areas of life we choose to have them, it’s not necessarily about being hit over the head with eureka moments, but rather a long, slow, often tumultuous march, that is rewarded gradually over time.

There are highs and lows, and the moments of bliss are surely outweighed by moments of disappointment. But we keep the faith. And that’s what counts.

I’m happy to report that after being as close as you can ever get to the action, without actually suiting up, my faith in the game of baseball, and the Tigers of Detroit, is stronger than ever. And if it doesn’t get rewarded this year, or the next, or the next, I’m going to keep believing.

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