IT MAY not last long, but the Detroit Tigers' early embrace of first place in the American League's Central Division this week is a source of wonderment and hope among the team's long-suffering fans.
For even the most devoted Tigers followers, though, the excitement is tempered with an extreme sense of caution. The last time the Tigers were in first place this late in the season was in 1993. Thirteen years is practically an eternity in sports, so it is a milestone that challenges the memory of older fans and predates the birth of some of the youngest.
The occasion prompted one Detroit sports writer to point out that the price of gasoline back then was just $1.16 a gallon and that Joel Zumaya, now the Tigers' 100-mph relief pitcher, was in elementary school.
Yes, and Ernie Harwell, a young 75 at the time, was back broadcasting the games in Tiger Stadium after his unfortunate two-year exile.
The view from Toledo is especially bright since at least four players in the Tigers' starting lineup come from the Mud Hens.
Fans of the farm team, which isn't quite matching the parent club's record this year, wax nostalgically for the likes of Curtis Granderson, Chris Shelton, Craig Monroe, and Brandon Inge, along with young arms such as Zumaya and Nate Robertson.
Toledoans who cheer for the Tigers have especially welcomed the steadying influence this season of manager Jim Leyland, who makes his home in Perrysburg.
For anyone who might already be looking ahead to the World Series, the veteran manager's view is instructive.
After his team climbed into a division tie with the Chicago White Sox, both with the best records in baseball, Leyland pointed out that success after just 38 games means little.
"If we're in first place after the last game of the season, it would mean a whole heck of a lot to me," he said, "but not right now."
Still, hope springs eternal in the spring, and "How about those Tigers?" is an optimistic greeting among team aficionados. Will it hold?