On Friday night, 2 of my friends, one of my brothers, and I were among the 41,831 at Comerica Park to watch the Tigers get shellacked by the New York Yankees, 9-4. This story isn’t about the game itself, but of the unique interaction I was involved in with a few sets of fans. The bottom line is this: some of these Tigers fans are crazy!
The game started off normal enough. My brother Jason couldn’t close his office until 6 so we arrived in the 2nd inning just in time to see Casey Crosby serve up a grand slam to the still beloved Curtis Granderson. With CC Sabathia on the mound, the game’s final destination appeared clear.
We rolled on and had a blast all the same. My buddy Tank affectionately renamed Omir Santos “Omar”, Matt was hooting and hollering, urging the Tigers not to break a 6-year long streak of them having never lost when the 2 of us attend a game together. The streak includes Justin Verlander’s 2007 no-hitter and multiple playoff games. The streak is now dead. Or is it?
Since we were forced to arrive late to the game we feel that an asterisk must be placed next to the final score, Roger Maris-style.
So anyhow, the 7th inning rolls around and Luis Marte is pitching brilliantly in relief with the Yankees’ backup catcher Chris Snyder at the dish. And then it happens. Snyder pops a foul straight back. We’re 14 rows behind home plate. The balls lands abruptly on the shoulder of the lady in row 11 and bounces harmlessly into the mostly empty row 13.
35 years of my life have gone by. I have attended countless major league games and some minor league ones as well. I’ve watched games in Detroit, Indianapolis, Toronto, Cincy, Cleveland, the north and south sides of Chicago, Kansas City, St. Louis, both of the old New York stadiums, Pittsburgh, and Milwaukee. I have never caught a ball. I’ve only ever been close once.
Back in the mid 80’s I attended a game with my friend and his grandpa. We were about 30 rows up on the third base side. Kirk Gibson rifled a foul ball that hit my friend, sitting right next to me, in the arm and ricocheted up a few rows. I think we were about 8 years old and my friend instantly starts balling. So naturally the fan who ended up with the ball hands it back to the crying fan. I took note of this.
Oddly enough, Gibson’s mom was sitting in the next section over. She introduced herself, got the ball, and later had it signed by Gibby and mailed back to my friend. That was my one close encounter.
I figured that’s just the way it was going to be for me until my proximity radar went off as Snyder’s foul pop approached us. The ball landed on the floor of row 13. The lady to the left, the guy to the right, and me converged on the soon-to-be souvenir. I couldn’t see it but located it with my right index fingernail. I slowly clawed at it until I got a full grip on the ball, which was now in the lady’s mitt and partially in the other guy’s hand. 35 years of nothing ended now!
I ripped the ball out of the cluster and stood to celebrate my great victory. As I did the thing where you check out the ball like your firstborn was just handed to you, I quickly notice that the lady whose shoulder the ball had made impact with was beginning to cry. And her husband wanted me to know it.
He was asking for the ball, as was she. In typical fan fashion, others started to mount a similar request. So now I’m the jerk holding the ball while this lady is crying. How did this happen?
35 years of nothing were flashing before my eyes. Giving the ball to a bumbling adult with zero reaction time sitting next to her husband who couldn’t catch a beach ball was not on my list of acceptable pass-it-on people. A crying kid? That would work. Maybe even just a regular kid who might eventually suffer my fate of not ever getting a ball would also be worthy. But her? No.
And then it happened. In an unthinkable moment of compromise, the guy who always sticks to his guns, me, tossed her the ball. She gleefully accepted. A random fan in row 16 wasn’t pleased with my decision. She was sitting next to her husband and made it known that this lady couldn’t catch and I deserved to keep the ball. At that moment I appreciated her sideways offering of support.
About an inning passes and the regret of my decision is really starting to set in. Plans were in motion to free the baseball from its current owner. Jason was going to ask to see it really quick, fire it up the aisle to Matt who would exit the stadium like a 6’4’’ gazelle. Of course, we would never do that.
And the saga was just heating up. Right around that same time the husband of the lady I gave the ball to pops up to head to the concourse. As he’s walking by he attempts to hand me a $10 bill and thank me for the ball. I kindly refused his offer but he basically shoved the money at me and walked away. So now I have $10 for my death grip efforts in row 13.
Realizing how few supporters I have in the adjoining sections, I turn to the lady in row 16 to show her my reward. Holding the $10 bill in my left hand, I turn over my left shoulder and start to tell her “Look what I got for the ball.” Before I could even finish the short sentence she swipes the $10 bill from my hand like a New York City pocket picker.
Thinking that she was just joking and would quickly return the money I gave a “ha ha”, smiled and turned around. The money never came back. So now I’m down a baseball and a free $10. Who are these people that take $10 out of someone’s hand and treat it as a gift?
As happens every time I go somewhere with Matt, he happened to bump into someone he knows in our same section. In about the bottom of the 8th they came down and sat in the vacant row 15, between us and the keeper of my $10. The tragic series of events that had just transpired is passed on to Matt’s friend.
Being more brash than the rest of us he quickly turns around and says, “You took his $10?!” At that moment it became quite clear that they needed that money a lot more than I did. Her husband quickly piped up with, “No, No! He gave that to us.” All the while his wife is in total agreement and shaking her head at any notion of returning the money.
Fearing some type of unknown fallout I agreed that I had indeed handed some complete stranger a $10 bill for no reason whatsoever and once again turned my attention to the game.
The couple in row 11 with the ball might be sensing some group-wide disappointment now. They both get up and leave and then come back with the ultra-lame certificate seen in the photo, congratulating me for catching a ball at the park. I mustered up a smile and a thank you, waited for them to return to their seats, and proceeded to crumple it up and drop it into the cup holder.
Now I’m down a ball, $10, and a really dumb certificate. But things were looking up.
In the 9th inning Jason ran up the stairs to use the bathroom. He was gone for awhile and the game eventually ended. We all waited a minute and then went to the bathroom, and he was nowhere to be found. Parked close to the stadium we decided to retreat to the car. Jason wasn’t there either. So I called his cell phone, to which Tank promptly answered two feet away from me since Jason had left it in the ride.
We wait in the parking lot for about 5 more minutes and my brother finally returns holding something, opens up my door, and hands me 3rd base! Every 3 innings the Tigers swap out the bases and make them available for sale afterward.
I got the 3rd base from innings 1-3. The same one that Miguel Cabrera and Alex Rodriguez patrolled. The same base that Quintin Berry ended up on after a rip-shot triple to deep center off of CC Sabathia. The very same base that Granderson tapped on his way around the bases.
Thanks to some crazy fans, some great friends, and a brother’s love, I’d like to think that I came out on top on this night.
For 10 things you need to know about the Tigers, click here.