Heaven At Tiger Stadium
My dad worked a lot as we were growing up. He grew up during the depression when people couldn’t find a job. For years he worked the swing shift. It meant he switched from 7-3, to 3-11, and finally from 11-7. He was the sole provider for our family and I think he had a deep fear of not being able to be that. He was probably the first guy on the list the bosses called when they needed someone to work overtime. Sometimes over the objections of my mom he would be awaken by the phone and she would hear him say “yes, I’ll come in.” When my friends came over and we played outside we had to be careful not to make much noise. It was understood when dad was home he needed his sleep no matter what time that might be. Maybe because he wasn’t always around, when he was it was precious. Especially so when he made plans to do something with me one day!
When my dad told me he was going to get tickets and we were going to Detroit to watch the Tigers play in person back in 1965 I didn’t know what to expect. I’m sure he saw my love for the game as an eight year old even though my only exposure was the TV and radio broadcasts. I had sat watching Tiger games with him by the hour and asked him question after question. Dad went down to WKZO, our local radio station. Back then you could pick up Tiger tickets there. He bought tickets for a Sunday afternoon doubleheader against the Chicago White Sox on July 25, 1965 and I waited patiently for the days to pass.
My first memory of baseball was the 1964 World Series. The Cardinals were playing the Yankees. My mom and I were rooting for the Yankees and my sister and dad were rooting for the Cardinals. It was in color on our new colored TV and we all sat there and watched the game. This memory was from one of the earlier games. The series went the whole seven games. I remember watching the seventh game by myself. The World Series was played in the daytime back then. The rest of my family was occupied with other important things in life. I watched the Yankees get far behind. In the last inning they gave me hope with back to back home runs. Then Bobby Richardson hit a high pop up to second base and it was all over. The Yankees had lost 7-5. I sat there as the Cardinals celebrated in a swarm by the pitchers mound. I was so disappointed that the Yankees lost.
After 1964 I had become a Tiger fan! I think it came from exposure. Some of the Tiger’s games were on TV and all of them were on the radio! My 6th grade teacher Mr. Meyle told us that if we conducted ourselves properly in the morning that we could watch the World Series that afternoon! It was 1968 and the Detroit Tigers were in it! Of course being from Michigan we were rooting for our home team! It had been 23 years since the Tigers had been in the World Series. It was a first in our lifetimes! We must have conducted ourselves well because just before game time a big black and white TV was wheeled in on a tall TV stand. The room was in an uproar whenever the Tigers did something good! The Tigers won that day and evened the series at one game apiece. We thought letting us watch the game was the greatest thing a teacher ever did for us and we were all in heaven! Let’s say it was a taste of heaven, not to be confused with the sights and sounds of the real thing three years earlier.
If we were going somewhere dad wanted to get there early. At about 8:30 right after breakfast we were on the road to Detroit. It is at most a three hour trip maybe two and a half. We got to Detroit probably a little after 11. We were way too early to go to the game so dad had a thought. He decided that we could go over the bridge and visit Canada. We hung around Windsor for a while stopping at a food place for lunch. We also killed time by visiting a retail store. We went back over the bridge to Detroit in hopes of making the game in time. Unfortunately we got turned around. Detroit is a big place with plenty of traffic and if you don’t know exactly where you are going you can be swept in the traffic flow. After circling the city two or three times we finally stopped at a filling station and asked for directions. The man who gave us directions was a friendly black man. I think it was the first time I ever saw anyone in person with skin a different color than my own. To show you how different and trusting the times were the man and my dad made a friendly one dollar bet on the games. They agreed that after the games dad would stop and fill up the tank and settle the bet then.
We drove around the stadium and found someone waving us into a parking spot. People would make money using their lawns as a parking lot on game days. We parked and walked down the road to the largest place I had ever seen! After going through the turnstile we had to walk and walk to get to gate number 225 where our seats were. Entering the gate the first thing I noticed was green. The grass was the greenest grass I had ever seen and the fences and seats in the ball park were all green. We made our way to our seats which were wooden seats that you unfolded before you sat down.
By the time we settled in our seats it was the third inning. The White Sox were in the field. Unlike the uniforms I would have pictured them in, their uniforms were actually a light baby blue. It was their road uniform color that year. The Tigers uniforms were as white as I have ever seen and had that English D on the jersey and their number and names on the back. Our seats were in the lower deck between first base and home plate. They were good box seats and the view was magnificent! I knew the players by name and number but it was so much different seeing my heroes in the flesh. Dad bought me a Tiger Yearbook with Bill Freehan the star catcher on the cover. It was a beautiful book and seemed to glisten in the sun. He also bought me a Tiger hat to wear! When he saw me looking through the yearbook as the game was going on he reminded me that I could look at the book anytime. Sitting there watching the game in the bright sunshine with my loving dad next to me was like heaven. Everything was so new and it made every little thing deeply interesting! The crack of the bats and the pop of the mitts. With every little thing I was seeing I loved the game even more if that were possible!
As much as I was yelling for the Tiger players there was a kid probably about my age who was yelling two rows behind me. He was cheering for the White Sox. When a White Sox player came to bat be it Pete Ward or Moose Skowron his voice would pop up “Cmon Pete, Cmon Moose.” It surprised me that there was actually someone cheering for the White Sox there in our Tiger Stadium! The White Sox had a big inning in which I think they scored seven or eight runs. The Tigers just couldn’t get them out! They ended up winning the first game 10-6.
We waited the fifteen or twenty minutes between games. The only entertainment was watching the grounds crew raking and watering the field.
Still even that was so new to me that it was an experience. Someone behind me said that Al Kaline wasn’t in the lineup for the next game. I couldn’t understand why my favorite player couldn’t play every game! The second game went the Tigers way early as they hit four home runs I think. Two of them were by Norm Cash and it was thrilling hearing the crack and watching the ball sail into the upper right field deck! The Tigers ended up winning 13-2 and rookie Denny McLain who would win 31 games three years later got the win. After the game we stopped back at the filling station where it was decided the bet ended in a tie with each team winning a game.
Over the years I went to a few more Tiger games at Tiger Stadium. In 1968 my baseball team went to a game together. I remember we sat out in the upper deck in left field and stood on the seats yelling for Willie Horton to throw us a ball. Willie the left fielder was throwing balls to the fans that day during batting practice. Unfortunately none came our way. Through the years I got two souvenir baseballs from batting practice I still have. None of the other visits came close to the magic I felt that first time. We took my son to one of the last games at the stadium in 1999 when he was nine. Maybe the timing was just right in my case, because I don’t think he had quite the experience that I did.
I don’t know exactly what heaven will be like, but sometimes I think God gives us a glimpse in our lifetime. Like the taste of baseball heaven we got when the black and white TV was played in our classroom, my experience that day at eight was like a small taste of the real heaven. Nothing was old that day as I enjoyed the sites in wonderment! The sun was shining bright and there wasn’t a care in the world as I sat by my loving father. My dad was wonderful that day! He did everything in his power to make my experience even more enjoyable! I can’t even imagine what heaven will be like when everything is always new and astonishing forever and ever. As far as I can tell though it will be like the first glimpse of a child at eight of a beautiful green field and the bright white uniforms of heroes playing a game that I loved so much! Looking back the real hero was my dad who loved me so much that he made my heavenly experience possible!