Back in March when I was down at Lakeland covering the Tigers, I thought this team had a chance to be decent. Sure, they had two of the best players in the league on their team, but with so many question marks, I was hesitant think it was a playoff team.
I learned. I was a Tiger fan.
Born in December of 1986, the only time in my life the Tigers had won the division, I had no motor skills. My first memories of the Tigers were watching Cecil Fielder play and being confused why a guy whose last name was Fielder wasn't an outfielder.
For most of my life, they were bad. Historically bad, bad in ways few teams have been. They broke my heart when they left Tiger Stadium and managed to be even worse at Comerica Park.
Then out of nowhere 2006 came. Sure, the Wings and Pistons had won before, but the Tigers were my team. I went to every playoff game save one. It was a special year for sure, but it was more special in how it was so unexpected.
Entering this season, '06 seemed decades away. The 2007 team was a massive disappointment. So was 2008, 2009 and 2010. I saw no reason this year would be different.
But something happened. This year just feels different. Every chance for things to go horribly wrong came and went with things somehow even improving. Alex Avila, a guy I stood in front of his locker interviewing for this paper in March who is about my height and few months older than me, turned into the best catcher in baseball. And Jhonny Peralta, disgusting facial hair and all, is the best shortstop in the American League. Jose Valverde danced his way to a season-long perfect save streak. Some guy actually named Doug Fister turned into Doyle Alexander.
During the 12-game win streak it got to the point I didn't think they'd ever lose again. My mom, who has had multiple surgeries on her thumbs, making it difficult for her to text, sent me play-by-plays of games I had to miss parts of. I'll always love 2006, but this year is different. It's not a miracle team just years removed from the lowest of lows (those are the Lions this year). This team is good. Not just in a Detroit sports homer kind of good; good like they might be the best team in baseball.
When people look back on this year, it'll be known as The Summer of Justin Verlander, the same way 1968 was with Denny McClain or 1976 was with Mark Fidrych. Every time Verlander took the mound, everyone was aware when he gave up his first hit – if he did at all. This might be the most dominating season from a Detroit athlete ever. There's a different feel in the air when he's pitching, everything stops and it becomes the most important thing going on.
This summer I was getting my haircut in Troy and I spotted Verlander getting a trim at the same time. This was the most terrifying moment all year for me. All I could think about was what would happen if the he accidentally took a scissor to the ear. This wasn't a crazy thought. This is what a fan of a playoff team worries about.
Everyone in Detroit knows Verlander is the MVP. But while the awards are great, the playoffs actually matter. In 2006 at Game Two of the World Series I remember wondering when I'd get another chance to see the Tigers in the World Series.
I might be crazy. But I have a feeling about this year. | RDW