OPENING DAY – DAD’S HURDLE

By:  Kurt Snyder

“You can’t win ‘em all if you don’t win the first one.”

Dad said it every year; whether the Tigers started the season on the road or at home. Winning that first game was always special, but never more special than winning at home, at “The Corner.”

Opening Day in Detroit was magical, but even more considering they played in such an incredibly iconic ballpark. I haven’t attended an opener at Comerica Park. I haven’t had the desire to go. The “new stadium,” now 15 years old, doesn’t bring the same emotion, I have no passion for it. But we were so intimately connected with Tiger Stadium throughout Dad’s career running the place, that I guess it’s hard to establish the same feelings, the same vibe. In fact it’s impossible.

But Opening Day still, even today, is like a gift that keeps on giving. It brings back all the great memories and they always make me smile. Every year, Opening Day brings it all back for me. I grew up at Tiger Stadium.

I feel baseball, more than any other sport, is a sport rooted in families where dads (and moms) cherish the times they get to spend with their kids at the ballpark. They remember those times spent with their family, plays made by a favorite player, a game winning home run or maybe even a ball caught in the stands by one of their sons or daughters.

So can you imagine a childhood and early adult life where baseball games at Tiger Stadium were not just memorable events in your life, but an actual life of its own? That’s what it was for me, my three brothers, my Mom, my Dad.

On the day of the home opener, we would be sure to arrive early, and like always, we pulled into the stadium lot where Dad parked and where all the Tiger players parked. That’s right, the players!

The incredible experience continued as we walked through the turnstiles. And within seconds the pure ambiance of the place grabbed a hold of you. Rich history has a way of doing that, and history emanated from Tiger Stadium.

First, the smell of the hot dogs hit you in the face, those wonderful Ball Park Franks. I have never tasted a dog like that since the Tigers left there. Sure, Ball Park Franks still exist, but what made them smell so great? What made them taste so much better at Tiger Stadium? Boiled or grilled, it didn’t matter; same great taste, same great smell.

Everything seemed so much more enhanced on Opening Day. Maybe it was because baseball season was finally here again. Maybe it was the hope of a new team. Maybe it just signified the end of another long winter and finally after 6 long months, walking into that place seemed to make everything right with the world again.

Tiger Stadium seasoned the air with baseball, and what a wonderful smell it was.

As we continued our walk through the concourse, Mom and I would weave through the throngs of people and make our way to Dad’s office, mainly just to keep warm until the game started.  It seemed like it was always cold that day.

Invariably Dad was not there when we came in. He would be doing one last walk around before show time. It was a big job. And everything was magnified on Opening Day.

Just before game time, we would head to our seats, Dad’s box, straight back from the Tigers’ on deck circle between home and third. Six seats, the first 2 rows behind the aisle. We were home again.

After the players were introduced and we prepared for the National Anthem, Dad would arrive. He always dressed so nice, sharp suit and tie, and overcoat, ready for the game to begin and the second part of his business day. He would kiss my mom, shake my hand and we would stand for the Anthem.

My dad, the veteran, would stand with his back so straight, right hand over his heart, respecting the flag and our country. I would watch him, so proud, so respectful of a man who I knew had a lot of responsibility and so much on his mind. But there was no place he would rather be. And there was no place we would rather be. With him. It was Opening Day. Another job well done.