The Hall of Fame induction of Pudge Rodriguez this past week has kick-started more discussion on hot topics like PEDs and old Tiger greats who are still waiting for that call from the Hall.
Not since Al Kaline, has a Tiger been awarded that distinguished honor.
There was no discussion about his qualifications. Nothing to question. Nothing to discuss. Nothing to argue. Weaknesses in his game? You tell me. I don’t know of any. Great bat. Great glove. Unbelievable arm.
He was a special player. A hero. Money and numbers did not seem important to him. He simply loved to play the game. It was a simpler time indeed. No internet, less TV coverage, no ESPN. Free agency didn’t dominate the landscape. A much simpler time? You bet.
Knowing our readers, I would expect to hear some interesting stories from those who had the pleasure of watching Kaline play.
As for me, I have a story of my own – straight from the Ralph Snyder Archives.
My father’s Tiger Stadium management days afforded us an abundance of perks.
How lucky would you feel as a baseball purist if you were a parent of a Little Leaguer whose coach (my brother), had the ability to arrange a visit to the Tiger clubhouse, walk the tunnel to the dugout, ascend the steps and run out onto one of the most hallowed baseball diamonds in the history of the game?
My dad would do anything for his grandkids. And on that particular summer afternoon, while the Tigers were away on a road trip, he made his grandson feel like a hero. No Little League baseball team could ever experience a day like that, at such a special place.
Sure the opportunity to have Tiger Stadium to themselves was cool for the kids, but it was a jaw-dropping experience for the parents. Especially for one in particular.
He was one of many fathers attending that day. But this day meant more to him, it seemed. He felt uneasy about stepping onto the field and for several minutes would not leave the track that surrounded the playing field. It was sacred ground to him.
He left his son’s team behind and gingerly walked slowly towards the right field corner. Alone. Past the visitor’s dugout. Past the bullpen. And that’s where he stopped. And stared. Staring at the upper deck overhang. Staring at the right field corner as if he was replaying in his mind every game he had ever attended.
My brother, noticing his apprehension, walked out to where he was standing and motioned for him to walk with him out onto the right field grass. “Are you sure?” he said to my brother. “Of course!” was the response.
This is when the man spilled his guts. He talked about how he and his father attended so many games when he was younger, always fixing their eyes on right field where their favorite player held court for the Tigers.
As he scanned the field, the kids were running the bases. Others pretended to turn double plays. Moms had set up blankets in centerfield, preparing lunch for the team.
The man continued to describe what seemed like a dream sequence. Tears began to stream down his cheeks, making it hard for my brother to control his own emotions. He could see that he had provided a very special experience, one this man would never forget.
The dream continued. Al Kaline fielded a ball off the wall and delivered a frozen rope to third base, gunning out a runner by a country mile. Frozen rope. It’s the only way he could describe a Kaline throw.
Baseball was truly a religious experience for him. He treated the Tiger Stadium field as if he had entered the Vatican. You could see it in his eyes.
He was the perfect example of a simpler time. Fans were more passionate. The game was center stage. Not just a reason for a night out. Not just a place to hang out. There was only the game. Going to the ballpark meant watching baseball. Imagine that! It meant enjoying a hot dog and a beer while you watched.
It was about family. Relationships were strengthened at the ballpark. Memories were made. And it was all about heroes. Like Mickey Lolich and Norm Cash and Willie Horton. And Al Kaline.
But the real heroes were those fathers. Those mothers. Parents who provided those memories for their kids. Memories that would someday bring tears to their eyes.
Frozen ropes. Frozen in time.
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