It’s way, way early but Tiger season looking up
“We’re going to reestablish ourselves as a winning franchise and develop a winning culture. If you want to be a part of it then you’ll come. If you don’t then we’ll beat you.”- Tiger manager A.J. Hinch
By Ken DeLaat
Granted I was feeling a little elated after that stirring Opening Day come-from-behind victory the Tigers hammered out. With the above photo added to a social media post declaring “Undefeated!” it didn’t take long for the word to become obsolete when they fell short in the second game of the series against the White Sox who are the presumptive choice to win the AL Central. I’m writing this on Saturday so given the way baseball goes it's not unlikely they could drop Sunday’s series finale as well.
But I’m an optimist when it comes to this team and Saturday’s loss was nothing more than more evidence to this aging fan’s eyes that this team is going to be fun to watch and will win their share of games. In the loss they scraped, clawed and grinded away at the Sox as they did in the comeback win. A couple things went against them and in a few situations they failed to get the key hit but they were in this one until the end.
Also they have awakened the best fanbase in sports as the stadium, while not as packed as the previous day, had a huge crowd for a frigid day for baseball. Fans that were getting into the game in a way not seen at 2100 Woodward Ave in quite a few years.
It’s a long season to be sure and while the chances of getting off to a 35-5 start ala the epic ‘84 team range from improbable to ‘are you kidding?’ this is a team that will win their share of games before all is said and done.
Last season the Tig’s took their first 2 games and I joked about them being in first place with a magic number of 161. They didn’t seem to be terrible but truthfully there wasn’t a lot to get excited about other than the emergence of Akil Badoo.
Then they followed up that modest 2 game streak to start the season by winning just 7 times in the next 31 games. This exercise in futility included a 4 game losing streak, two 5 game skids and even a 6 game run of losses without a win. In one of those games they gave up 15 runs.
The throwers getting hammered that day were Jose Urena, Buck Farmer, Derek Holland and Bryan Garcia (minors).
None of them are currently on the team. In fact utility player Harold Castro finished the game tossing a scoreless inning, mind you.
This is a team that was built to not just compete but to win. They spent some money to bring in some quality players and are beginning to enjoy the riches of what has been a robust minor league system. Even without the phenom in waiting Riley Greene (injury, out for a month or two) they pose a frightening lineup of hitters and adding Austin Meadows in a trade just before the season is a move that is going to pay off big time as will the promotion of likely future star Spencer Torkelson.
I’m sure they will stumble along the way, maybe even fall victim to a lengthy losing streak or two.
However, they’ve transformed into a good team. A really nice mixture of youth and veterans possessing multiple weapons with a relentless drive for success and a manager that knows how to get the most out of his players.
So yes I’m optimistic.
Mostly from watching the fans.
Having spent the better part of the last six decades or so in a multitude of baseball stadiums I find Detroit fans to be the most knowledgeable of the lot. Second only perhaps to the regulars who fill Fenway.
Tiger fans are quick to pick up on it when a team is a contender and, most assuredly, when it's a pretender. They will fill the seats for a good team and attend for the love of the game (albeit much less frequently) when the team is sub par. They know their baseball and they know when they have a hold of a winner.
And while it's been just the first weekend my bet is you’ll find more fannies in the seats this season than CoPa has seen since they were collecting AL Central crowns a few years back.
As I said earlier this team will be a lot of fun. And while known to have a tendency to be a bit too sanguine regarding the Tigers I hold no illusionary ideas of postseason miracles even with the expanded playoff picture adding more teams.
But this season, while maybe just a preview of what is yet to come, looks to be a rollicking ride.
So I’m getting my seat on the bandwagon early.
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