Long wait ends for Detroit faithful
Overflowing emotion as October regains meaning in Motor City
DETROIT -- This was different. On weekend nights for so many years past, it would be all about the opening of the Red Wings' hockey season or maybe talk about the Michigan Wolverines. Maybe a movie. Just another Friday night in October.
Now here was Josh Fiser, 24, and Jodi Kidston, 24, two Tigers fans from Toledo, Ohio, who were about to take their seats in Section 132 at Comerica Park and enjoy one of the greatest and most unique times of their lives.
"It's electric," Fiser said of the atmosphere for Game 3 of the American League Division Series against the Yankees. "My parents got to go to the '84 World Series, so this is pretty cool to be able to experience playoff baseball here. We had season tickets last year and this year, and it's been such a one-year turnaround in this city. The fans are back. This is just electric out here."
It was that and more as a sellout crowd shook Comerica Park from start to finish, with patient fans savoring every moment of a 6-0 rout of the Yankees that gave the Tigers a stunning 2-1 lead in the best-of-five American League Division Series.
The last time Tigers fans saw their team in the postseason had been at old Tiger Stadium in 1987, when they lost the pennant to the eventual World Series champion Twins. That is almost two full decades of nothing like this. They soaked it in, and while amongst them throughout the game, one could hear constant references to the thrill of having the experience back again. An interviewer was not needed to get their thoughts.
"I grew up in Corktown (the old Tiger Stadium neighborhood), and it's unreal to see the change and see it so alive again," said Luz Calzohari of Detroit, who was here with her husband Enzo. "We used to take the school field trips to Tiger Stadium. It was just so important. Now, we are seeing this, and it's great."
When Enzo was asked about the long hiatus of baseball excitement, he replied, "It never left. It was just waiting."
Ask these Tigers fans, and they say it was not just the wait for the postseason -- it was the wait for winning baseball. It was just in 2003 that the Tigers threatened the 1962 Mets record for regular-season futility.
"We're turning over a new leaf tonight," said Jason Clark, 24, of Detroit. "You have to remember that we hadn't had a winning season in a long time. Our season was a success when we clinched the postseason berth. Anyone who said it was a downer finish is wrong. However far we go is a bonus now.
"It's just awesome. What's it been, 19 years? I was 5. That's my whole life, pretty much. I wasn't old enough to be able to remember when they were last in the playoffs. It's unreal. We've never been able to do this on a night this far into October. I probably would be watching a college football game. Nothing near this exciting."
Clark's friend, 24-year-old Steve Leibfritz of Midland, Mich., said, "For a baseball fan of our age, this is the impossible."
Leibfritz said not to get his buddy started about Derek Jeter, who returned on Friday night not far from his boyhood roots of Kalamazoo, Mich. Jeter has already talked in this series about how Tigers fans always consider him something of a traitor. Although the Yankees star also went out of his way to praise Detroit fans, Clark couldn't resist.
"I hate Jeter," he said. "Just because he's good. I hate what he does to the teams I like."
Joel Lathers, 57, of Milan, Mich., is an old-school Tigers fan who said that he hated what became of the club he always loved for so many years. He said that there is "nothing better" than being here for this game, sort of like the old days.
"I go back to the '60s with Al Kaline, Norm Cash, Rocky Colavito, those guys," Lathers said. "The game's not like it used to be -- it doesn't have that loyalty. You can't relate to players like you could in those days. Back then, Kaline was our hero. Kirk Gibson, Jack Morris, they did amazing things for Detroit and then left. The game changed. Now, it's whoever is here each year on the roster.
"It's great what this team is doing. Just look around. These young kids have done a tremendous job. Take [Justin] Verlander, [Joel] Zumaya, [Curtis] Granderson, [Brandon] Inge -- they're all young kids. You just hope they stay around. I think they'll keep the pitchers around, and hopefully, that will make the hitters want to stay."
This was a dream come true for Robert Jundy, 24, of Detroit. No matter what would happen in the next few hours, he was here with many thousands more who have waited seemingly forever, and some their whole lives.
"It's awesome," he said. "I've been waiting all my life for this. I was too young to go when they were in the '87 playoffs. I don't care what anyone says about how the regular season finished, either. It finished just perfect. We're here."
That was all that mattered to Kidston. As she and Fiser headed toward their seats, the stadium was literally starting to rumble. And it was just pregame introductions. The noise was more and more deafening throughout the night as a floodgate of pent-up frustrations was released in October.
"We proved ourselves this year," she said. "I've been to 15 games this year, and they lost one. Now, we're back!"
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.