It’s just plain different. Period.
Baseball is sacred to Americans.
It’s our game, it’s marked the passage of time for more than a century, and it, unlike any other game, unifies us all.
Our grandfathers talked of the game’s greats of their era, as did our fathers to us, as we do to our kids, and as they will to theirs—each generation comparing statistics, impact and status of their favorite players and teams.
DiMaggio and Williams, Mantle and Mays, Ryan and Clemens, Pujols and Jeter — each name highlighting endless conversations between generations of baseball fans. Who is better? Where do they fit in list of all-time greats? What if Williams played today, or Pujols played then?
Baseball is a common thread woven through the tapestry of every family in this country. Even those who aren’t baseball fans know of someone close to them who are, and know the names Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb.
Most importantly, though, baseball is a game of lasting memories.
Dave Rozema and a simple toss in 1979
My uncle took me to my first baseball game in 1979 when I was 8 years old.
We sat no more than three rows back from the field at Tiger Stadium, just a few seats behind the home dugout along the third base line.
I remember walking down the three steps or so and leaning against the concrete wall that separated the stands from the field.
Several Detroit Tigers played catch in front of the dugout, loosening up before the game got underway. I watched wide-eyed as my baseball cards suddenly came to life.
My heroes, players such as Lance Parrish, Steve Kemp and Jason Thompson (I played first base for my Little League team at the time) stood before me like they had popped from the pages of a comic book — larger than life.
Then a ball got away from one of the players and rolled past the dugout, coming to rest just a few feet away from where I stood. I watched as Tigers pitcher Dave Rozema jogged to where the ball rested, and I remember my heart pounding in my chest.
The photo on his 1979 Topps baseball card flashed through my mind confirming his identity. It was really him, no doubt.
Rozema came to a stop directly in front of me, bent over to scoop up the ball with his glove, then stood tall.
“You a Tigers fan?” he smiled.
I shook my head “yes” nearly as fast as my knees were shaking.
“You play baseball?”
He flipped his glove subtly in my direction and the ball, an official Major League Baseball, floated toward me. I reached out with both hands and snatched it from the air.
“Good catch, kid,” he said.
With that, he turned and jogged back to the team.
I remember holding the ball like I had stumbled upon a great treasure, which it was, mind you.
That ball sat on a shelf in my bedroom for years and years, and that memory, no matter how many days I live, will never leave me.
And if I had to rank it amongst my list of great moments in my life.
A Game of Memories Made
As the Detroit Tigers battled the Indians in the final series of the 2011 season, a collection of fans sat at a local eatery, watching the game on one of a dozen or so big-screen television.
Among them were Steve and Daniel Schrepton of Macomb. They cheered every strike, clapped with every hit, and obviously knew their Tigers and the game.
“What’s your best baseball memory?” I asked.
“Without a doubt it’s my dad taking me to the 1984 World Series,” Daniel, 40, said. “It was a surprise mystery trip for my birthday, which is in March.”
“It was close enough,” his father Steve, 68, chuckled.
“To this day it’s the best birthday gift I’ve ever gotten. I’ll never forget it. I still have the ticket stub.”
“That’s probably my favorite baseball memory, too,” the elder Schrepton said. “The look on his face when we walked into that stadium was so cool.”
Adam Cranston, 57, of Mount Clemens, remembers his first baseball game like it was yesterday.
“My mom took my brother and I,” Cranston said. “It was 1969 and the boys played the Red Sox. They won. A great memory with my mom.”
“A couple of friends and I were at the opening game at Comerica Park,” Frank Stella, 27, said. “We were like at the top of the top deck. The weather was terrible, but it was one of the best times of my life. My friends and I still laugh about it.”
"My grandpa passed away in 2007," Ben Martin, 37, of St. Clair Shores, said. “He was a huge Tigers fan. I was able to get tickets to a 2006 World Series game and the two of us went. He took me to lots of games, but to be able to take him to a World Series game. That was something I’ll never forget.”
It’s just plain different. Period.
As baseball fans, we can’t wait for the postseason to start.
The fact our team is in only sweetens the nectar.
However, the outcome of each game isn’t nearly as important as we might think it should be, or as it is, really.
Whether the Tigers or Yankees win this upcoming series is overshadowed by memories we’ll make with our sons or daughters or fathers or uncles or whoever it is we hold dear—whoever it is that shares this love we have for baseball.
This is what makes this game so unique, so special, so sacred to us all.
And, although the World Series titles and league pennants are something we all can be proud of, it's the memories weaved within this game that we'll hold most dear.
Please, let me know what your favorite baseball memory is. There are so many wonderful stories to be told and I would love to share your memories with others in a future column.