by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

BOSTON — Suddenly, summer. With one swing of Alan Trammell’s bat, sending a long fly ball over the Fenway Park wall, everything old was new again: the hot dogs, the scorecards, the razzing from the bleachers. Baseball, ladies and gentlemen. The kind that counts.

Opening Day.

“The difference between doing what I did today and doing it on the last day of spring training is, gosh, there’s no explaining it!” gushed Trammell, whose two-run homer in the 10th inning was the winning hit in the Tigers’ 5-3 victory over the Red Sox. “I mean, in spring training, come the sixth or seventh inning, I’m looking to go home.”

Nobody was looking for home this day. On the contrary. They were home. Some for the 10th time. Some for the fifth time. Some for the first time, which is the best time of all. The big leagues.

Opening Day.

“How does it feel?” a reporter asked Detroit’s Paul Gibson, a rookie pitcher who, at 28, has waited 10 years in the minors for this one glorious moment. “How does it feel to finally make an Opening Day? Did you have a little tingle?”

“Big tingle,” he said, grinning.

Big tingle.

Never mind that it was wet and cool and the mound was muddy. Never mind that the Boston fans wore tan overcoats and carried umbrellas on this April Monday. This was magic, the first slice of pie, the beginning of the alphabet. You are either young on Opening Day or you died and nobody told you.

How many Tigers fans were in their offices back in Detroit, radios stashed under the desk, earphones hidden under their palm? How many people came home and turned on the 6 o’clock news, people who never turn on the 6 o’clock news, because today there was news, there was baseball?

“It’s nice to say you’re trying your hardest in spring training and la-de-da-de-da,” said veteran Jack Morris, who pitched a strong opener Monday, nine innings, and got the win, “but it’s difficult for a guy to put his whole heart into a game that doesn’t mean a damn thing. It really is.”

He leaned back, looking at his right shoulder, which was wrapped, as usual, in post-game ice.

“Today,” he said, smiling, “it was easy.”

Easy? Heck. You could have watched this game twice. Here were Morris and Roger Clemens, two of the best in the business, lasting the full nine innings, each striking out the last man he faced. Here was Matt Nokes, cracking a sixth-inning home run that landed on a fan’s umbrella. Here was Chet Lemon in right field — right field? — and newcomer Gary Pettis in center and Mike Heath behind the plate. Here was Boston’s Lee Smith, the savior, supposedly, of the Red Sox bullpen, giving up Trammell’s home run in the 10th inning and losing his first Boston challenge.

“Great game, huh?” said Lemon afterward. Great game. And more. For it was dipped in that Opening Day karma, a soft voice that coos: “Summer’s coming. Get the cooler ready.” Corny? Overblown? Sure. Yet it is somehow still comforting. We are all alive, for at least another year, another Opening Day. Grab the kids. Grab the beer.

“It was everything an Opening Day was cracked up to be,” said Don Heinkel, another 28-year-old rookie pitcher selected for the Tigers just a few days ago. “I’ve never even been to Fenway Park before. This was great!”

He gulped down a glass of milk and reached for more of the post-game chicken and salad. For the first time, there was a bus waiting back to a first-class hotel — in Boston. Not Charlotte, not Memphis, not Tidewater.

“Food’s a lot better in the major leagues, too, huh?” someone asked.

“It sure is,” he said, between bites. Beyond the game

It sure is. These are the moments that somehow lift baseball beyond its limits, beyond its field, and into our psyche, our American souls. Scenes like Sparky Anderson stuffing his pipe and saying “Oooh, this is my best club ever” — again! — and Darrell Evans shaking hands with all his teammates before the game, wishing them a good season.

Scenes like Frank Tanana, the veteran, and Heinkel, the rookie, missing the bus, on purpose, walking to Fenway Park together, talking baseball, life.

Scenes like Jim Walewander, the irascible, young, punk-rock- loving infielder, here in his first Opening Day, walking through the hotel lobby looking, well . . . mature. A dark wool sport coat, gray slacks, real shoes.

“No combat boots this year,” he said. “Sparky told me to leave them home.”

“Where’d you get the jacket?”

“Sparky bought it for me last year. At this clothes store in Farmington. And that coach from the Pistons, what’s his name again?”

“Chuck Daly?”

“Yeah. He picked out the pants and shirt.”

“And the tie?”

“My father’s. I found it in his closet. Still had the tag on it. I said,
‘Whoa, Dad, can I have this?”‘

Off we go. The buses will be waiting. The fields will be waiting. This will be a long Tiger season, full of stories and scenes and charm and wit and agony, destiny, injury, ecstasy. But under it all, baseball, always baseball, which began Monday in earnest, a long fly ball over the left field wall. Suddenly, summer.

Big tingle. CUTLINE Winning Tigers pitcher Jack Morris congratulates Alan Trammell, whose 10th-inning home run won the season opener Monday in Boston. Tigers manager Sparky Anderson, left, shakes hands with youngsters Monday before his team’s opening-day game in Boston’s Fenway Park against the Red Sox.
(METRO EDITION ONLY) Tigers manager Sparky Anderson blows a bubble shortly before the start of his team’s game against the Boston Red Sox Monday.


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