An exclusive interview for Opening DayMr. I bets big on his dream

Wait ’til next year. It’s the sports fan’s mantra. But for Mike Ilitch, next years are precious. At 82, he admits he gave Prince Fielder the largest contract in Tigers history at least partly due to urgency in winning a World Series title. “Time is running out,” he says. “No use kidding myself.”

But know this, Ilitch is as sharp as ever. He admits to forgetting a few things here or there, names of old acquaintances, an appointment or two, but in sports “my mind is just like it was when I started in this business.”

In a wide ranging conversation at his Bingham Farms home Tuesday morning, Ilitch, trim in a blue sweater, striped shirt and seemingly good health, discussed his hopes for this year’s Tigers and Red Wings, his midlife realization that players are not his sons, and his acceptance that, when it gets down to it, “fans want to see stars.”

He also spoke about Miguel Cabrera, Steve Yzerman, Detroit politics, his planned hockey arena, the NHL’s new parity (doesn’t like it) and how he privately chafes when the media label him a “recluse” – something he insists he is not.

Throughout the talk, he effaced the same humility that has characterized him for years. Ilitch builds contenders, spends freely, loves his city, gives a huge berth to his generals (including Dave Dombrowski and Ken Holland) and says it’s important that people who work for him know he loves them.

You can draw a lot of bad cards in the sports owner world. But in a Detroit sports year defined by mega money, Ilitch still may be the biggest value in town.

Read Mitch’s

interview with Mike Ilitch on 8C.

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