ANTICIPATION!

I once heard Paul McCartney asked what, for him, was the best time in the Beatles? He said just before they made it big, when everything was on the horizon, when they knew it was coming, but it hadn’t happened yet.

The Detroit Tigers are in that sweet spot right now. And they – and the fans – should savor every minute of it.

Although there may be, in due time, a World Series title, more celebrations, a downtown parade, there will never be a time like this week, when everything is possible, when the Christmas present just has been unwrapped, when the love of your life says “Yes,” when the time of the time of your life lies ahead.

It’s Monday morning, we’re back at work, but all of us are grinning and shaking our heads as if the whole city had the same dream.

Did it really happen?

Did Detroit really sweep into the World Series?

Did this team that hadn’t had a winning season in 12 years – since “Sleepless in Seattle” was a new movie – actually blow through the division series and the American League Championship Series almost as fast as humanly possible?

“Can you put into one word,” I asked Kenny Rogers, on the raucous Comerica Park infield in the aftermath of Saturday night’s clincher against Oakland, “what it feels like to run out after a home run sends you to the World Series?”

He thought for a moment.

“Jubilation,” he said.

Pretty good word. Playing the right way

And the best part is Detroit gets to keep that feeling from now until the weekend. Maybe in other cities a wait is just a wait. Maybe in New York or Atlanta, they’ve had so much success that only the finish line releases those happiness endorphins.

But we are not New York or Atlanta. We are a baseball town that went Novocain numb the last two decades. We walked around in a stupor. We watched the remnants of our last good team slowly fall off the roster. Kirk Gibson left for Los Angeles. Jack Morris left for Minnesota. Sparky Anderson left for the golf course.

We drifted. We moved on. In time, even the stadium was lost. Baseball had little identity around here beyond an olde English D and the annual ritual of Opening Day, which, let’s be honest, was the last time many of us looked at the Tigers until the next April.

“How far does this seem from 2003?” I asked Brandon Inge, referring to the year the Tigers lost 119 games and were notable only the way the village idiot is notable.

“It doesn’t seem that far,” he said, “but only because of the things that we can learn from that season. … You learn things the negative side, things that you change for next time.

“But as far everyone saying how bad of a team we were? That’s long gone. We’re a good ballclub now.”

And that’s the thing. They ARE a good ballclub now. They can pitch. They can really pitch. They have starters who go long distances and relievers you can count on. They can hit the long ball. And they can certainly hit the short ball.

After all, the MVP of the ALCS was Placido Polanco, who had nine hits in the series.

Eight of them were singles.

“That’s what makes us a good team,” Rogers said. “We try not to overload one person and put more on his shoulders than anyone else. Everybody looks to themselves. And if something is needed they try to pick the other guy up.”

So when Justin Verlander gives up a demoralizing home run to the Yankees, Jim Leyland, the White Wizard, comes out and tells him this is not over, you are not letting down. When Sean Casey goes out with an injury, Alexis Gomez comes in and becomes Babe Ruth. When Jason Grilli walks three straight batters to load the bases, Wil Ledezma comes in and gets the third out to end the inning.

“I think that,” Rogers said, “is what makes us a team that has to be dealt with for longer than just this year.” Living in a dreamscape

Well, that’s more icing than this cake can handle. Right now, the city simply wants to revel in being a baseball town again. Because it has been so long, it almost feels like a new franchise. It almost feels like this is the first time this is happening – and for fans 21 or younger, it is.

Maybe that’s why it seems so fresh. Baseball always has been the dream stuff of children, and for all the mothers and fathers in this state who are watching their kids keep box scores for the first time, or memorize the players’ names, or asking to wear a Tigers cap – well, it is nostalgia of the best kind, because we remember when we did that in 1968 and 1984.

Heck, it’s not just kids. I saw something I had not seen before in the stadium tunnel Saturday night. As Magglio Ordonez – the hero of the game who hit the series-ending home run – came through the hallway, a group of fans was behind a rope and they all called his name. But one of them really stood out. He was a grown man, wearing a Tigers cap, with a wig of hair that bunched up underneath it, covering the back of his neck, much like the Samson-like tresses that Ordonez wears.

Grown man wears Magglio wig.

Something tells me that won’t be the last one, either.

So we should savor stuff like that. We should savor this week. There will be interviews, features, TV specials, hype. And maybe by Saturday we will feel “OK, enough, let’s play a game already.”

But we don’t feel that today. Today we feel the oozing flow of joy, like an intravenous drip of good news, and it takes us through breakfast and coffee break and lunch and the ride home. Jubilation, as Rogers said. This is how a baseball city feels. This is the time of the time to remember, the coming ’round the big rock candy mountain.

Live it up.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Also catch “Monday Sports Albom” 7-8 p.m. Mondays on WJR. To read his recent columns, go to www.freep.com/mitch.

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