WORLD WATCHES AGAIN

Somewhere, as you read this, cables are being laid and cameras are being hoisted. Somewhere, as you read this, tickets are being enveloped or moved across cyberspace. Somewhere, as you read this, a field is being groomed, logos are being repainted, and merchandise is being unpacked and displayed, caps and shirts and jackets with official tags emblazoned with a single phrase that pulls this crazy movable feast from one October to the next:

World Series.

In Detroit?

To paraphrase “Field Of Dreams,” if you wait long enough, it will come.

And so tonight, for the third time in 15 months, sports’ center stage comes to our city. We had the All-Star Game. We had the Super Bowl. But those were contests with no local consequence. It didn’t matter who won as long as Detroit sparkled and visitors filled our streets.

This time? This time, it matters, because this time, the Big Event was not awarded. This time, the Tigers came upon the pot of gold the old fashioned way: They earned it.

And now, final possession will be decided between Detroit and St. Louis, once again, as it was in 1968, when Bob Gibson and Denny McLain and Mickey Lolich were on the mound and Tim McCarver and Bill Freehan were behind the plate and Lou Brock and Orlando Cepeda and Willie Horton and Norm Cash and Al Kaline ran the bases.

The World Series?

Detroit vs. St. Louis?

If you wait long enough, it will come … again.

Baseball’s ultimate stage

And so somewhere, as you read this, uniforms are being hung in lockers. And somewhere duffel bags are being unloaded. And somewhere men who play this game for a living are stirring from dreams that see them rising to glory or stumbling in front of the world, and both ideas dance behind their eyes as they look in the morning mirror to see which man is looking back.

Sean Casey is one of those men. His dream is simpler. He just wants to play. Casey, the Tigers’ first baseman, has been nursing torn fascia in his calf muscle. He ripped it during a routine at-bat in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series. He swung and something in his left leg went pop. “I thought someone hit me,” he said.

He hobbled off the field. And he has been waiting ever since, waiting to heal, waiting to get back out there.

He is ready now, he insists. Just in time for the biggest games of all.

If you wait long enough …

“It was tough watching,” Casey said earlier this week. “I was just thinking, ‘Boy, I hope I get an opportunity to play in a World Series … hopefully these guys get it done.’ And they did – like they’ve been doing all year.”

And now Mighty Casey gets to bat. In many ways, he typifies this whole Tigers experience. He was the last everyday player to join this roster, arriving at the July 31 trade deadline. He’s new to the whole Tigers thing – as are many of the younger Detroit fans, who can’t even remember the last time this team had a winning record.

And yet, he is as into it as anybody, as soaked in the champagne, screaming and shouting with his celebrating teammates, proudly sporting the Olde English D. It doesn’t seem to matter how long you’ve been here. Heck, Jim Leyland is barely a year in Detroit. Kenny Rogers less than that. Justin Verlander and Joel Zumaya just got here. What’s “new” got to do with it?

Once you’re under the tent, you’re under the tent. And that tent is getting bigger and bigger, stretching to encompass fans from the Upper Peninsula to Downriver.

The World Series? In Detroit?

If you wait long enough, it will come.

A trophy for the victor

And so somewhere, as you read this, directors are talking with producers for tonight’s broadcast. And somewhere parking lots are painting signs with higher rates. Somewhere the XL shirts are being placed next to the XXLs. Somewhere Bob Seger is going over the words to “America the Beautiful,” which he will sing tonight.

And somewhere the Detroit Tigers are getting ready for game day, the way they got ready for it back in spring training, when nobody expected them to be winners, the way they got ready for it in May and June, when nobody expected them to keep winning, the way they got ready for it in mid-September, when nobody expected them to come out of their slump, the way they got ready for it two Saturdays ago, when they beat the Yankees, the way they got ready for it last Saturday, when they beat the Athletics.

And now comes another Saturday at Comerica Park, another big game, and they get ready for it the same way, half in disbelief and half in full and total devotion – to themselves, to the team, to the idea that they actually can pull this off.

“What is it about the chemistry of this team that works so well?” I asked Casey.

“I think it’s a lot of different things. But there’s a great mix of veterans and young guys. Great mix of talent … there’s great starting pitching … and there’s a great mix within that starting pitching. There’s a great bullpen and a great mix within that. Same thing with the lineup. I think with that being said with all the great personalities and all the great talent that’s in that clubhouse, I think a guy like Jim Leyland kind of pieces it together where he says …‘This is how it works.’ And then I think guys follow suit.”

That simple, huh?

Makes you wonder why we didn’t figure it before 22 years passed by.

Ah, well. Good things come to those who wait, and sometimes glory does as well. It is not 1968, it just feels that way; it is not 1984, it just feels that way; it is not a dream, it just feels that way. And winning this whole thing, taking the biggest crown in baseball, is not impossible, even if history makes you feel that way.

Saturday night at the ballpark. Somewhere hot dog vendors are looking at their watches. Somewhere the scoreboard operator is going over the buttons. Somewhere Leyland, who basically was out of baseball a year ago, is thinking a million thoughts – and almost all of them are being thought, simultaneously, by the members of his unlikely team.

If you wait long enough, it will come. For the third time in 15 months, the world comes to Detroit.

This time we aim to keep a piece of it.

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). www.freep.com/mitch.

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