|Ex-Detroit Tigers manager Sparky Anderson|
I rarely have the chance to wax on non-football related material during the season, but the recent passing of Sparky Anderson urges me to do so. As a youngster growing up just outside of Detroit, Sparky Anderson was the leader of the only team I knew to exist. Before I understood what Major League Baseball really was, Sparky was the face of the Tigers. His name was synonymous with baseball. I didn’t even realize that other managers existed. I assumed he was the Commissioner of Baseball, the Emperor of Everything I Wanted to Be.
See, when I was growing up, I was certain that I would play baseball for a living. I was hooked on baseball as soon as I was old enough to hit off a tee. I still remember my first baseball card. Actually, it was a set of baseball cards; my parents took me to a sports memorabilia store and bought me a Topps team set of the 1987 Detroit Tigers, including guys like Chet Lemon, Tom Brookens, Matt Nokes, Mike Heath, and Darrell Evans. During the summers, I would go outside and play baseball with my neighborhood friends. After coming inside, I would invariably plop down in front of the television to watch an afternoon game, whether it was the Tigers, the Chicago Cubs, the Chicago White Sox, or the Atlanta Braves. And if I didn’t have a Little League game that night, I would force my dad to grab his glove and play catch out in the street. Once it got dark, I would watch more baseball.
I was the type of kid who wrote down starting baseball lineups. From memory. For every single team in the league.
My dream of playing in the big leagues dissipated in middle school. I went from being a dominant Little League pitcher to a kid unable to throw a ball without severe pain shooting from my shoulder to my forearm. The doctor told me to take the summer off from playing baseball. Instead, I moved from pitcher/shortstop to playing first base full-time. That way I wouldn’t have to throw the ball much, and in practice, I could toss the ball underhand back to the pitcher.
Baseball was my first sport. I loved the feeling of striking somebody out, turning a double play, making a diving catch, sliding safely into home. Every time I think of baseball, I think of the Detroit Tigers and old Tiger Stadium. I think about how my grandpa used to have the Tigers game on every time I visited, and he’d make a remark about how “Ol’ Sparky” threw a fit at the umpires for a bad call of one kind or another. Then Sparky would amble back to the dugout, and the game would continue.
Yep, there was nothing like watching Sparky Anderson and the Tigers as a kid. Back when it was all balls and strikes and home runs and stolen bases and umpires kicking dirt. Back when Grandpa told me about the exploits of “Ol’ Sparky.”
Rest in peace.