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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Saturday, July 29, 2006

To Paul Who Taught Me
How to Root for the Home Team

I'll never forget that night in '68
at the peak of the Al Kaline years
when we colored a paper banner with hard-pressed crayon stripes
and ran with it stretched between us on the boulevard.
I don't remember the three blocks going
nor the same walk back to our house.
I only remember we could not contain
our need to scream and run and jump in the cool October night.
So we did in clumsy exhaustion—
like George Bailey in his return to Bedford Falls—
down the middle of Gratiot from Eastgate
to Mohawk Lumber and back again
with our waxy tiger-striped banner, scotch-taped together,
as we all were on that night,
inspired by the honking of a hundred horns
and no one wondering why.
May 19, 2003

It was Dad who taught me how to play baseball but my brother Paul who taught me how to be a fan of the game.

We used to play baseball all the time. Dad would load the neighborhood into our VW bus (the original mini-van) and we'd play at Huron Park until it was dark. (Not one of us was in Little League at the time. Without exception, all the kids had fathers, but Dad was the only one who took us to the park at least once a week to play baseball.)

In our small backyard, I used to pitch a rubber ball against an angled board for hours. The board leaned against the brick wall just under my sister's bedroom window. That window was well above the strike zone, but what was I thinking? I eventually got pretty good—one window at a time. (Fortunately, Mr. Nebula next door gave us all his old windows when he upgraded his house. We had six the size of Kathy's window. When they were gone, I retired from pitching. [I didn't break all of them myself; my brothers pitched-in, too. =) ]

Paul loved baseball so much that when he wasn't playing or oiling his glove, he kept stats as a hobby. (In fact, he was so good, he later turned down a job with a "bookie"—good call, Paul). When he wasn't keeping stats, he played a folding baseball “board game.” It had one of those finger-flick spinner, etc. (This was way before video games and the decline of imagination.)

Paul would play board-game baseball by himself for hours on the porch, in the car, or wherever the game was scheduled. He could not play in silence; he “announced” every play with flair. "It's a long fly ball...he's going back...back... he's on the warning track...that ball is gone!" I kid you not. Sitting on the hallway floor, listening to Paul's “radio voice” baseball games through the bathroom door was just like being there.

I wrote the opening lines of this post for Paul a few years ago when the Detroit Tigers were beginning their worst season ever. By October, they had to win their last game to avoid setting the record for ALL-TIME worst season in the history of Baseball. To their credit, they found a way to win that game. Now, four years later, they've got the best record in both leagues. Baseball is a game of streaks, quirks, team chemistry, and—dare I use the word?—luck (i.e. oxymoronic, serendipitous Providence that governs how leather-bound orbs bounce at 100 mph).

Last night the Tigers squeaked by the second-hottest team in MLB, the Twins (3-2 ). I’ve actually watched more Tiger games this summer than I have in twenty years—since the Sparky Anderson "Bless You Boys" days. I have a picture of my new-born daughter Emily from October 1984. She's wearing a Tiger hat with the World Series on the hospital TV in the background. Being a new father trumped that last Tiger championship, and because I was older and out-of-state at the time, it was just not the same as '68.

Stay tuned. I feel it coming—that Detroit Tiger feeling I had as a kid. In 1968, my dad and my brothers (and uncle and cousins) went to a game down at the old Tiger Stadium. We each bought plastic helmets with the Detroit “D” at that game. I still have mine (no surprise :)
It was the year of Denny McClain’s 30+ pitching record (though I preferred Mickey Lolich). I had an Al Kaline poster on the wall over my bed. Other great names come to mind: Norm Cash (as in “Who Needs Credit; We’ve Got Cash”), Bill Freehan, Willie Horton, Jim Northrup, and Dick McAuliffe (whose wind-blown, leaning-back batter's stance I tried to emulate).

The legendary "voice of the Tigers" Ernie Harwell sang from my transistor radio (with its leather-like case and shoulder strap) all summer long. The Tigers went on to win the World Series that year (defeating the Cardinals). I was twelve. During the series, the halls of Burton Junior High were plastered with banners and posters. As I recall it, the final game was not played at night in prime time. I remember running home from school to watch the end of the game on our black-and-white TV. When they won, all the cars in Detroit began honking their horns.

You can imagine my brother Paul bouncing off the chain-link fences with glee as the chaotic celebration quickly spread to our neighboring suburb. We Scotch-taped a bunch of paper together, took all the black and orange crayons we could find in the coffee can of crayons and colored a striped “Tigers World Champs” banner. We promptly rolled it up and ran it to Gratiot Avenue as if people were waiting for the official news...as if it were our duty to deliver it by dark...as if two boys jumping up and down on the grassy median of a busy four-lane was just the image that night’s mayhem was missing. Judging by hundreds who honked and waved at us… it was.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm reading this way after the post date so you probably won't see this note. But I wanted to say, your Tigers are struggling a little. My White Sox are breathing down their necks, and the Yankees are gaining on home field advantage. Do you still think this could be "the year?" September will tell the story...

31/8/06 7:10 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Anonymous, sorry I didn't see this sooner. I don't know when you wrote, but you were half right. The Yankees are still looking good for home field, but as of today (Sunday September 24), your Sox are out and it's the Twins who are trying to be spoiler to Detroit's division title. Your Sox had a great season...come on over and cheer for the Tigers.

24/9/06 6:00 PM  

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