Wednesday, June 5, 2013
June 2- Detroit Tigers
Portland has changed quite a bit since I moved to the area from California, and so have I. In the old days I was an ardent hater of anything involving custom style. I have since grown up and looked at things more deeply, rather than just taking the aesthetic elements into consideration. I wish ore people saw the game the way that I do. For starters, it would make in-game conversations way more interesting, as opposed to me just feeling like a school teacher. I suppose that’s one of the things that I love about doing these posts every day. I can let out all the information that I have rolling around in my melon and hopefully trigger or engage other folk who have a story or two on the same subject.
Of all the stories that come to mind immediately about this hat is how and where I bought it. There are other stories, but I’ll get to those in a moment. I was venturing southward on I-5, going from Eugene, Oregon to Portland to go visit my parent for the weekend. Around mile marker 269 I realized I hadn’t been to the outlet mall in Woodburn in quite some time so I took the exit at 271 and parked in the back. For two-and-a-half years I ran the Just Sports at Woodburn and had a lot of success doing it. My biggest accomplishment was taking it from a $300,000 a year in volume store to $500,000 in roughly a year. What can I say? I set my standards pretty high. I waltzed around to the back-right corridor and walked in. The overall merchandising of the store was different, but all the familiar smells and concrete floor were still there. I took to the hat wall, rummaging through to find something I liked. I all ready had a few Oakland Athletics caps, so it was on to something else. It was late May of 2010 and the Tigers had been playing decently, so I figured, “what the hell.” I paid my $35, took the stickers off immediately, jumped back in the car and continued my quest.
I realize that there’s nothing really “special” to that story, but for me it was more nostalgic. In all the time I worked at Just Sports previous to then I never really wore New Era Caps. I owned a few, but I never wore them to work. I think most of what I remember in the moment was how much I love, and truly appreciate every aspect of baseball. During my time as the manager I made it a point to stock my store with as much Major League Baseball gear as possible. I made sure to have at least one team, style of every hat, jersey and shirt. The outlet mall was set up for travelers, and I always made sure to prepare for the time that a random Pittsburgh Pirates fan, or Colorado Rockies fan or Tigers fan came walking into the store and leaving with something they didn’t expect. And if they didn’t buy anything, we both walked away with some solid baseball conversation under our belts. It’s not my goal to work retail for the rest of my life; however, if and when I find myself in that situation, I might as well do it in a place that will make me happy.
This hat has been a number of years in the Majors, and it still stands the test of time as one of the best-selling caps to date. The Tigers started wearing it in 1922; however, it was had a few differences in the overall appearance. The concept of the Old English “D” was there, it’s just that over time the graphic has become sleeker. This particular variation first hit the heads of ball players and in gift shops in 1934 where it was used as the team’s game cap until 1946. From 1947 until 1951 it served as the team’s road cap. It took a backseat until 1958 when the Tigers started using it as their game cap until the end of the 1971 season. In 1972 the Tigers introduced a new road cap, making this their primary home cap, which it still is today. All of great teams and Hall of Famers played under this cap, so I feel it would be a disservice to all of you if I didn’t talk about some great moment or player. After scouring through stat sheets, history books and almanacs I could only think of one moment replaying over and over in my head. Based on the historical value and the events that came to pass, there really isn’t a better choice.
6/2/2010- It was a Wednesday afternoon. I had worked at Max’s Tavern the night before and stayed there late after we had wrapped up another edition of our Max’s Tuesday Knight Trivia. There was an English class that I was enrolled in on 19th century American literature, and I had to finish reading the book and write a three to four page paper based on any array of topic we wished to write about. The book at that time was Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and I decided to base my paper on the character of Uncle Tom himself. I had been sitting in the library for a solid hour after class reading the last few chapters when I decided I needed a beer. It was about 2:30 PM PST and I hadn’t eaten anything so I stopped for a burrito at Qdoba before making the three block trek to Max’s where I could work and drink cheaply. My favorite table was open, and by favorite I mean the only one not next to a window that was also equipped with a power outlet. I ordered a beer, a frosty glass of Pabst Blue Ribbon, set up my computer and read for the next 45 minutes until that night’s baseball games started up.
I think I’m going on year six of having MLB.tv. Then, and now, it’s been my saving grace anytime I just need to tune out and relax once in a while. On this day, relaxing went right out the window. For some incredibly stupid reason Eugene falls within the Bay Area territory; therefore, I am not allowed to watch Athletics or San Francisco Giants games through MLB.tv. If I were to go 13 miles north to Brownsville, I’d be in the clear. But no, despite being 540 miles away all of the games I want to watch (only A’s games really) are blacked out. As a result of this gaffe I had to find a new team to follow, if only for the sake of developing a relationship with the play-by-play guys. After a solid month of searching I found that Mario Impemba and Rod Allen of Fox Sports Detroit were my go-to guys.
Finally, 4:07 PM PST, Armando Galarraga takes the hill for the Tigers. Prior to that game Galarraga was 1-1 on the season with a 4.50 ERA having started two and reliving one. Prior to the start of the season Galarraga had gone 19-17 with a 5.20 ERA in 54 games started and eight additional appearances. In fact, Galarraga had gone 13-7 with a 3.73 ERA in 2008, which gave him a fourth place finish for the American League Rookie of the Year award. Even Longoria of the Tampa Bay Rays won it that year. Today; however, Galarraga was facing a rough-starting Cleveland Indians team at Comerica Park in Detroit. Call it fate, call it pure luck, call it whatever you want, but for some reason I felt compelled to wear my home Tigers cap that day.
If you get the chance, take a look at the boxscore and play-by-play sheet I highly recommend it. It’s interesting to see a game only on paper and then try to recreate it in your head. Galarraga made short work of the first three batters (Trevor Crowe, Shin-Soo Choo and Austin Kearns) while Indians’ pitcher Roberto Hernandez gave up a single against Detroit’s first batter Austin Jackson. Hernandez, otherwise know as Fausto Carmona at the time, then forced a double play and a ground out to end the inning. In the second, Galarraga took down all three (Travis Hafner, Jhonny Peralta, and Russell Branyan) with ease. In the bottom half Miguel Cabrera blasted a line drive over the bullpen in left field to give the Tigers the early 1-0 lead. To be honest, I had my headphones plugged in and the game on screen, but I was too busy finishing reading the book to really notice anything that was going on. When I heard the ball go off of Cabrera’s bat for the home run I definitely looked up. There is definitely a distinctive sound that rattles off the bat when Cabrera makes contact. I knew it was gone before I even looked up.
In the third inning Galarraga got Mark Grudzielanek to fly out, Mike Redmond to ground out and Jason Donald to do the same. This is the way things would go; over and over and over again through the top of the eighth inning. Galarraga had only struck out three batters (Kearns, Grudzielanek and Peralta) through the first 24 batters. Hernandez, on the other hand, had really only made the one mistake of giving Miggy a hanger to park over the left field wall. Until the bottom of the eighth he had been hanging in there pretty well. Alex Avila and Ramon Santiago were easy first two out, but then Jackson went and had himself a little three-hit day with his third single on the night. Next up, Johnny Damon, who singled weakly to the second baseman. With two runners on Magglio Ordonez blooped a ball into right field which gave Jackson more than enough time to score from second. Damon moved to third on a throwing error which gave Galarraga some insurance runs and two on for Cabrera… who struck out. But either way, insurance runs are good.
Around the sixth inning I started to take a more vested interest in the game. I could tell from what I was hearing that Galarraga was dealing and moving very quickly through the lineup. Anytime a no-hitter is in progress I generally don’t give much thought to it unless I’m actually watching the game. This was one of those games. There was a gentleman in the bar who had noticed my cap when he came in but he didn’t come over to talk to me until he had a beer in his hand. He could tell I was busy so he mostly wanted some small talk about the Tigers since he was originally from Michigan. I told him I was watching the game, he smiled, and he told me to let him “know if anything interesting happens.” Well… this is that interesting thing.
By the time the eighth inning had ended we had every TV in the bar with the game on as every sports network was doing a live look-in. I could feel my heart racing. I had never witnessed a no-hitter, let alone a perfect game from start to finish. Merely a few weeks before this game Roy Halladay had thrown a perfect game against the Florida Marlins. I ended up missing it on account of “not giving a f--- about the Marlins and Phillies game.” And then a few weeks before that, on Mother’s Day, Athletics pitcher Dallas Braden had himself a perfect day… which happened at the most imperfect time of me driving from Portland back to Eugene. I was pissed. But now, redemption.
First up, Grudzielanek. Grudzielanek took a cut at the first pitch and sent a shot to centerfield, but definitely not far enough. Jackson got under it and recorded the first out. Next up, Redmond. Galarraga had worked himself a pretty nice count (1-2). On the fourth pitch Redmond poked a slow roller to Santiago at shortstop. Santiago had to move quickly as Redmond had “turned on the jets,” but there were able to get the second out. By this time everyone, and I mean everyone in the bar was glued to the TV. Most people didn’t even know what the hell was going on, but they knew it was something special. Next up, Donald. For a cat who was about to make history, Galarraga looked incredibly calm. His first two pitches went in for a ball and a strike, and on the third… contact. The ball trickled slowly between first and second base, but Cabrera had an easy beat on it. Galarraga took off to first base to cover and receive the relay. Cabrera tossed, Galarraga caught it, made sure his foot was on the bag and everyone in the stadium, including Impemba calling the game rejoiced.
Their joy quickly soured as soon as first base umpire Jim Joyce threw both of his arms up and called Donald safe. At first Cabrera and Galarraga thought it was a joke, but sure enough it wasn’t. Cabrera and Tigers manager Jim Leyland gave Joyce an earful, but he stuck to his guns. The Tigers ended up recording the final out, but nobody was happy about the result. Even Donald couldn’t believe the call was blown as he knew the out was made before he touched the bag.
In the moments to follow the game Joyce had the tape cued up on the play and within a fraction of a second he knew he “kicked the play.” Joyce, filled with guilt, sought Galarraga to admit his mistake. Joyce also spoke to the media after the game to admit his error. The next day Galarraga took out the Tigers’ lineup card to the mound where Joyce was working behind the dish. A remorseful Joyce thanked Galarraga and gave him a pat on the back in front of a sold out Comerica Park crowd who gave Joyce and Galarraga a standing ovation. Only in baseball can a mistake so historical be turned into a positive for everyone. No one was hurt or injured. The only thing that changed is a little mark in a record book. The people who witnessed it know it was a perfect game. The people who watched the highlights know it was a perfect game. Even the Hall of Fame knows it was a perfect game. Perhaps that is all which is truly good enough.
In the midst of everything that had happened all I could do was order another beer and go back to my table in solitude. Nothing felt right for the rest of the day. I can only imagine how awful real Tigers fans felt about it.
I had pretty much gotten over by the next day. It still sucked to think about, but there were clearly worse tragedies in life to dwell on than this. A few days later my friend Tony Feltz came into the bar and we each grabbed a beer and enjoyed some good baseball convo. About 45 seconds into our discussion on blown perfect game he interrupted and said, “Dude! I have a great story for you. A great story.” Tony then went on to tell me about an incident that happened at work which pertained to the perfect game. At the time Tony was a manager of a 7-11 a block from campus, working the morning shift. Two girls came in to buy coffee and whatever else when one of the friends notices the paper. The girl who notices the paper says to the other girl, “Hey, did you hear about this? The umpire that missed that call?” To which the other girl said, “Yah. That’s my father.” The conversation immediately got awkward and ended and the two girls paid ad left. Needless to say, I was blown away.
Time has since moved on since that depressing end of spring day. I went to a ton of University of Oregon football games that fall, in which we almost won the National Championship against Josh Donaldson’s Auburn Tigers.
I did my MLB Fan Cave thing, I went to a ton of baseball games, watched all three perfect games in 2012 on TV and so on. Galarraga on the other hand, is playing in AAA with the Louisville Bats in the Cincinnati Reds organization. His career was never the same after that game.