Friday, May 11, 2007

The Best Year of My Life (So Far), Part I

My new year doesn’t begin on January 1. As a teacher my year begins in August, when we teachers stroll in to school wearing shorts and sandals for our new year activities. We get a new list of students, we meet our new staff members and we catch up with each other, many of us having been apart for nine weeks. The new hires bring their youth and enthusiasm in, infecting us all, and we dive headlong into another cycle of teaching and learning. And we have a cookout in the courtyard of our school. That part doesn’t hurt, either.

With the school year winding down, I have to look back and say that it’s been pretty good for me. In fact, I’d say it’s been the best year of my life.

Comerica Park in Detroit is one of my favorite places on the planet.
In fact, it’s in the top five. I have been a Tigers fan my whole life, but for the 13 years previous to 2006 there wasn’t a whole lot to cheer about. During that period the Tigers never finished above .500. In 2006 they started out on an absolute tear, taking everyone by surprise. So in the fall, with school just starting I was taking the opportunity to go to Detroit whenever I got the chance to see the Tigers at home. I went once in August, once in mid-September, and then got tickets for the last two home games of the season against the Kansas City Royals. All the Tigers had to do was beat Kansas City one of the two remaining games and they would have won the American League Central Division title. I was disappointed when the Tigers got swept at home, giving up the title to Minnesota, but what I didn’t realize at the time was that it was the best possible thing that could have happened for me.

We were lucky in the first place to have a friend looking out for us who didn’t work for our school system. You see, our school system has a strict internet usage policy which doesn’t allow teachers to purchase things online. So when the playoff tickets went on sale, we thought we were completely out of the running. But our friend Ann, who is a retired teacher, got tickets for us we were at first ecstatic, then disappointed as we realized that we probably wouldn’t be able to go to the playoffs since they would have started on Wednesday night. With our international adoption upcoming in the same school year, I couldn’t take personal days off to see the Tigers in the playoffs. If the Tigers had won that last game in Kansas City, they would have begun the playoffs at home during midweek and I would have missed them. As it was, because the Tigers lost the division title and entered the playoffs as the Wild Card, they started their home games on Friday night. I was able to go!

I can only begin to describe the excitement of these games and the emotional moments as the Tigers beat the power lineup of the Yankees in the ALDS. My wife and I were moved to tears by the swell of 43,000 fans behind the Tigers in the games. There was a palpable feeling that we were all in the games together. After Craig Monroe hit a home run in game four, he returned to his position in left field in the top of the next inning to an ovation he couldn’t help but respond to. We let him know how much he meant to us, and he let us know that he felt the same way.

Craig's Home Run

His reaction to the ovation.

Placido Polanco throws to Sean Casey for the final out.

When the final out came, the stadium exploded in cheers. It was probably the most special night of the playoffs, because something nearly unprecedented happened. After the initial celebration on the field, the Tigers went into the clubhouse, but no one in the crowd moved. They just cheered more and more loudly. In just a few minutes, the team came back out and celebrated on the field with us fans, spraying champagne into the crowd and circling Comerica Park. Those who saw it on TV thought it was great; those of us who were there were forever touched by the emotion of the players and the fans around us.

From left to right: Curtis Granderson, Joel Zumaya, Alexis Gomez, Neifi Perez, and Marcus Thames.

When the next weekend rolled around, the Tigers were returning home with a 2-0 lead over the A’s in the best of four series. More on that next time!

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