Saturday, January 21, 2012
How Kirk Gibson Made Me Hate My Father
Thus far, my kid hasn’t had much interest in baseball. When it comes to sports, all he cares about is Michigan football since his mother graduated from there and has brainwashed him into yelling “Go Blue” at his Notre Dame loving dad at every chance he gets. I remember dragging him in front of the TV in the ninth inning of JV’s last no-hitter and he couldn’t have cared less. He just wanted to get back to his video games. But I remain hopeful that one day we’ll be able to bond over Tigers baseball.
As for myself, I never had that kind of bond with my father. He wasn’t much of a baseball fan and only watched football if his team happened to be winning that season (Cowboys or Packers depending on the year…sigh). The only “sport” he seemed to care for was Nascar, and I would have rather watched Lifetime movies with my mom than watch a bunch of rednecks drive 500 miles in a circle.
Still, at least once a year, the old man would give in and take his excited kid to Tiger Stadium to watch the hapless bunch of idiots that the Tigers fielded in the late 80’s and early 90’s. And I’ll never forget the last time he did so. Because that was the day that I decided I was pretty sure I didn’t like my dad anymore. He would give me plenty more reasons to hate him as I got older, but this is where it all began. And it’s all because of Kirk Gibson.
Let me explain.
Kirk Gibson was my first favorite baseball player when my grandmother introduced me to the Tigers in 1985. I thought the guy was awesome and I wanted to be him when I grew up. I even scolded my mother once for not naming me “Kirk” when I was born. Within a year or two, Alan Trammell had overtaken Gibby as my favorite, but of course I still never quit loving the guy. And when he left as a free agent after the 1987 season, I was heartbroken.
I was happy to see him succeed with the Dodgers and no one screamed louder than me when he hit the walkoff against the A’s in Game One of the 1988 World Series, but it was still bittersweet to Young Rogo. I wanted him back in Detroit and didn’t understand why he left. My dad told me it was because Tigers owner Tom Monaghan didn’t like Gibby because of his attitude. Whatever…I just wanted my hero back wearing the Old English D.
And in 1993, after stops in Kansas City and Pittsburgh’s organizations, Gibson came home to the Tigers. I was ecstatic. But for whatever reason, I don’t remember us making the trip to Detroit at any point that season. It wasn’t until May 2, 1994, four days before my seventeeth birthday, that I would get the chance to see Gibson in person wearing a Tigers uniform again.
I remember that we chose that game because not only was it near my birthday, but because the Rangers were in town with my favorite non-Tiger, Jose Canseco, on the team. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was in the timing. Or so I thought. The following is remembered to the best of my ability with some help from this boxscore/recap from baseball-reference.com.
We arrived at Tiger Stadium in time for the 7:05 start and I remember being excited that my soft drink came with a Gibson collector’s cup. When we got to our seats, I eagerly checked the Tigers lineup.
1. Tony Phillips, LF
2. Juan Samuel, 2B
3. Travis Fryman, 3B
4. Cecil Fielder, 1B
5. Alan Trammell, DH
6. Eric Davis, CF
7. Junior Felix, RF
8. Chad Kreuter, C
9. Chris Gomez, SS
Whoa, whoa, whoa. Not only was one of my newer favorites, Mickey Tettleton, not starting, but NO GIBBY IN THE LINEUP, EITHER? I wanted to storm the field and beat the white out of Sparky Anderson’s hair. Junior Felix in right? Chad Kreuter catching? So unfair.
But being that my trips to the old ballpark were so rare back then, I decided to make the best of it. What else could I do? Mike Moore started for the Tigers against future Tiger hero Kenny Rogers on the mound for Texas. Also in the Rangers lineup were future Tigers Juan Gonzalez, Pudge Rodriguez, and Bill Ripken (as a defensive replacement late in the game). Ex-Tiger Doug Strange started at second for them, too.
In the bottom of the first, Detroit struck first on a Fryman solo home run. I made fun of my dad since I had picked him as a future star when we attended a previous Mud Hens game when Travis was there. Dad had picked Scott Lusador. I won that bet.
Anyway, in the second, Gonzo would knock in Will Clark with a single to tie the game. A Pudge triple would plate Gonzalez and he would score on a sac fly. 3-1 Rangers going into the bottom of the second.
Gomez would have an RBI single in the second to make it 3-2. There’d be no more scoring until the bottom of the fifth when Big Cecil would club a two-run shot and the previously cursed Felix would hit a two-run double to score Trammell and Davis, who had both singled. 6-3 Tigers…yay! And Felix would come through again in the bottom of the eighth with another RBI hit to put Detroit up 7-3.
That’s when it happened. My dad told me the game was as good as over and we needed to leave to beat the traffic. I immediately freaked out and said, “What traffic? There’s not that many people here!” The official attendance for the game was 11,569, I see from the boxscore, so I was right. But no, he had seen enough and we were leaving. He told me not to worry, that we’d listen to the end of the game in the car on the way home. I had no choice but to leave.
By the time my dad got the game on in the car, the score was 7-7. I was beside myself. Apparently, Sparky left Moore in to get the complete game. He got the first man before giving back-to-back walks to Strange and Pudge. Mike Henneman was brought in to stop the bleeding, but it was too late. A double, an error by Fryman, and a bloop single had tied the score. I begged my dad to turn the car around, but of course, he wouldn’t listen.
Fryman, Fielder, and Trammell went 1-2-3 in the bottom of the ninth as I sat listening to every word and trying not to scream at my old man. The tenth saw my buddy Canseco single and score on another hit by the ex-Tiger Strange to make it 8-7 Rangers. “See?”, my dad said. “You wouldn’t have wanted to stick around and watch them blow it like this, right?” “It’s not over yet”, I remember thinking as I sulked.
Rangers closer Tom Henke came in to close it out for Texas. Eric Davis had other ideas, singling on a 3-1 pitch. The unstoppable Felix followed with a walk. And I was on the edge of my seat as Tettleton was summoned to pinch hit for Kreuter. “I can’t believe we’re missing this”, I yelled at Father of the Year. Tettleton popped out to second. And then the moment that I’ll never forget or forgive would occur.
Mighty Gibby was coming up.
Sparky chose that moment to have Gibson hit for Gomez. I was ready to have a stroke. And with two on and an 0-2 pitch, the guy I came to Tiger Stadium to see launched a three-run walkoff home run while my father and I were riding south on I-75 instead of being in our Tiger Stadium seats. The Tigers won, 10-8 in extra innings.
To this day, I cannot remember another time in my life where I was so unbelievably excited and then immediately irate the next second. With tears in my eyes I screamed at my dad for making us leave. He offered a weak apology, but I didn’t care. I don’t think I spoke to him for a week after. I hated him.
And that’s that. I wish I had nice stories about going to the ballpark with my father like Will Leitch, Bill Simmons, and Tom Stanton do. But I don’t. But I’ll be damned if my kid ever has to suffer like I did that evening in May so many years ago. I’m sure I’ll do something stupid over his life to earn his ire, but it’s not going to because I wanted to beat some traffic.
And I may get my chance just yet. Last week, he came up to me and with a grin on his face asked me, “You know who my favorite sports team is, Daddy?” “Yeah”, I responded. “Stupid Michigan.”
Then he threw me a curveball. “Nope. I love Michigan, but the Tigers are my favorite sports team now.”
I’m not sure where that came from. But if he’s serious, I’m ready to start writing some new father-son history with him to try and make up for my own with my dad.
And if he ever cheers for Don Kelly, I’m grounding him for a month.