Anybody who knows me knows I was born in Detroit and grew up there for the first portion of my life, up through I was nearly 12 years old. They also know that for the rest of that time I’ve lived in the South, mostly Atlanta (with a two year stop in Alabama). I still love my Detroit teams but I do love the Atlanta teams as well. But I will pull for the Detroit squads before the Atlanta squads (save the Falcons and Lions where I held season tickets to Atlanta for a few years and was invested financially and emotionally).
So when February arrived and they announced the newest members of the Hall of Fame, I had to go. It was a must. The veterans committee selected Tigers greats Alan Trammell and Jack Morris. And then the voters selected Chipper Jones on his first chance. Also going were Vladimir Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman, and Jim Thome. Every year I take the family and do a summer vacation to a different place that hosts an MLB team. I had planned on doing the Rockies and Royals, but this was before I knew about who was getting in. So the plans changed.
My wife teaches and is frustrated with me for the fact we are putting our vacation right before school starts (we Georgians start school in early August), but I told her she didn’t understand (thus taking the risk of being thrown on the couch) what going meant.
Showing my age here a little bit, but I was really young when the Tigers won their last World Series in 1984. I remember vaguely that my mom and dad were standing outside Tiger Stadium hoping to get World Series tickets. Spoiler alert: we didn’t. But I remember at 5 starting to watch baseball on PASS Sports (Detroit’s sports station before Fox Sports did all local stuff) and seeing the Tigers. My mom and dad went to a few games with her softball teams and would come back giving me a souvenir. First was a pennant and the next was a Tigers helmet. In 1986 I started watching the Tigers and the faces and names would be familiar with me: Alan Trammell, Jack Morris, Lou Whitaker, Kirk Gibson, Darrell Evans, Larry Herndon, Chet Lemon (my all-time Tiger), Tom Brookens, Lance Parrish. I could go on. I remembered at my local library they had allowed us to rent videos and they had the History of the Detroit Tigers video which I would always try to grab and watch when I got home so I could know about my Tigers.
But of course, my excitement spiked when my parents took me to Tiger Stadium when I was 6 and I was all excited. Of course, we were in the lower deck and in the high rows which meant you couldn’t see the black & white scoreboard. But I remember how the fans cheered for the Tigers and just looking around I was just amazed at everything Tiger Stadium had to offer. It was heaven with the smell of hot dogs flowing all around the concourse. Seeing the park was awesome and seeing the Tigers win was always a happy time for me. The years after we got closer to the field and saw the scoreboard, which wasn’t wowing by today’s technology, but it was awesome to see it.
As I said, it was always exciting to go to Tiger Stadium as a kid. But it was more exciting as every time I went, they won. And anytime I went Trammell would have a good day at the plate and on a couple of instances I saw Jack Morris pitch two complete games. One of them a complete game shut-out on my birthday (as Trammell homered in that game as well). But growing up it seemed like of all the players on the Tigers, Morris and Trammell were the constants that you felt like would always come through. Morris was the proverbial bulldog, able to go 8 or 9 innings any outing and Trammell always seemed to have that clutch hit. And when Morris was on, it felt like the Tigers couldn’t ever lose. And I remember as a kid having a Jack Morris baseball card folder for school and the kids would always look at it and on the back of the folder had the stats of Morris through 1987. Trammell as I said always came up big especially when I went to games at Tiger Stadium. He was Mr. Reliable. He wasn’t outspoken or flashy. He did his job and did it well. Every time I went to Tiger Stadium, I always got excited because they had a chance to win but also I knew Trammell would always give them a shot to win as I remember him hitting home runs, getting key hits and having a big night back in 1988 when he had 5 RBI against Boston when they threw out Roger Clemens against the Tigers. Even on my last trip to Tiger Stadium in 1994 before the strike, I saw Trammell, whose prime had certainly passed at this point hit a home run in a come-from-behind win against the Athletics on Sunday Night Baseball.
I moved to Atlanta in the mid-90’s (in my teen years) and my first full year living here was Chipper’s rookie year in 1995. I only saw two games at the old Fulton County Stadium (and two was enough for me), but Chipper played well in both games I saw though no home runs. However, when the Braves moved to Turner Field, it seemed like starting in 1999 through 2012, Chipper ALWAYS homered when I went, whether they were winning or losing. He was a pure hitter and a sight to see switch-hitting. He wasn’t my favorite player because some of the comments he would make in the media and such, but I also know he was the face of the Braves franchise and the center piece. 1999 was a special year as the Braves, losing slugging star Andres Galarraga due to chemo treatment took a step back and the Mets were on the rise. Chipper pretty much single-handedly beat the Mets in the head-to-head match-ups while hitting 45 HR en route to an MVP season. But as I got older and at college, I would buy a couple of cheap seats in the 435 section and again, it always was like he would hit a home run. Even in his final years, Chipper played at a high level and the same feeling I had for Trammell when I always went to Tiger Stadium, I had for Chipper of he was very capable of having a big night for a Braves win. And much like the last time I saw Trammell play in person, Chipper homered in the last game I saw him play in person. I guess with those two it was just a symbolic way to say goodbye and thanks.
What puts a cherry on top of this Hall of Fame class to me is Vladimir Guerrero. He wasn’t a Tiger or a Brave, but the minute he stepped on the field I was in awe of this guy. One of the first games I ever went to Turner Field I was taken out of school for a day game between the Braves and Expos. Maddux was on the mound so I was pumped as it was. Then I see this guy for the Expos come up. He had the range to get fly balls in right field, had a cannon for an arm, and was hitting shots. He hit a double off of Maddux and in that same inning, this guy was fast that he tagged up from second base to score the go-ahead run and the place was stunned at his athleticism. That guy? Vladimir Guerrero. The Braves actually won the game thanks to a Keith Lockhart walk-off, but all I remember that game was talking about Guerrero. He had become one of my favorite players right behind Jeff Bagwell and anytime the Expos came to Atlanta until 2003, I was always excited on seeing Guerrero play. For me what made Guerrero so fun was that he really never met a pitch he didn’t like and he was the best hitter who swung at the worst stuff and he did it with excellence. His outfield was underrated I thought, but I know as the later years arrived he wasn’t the same guy. But I still had to see him hit whenever he was on television, whether it was when he was with the Expos, Angels, Rangers, and Orioles. Being in Atlanta you rarely see the Angels play and when Guerrero played with the Angels, they never arrived in Atlanta. But in 2010, I was fortunate enough to get to Texas to visit my uncle in the Dallas area in early April and saw the Rangers (who had Guerrero that season) play. And in the last game I saw Guerrero play in person………..he homered. And on a side note, last year I went to Lansing and saw the Lansing Lugnuts play. His son was a Lugnut, and much like his dad, was hitting missiles all over the place. I can’t wait to see his son come up for the Blue Jays.
Jim Thome I only saw play a few times when he was with the Phillies and came to Atlanta. He was not my favorite player (seemed like he was always on the rival teams of the Tigers and Braves) but I always liked him and appreciated his love of the game. He always seemed like he had a smile on his face and was a true class act anywhere he went. And a memorable moment was his home run #600 hit in Detroit as the sold out Tigers faithful gave him a standing ovation (probably because he destroyed Detroit all throughout his career with the Indians and Twins), but it couldn’t have happened to a better guy than Thome. And I remember watching him growing up and just loved how he played the game.
Trevor Hoffman I only saw pitch twice as the Padres are only 3 games per year in the Atlanta area now. But in those two games he didn’t allow a hit and struck out one guy. But I remember the first time I saw him pitch in person (when I was in college) I was excited because I believed when he started to become that dominant closer that there wasn’t anybody better, which said something with Mariano Rivera also closing at the same time (and he was also one of the best ever). But hearing AC/DC’s Hell’s Bells on tv when he came out to close a game was awe inspiring on top of it and it was like “oh yeah, it’s Trevor time.” And like Thome he was also one of those guys that just seemed like he loved to play and like Thome, I don’t have any real connection with the guy but I always appreciated what he did for his team and baseball in general.
So there you have it. My life in a nutshell with baseball. As a little kid I grew up watching Jack Morris throw complete games and Alan Trammell having big nights at Tiger Stadium. When my teen/early adult years arrived, I saw Chipper slice up pitchers left & right while hearing Ozzy’s Crazy Train before he came up. Following Guerrero and never passing up a chance to see him play was a treat as well. So really Trammell, Morris, Chipper, and Guerrero are 4 of the major guys who have made me come out to the ballpark and build that love for baseball. And it spanned nearly 30 years of my life and going up there next Sunday is my way of saying “thank you” for they have done.