Tender memories of spring training and a love of the Detroit Tigers
Posted in , Mar 23, 2022
Now that the baseball players and the bosses have settled their labor issues—a dispute I will refrain from commenting on here since it has no place in a piece of Guideposts content except to remember that greed is one of the seven deadly sins—spring training can commence.
Better late than never. I love spring training when everything seems ripe with possibility and promise. The great writer Thomas Boswell called one of his books Why Time Begins on Opening Day, and I read it almost every spring. I once spent a couple days with Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan at spring training for a Guideposts cover story. As cool and professional as I tried to be, I was unabashedly agog at the players and their skill level, their fluid, seemingly effortless movements, the crack of the bats and the smack of a fastball exploding into a catcher’s mitt, some young fireballer hoping to make the big club. And all the happy trash talking. Teammates love to razz each other, and they can be very funny.
Want to know another person who loved spring training? My mom. In fact, for many years, we shared a passion for the Detroit Tigers. Mom would send me the Detroit sports pages wherever I was living so we could keep up with the Tigs together. One of the earliest signs of her Alzheimer’s was when she started sending me the wrong sections of the paper—business instead of sports, for instance—or sent them to an old address and then asked me if I had read the latest column by Mitch Albom, whom she loved. Shortly after Mom died, I interviewed Mitch for a Guideposts piece. She would have been thrilled.
Not long before Mom could no longer live on her own, I flew back to Detroit and took her to a Tigers game. We sat in the hulking green ballpark on Trumbull Avenue on a cool sunny day, getting there early so we could hear the smart crack of the bats during hitting practice and eat hot dogs. I don’t know who the Tigers played or if they won. We left early because Mom was cold, and I knew she was taxed and having trouble following the game. So was I. I was thinking of the finality of life and the passion of a true fan and how it lives in the heart, nursed by never-ending hope born every spring.
As I helped her up the stairs to the concourse she stopped and turned for one long last look at the sun and the shadows and the impossibly green grass and the men waiting in position for the next pitch, a timeless tableau. I prayed it was a memory she would never lose.
Do you and your mom share a passion for a sport or sports team? I bet a lot of you do. Tell me about it here. And one other request—a close friend of mine is struggling with depression and Gracie, who turned seven this week, has a nasty ear infection that necessitated a trip to the vet on her birthday. Prayers for both, please. Neither deserves to suffer.