My dad claims that he has not missed a Tigers opening day for 40 years.
I didn’t know a thing about my dad’s devotion to this Detroit rite of spring until our heathen Easter dinner last Friday, but I have no reason to doubt him. My dad is a pretty simple guy: he likes baseball, and he likes meat. Other things too (blackjack; the Rat Pack; the crackhouse pitbull rescued across the street from his factory) but not many.
Somehow, within the bounds of these small pleasures, my dad is full of surprises. But it wasn’t his perfect opening day attendance that blew me away; it’s that on his first opening day, in 1963, he was on the field at Tiger Stadium, cheesing around with Al Kaline and Governor George Romney. All it took were some fake press passes, a couple of 35 mm cameras, adventurous friends and a friendly hello to Mayor Cavanagh, who lived in my dad’s neighborhood and ate at his deli on the north side.
In the middle of our dinner, Dad got up and said, “I think I still have some of those pictures.”
He came back to the table with a shoebox crammed full of slides. Hundreds of them. The oldest are from 1962, when my dad was 17, partying on a fake ID and wearing a varsity jacket in U of D colors to entice Catholic schoolgirls. They taper off around 1969, when he was married with two kids and living in Southfield.
We spent the next two hours squinting through them, trying to place them, date them, name them. “There’s something profound about these,” he said. Babies in bathtubs and kids posed in front of the car; big Jewish weddings; my grandfather reading the newspaper in the living room; Niagara falls illuminated at night. And this trove from Opening Day.
These probably aren’t the best vintage Tigers pictures the world has ever seen. But 47 years ago, the Tigers played the White Sox, and lost, and my 18-year-old dad was there, on the field with the greats, at ground zero of his lifetime of Opening Days. And that’s pretty amazing.
Al Kaline, with one of my dad’s cohorts, Mike Sampson.
Manager Bob Scheffing.
Opening pitch warm-up.
Tigers announcer Van Patrick.
Al Kaline and Mayor Jerome Cavanagh.
Michigan Governor George Romney with then-pitcher, now deservedly unpopular US Representative from Kentucky, Jim Bunning.
Governor Romney with wife Lenore.
Mayor Cavanagh and Governor Romney.
Play ball! (EDIT: This is from a 1962 Easter double-header at Yankee Stadium. Oh well.)
Happy Opening Day, Detroit.