Monday, October 23, 2006

A Tiger Fan in Massachusetts

As a 5 year old boy living in Lowell, Massachusetts, I was learning about baseball for the first time during the 1967 World Series between the “impossible dream” Red Sox and the Cardinals. All the older kids in the neighborhood were talking about Carl Yastrzemski and Jim Lonberg and they were singing a song about Lee Stange “The Stinger”. My father, on the other hand, was singing the praises of Lou Brock, Bob Gibson and Ray Washburn. I didn’t understand a lot about what was going on but it became clear to me that baseball was a wonderful and important thing.


I liked both teams and I did not care who won. I became fascinated with Lou Brock when I saw him on TV taking a lead off first base flicking his tongue in and out and swinging his arms back and forth. I knew that this Yaz guy was some kind of god but Brock was my first baseball hero. I don’t remember much else about the series except that the Cardinals won and that I was slowly falling in love with baseball.



The next spring, I started collecting baseball cards for the first time and I, of course, wanted a Brock card. Brian, the nine year old boy next door knew that I liked Brock so one day he offered me a Brock card for three Red Sox cards. Not realizing or caring that I was being taken, I accepted the deal and felt really proud that I had exchanged cards with an older boy. My father was happy that I had acquired Lou Brock but he also told me that I had paid too much. I continued to trade Red Sox cards for Brock cards in the coming months but now I was making one for one deals instead.



Meanwhile, the Red Sox were not off to a good start in 1968 and the neighborhood kids were getting restless. One day, a bunch of them were talking about the Cardinals. This piqued my curiosity but I didn’t like what I was hearing. One of them laughed at Ray Washburn’s name. Another said the Cardinals were not as good as the Red Sox. I told them that the Cardinals beat the Red Sox last year. They said the Cardinals were just lucky and the Red Sox were a better team. I didn’t like this kind of talk at all. I probably would have let it go until one of them said that Lou Brock was not so great. This I could not accept. I said nothing but I knew right then I could never be a fan of the Red Sox. I now traded more and more Red Sox cards for Cardinal cards and not just Lou Brock.



Although I liked the Cardinals, I somehow realized that they were my father’s team and I needed a team of my own. That August, the family took a week long trip to Cape Cod. The Red Sox were playing a series against the Tigers which I heard on the radio. I knew the Tigers were good and was intrigued by some of the names – Al Kaline, Mickey Stanley and especially Willie Horton. On August 11, 1968, the two teams played a double header. The Tigers won both games – the first one 5-4 in 14 innings and the second game 6-5 when the Tigers scored 4 runs in the bottom of the 9th. I heard the end of the second game and ran to tell my father the news. It felt good to give him some baseball news he did not know about. I was quickly becoming a Tiger fan. The next time Brian offered me another Lou Brock card, I shocked him by saying I now wanted Tiger cards.



I followed my new team right into the World Series. The Cardinals won the first game of the series 4-0 when Gibson struck out 17 Tigers. My father delivered the news when I came home from school. He ridiculed Kaline, Horton, Norm Cash and Denny McLain and boasted that the Cardinals would crush the Tigers in the series. This made me angry, angrier than the day the kids talked down Lou Brock. I knew I was on my own now and I wanted the Tigers to beat the Cardinals badly.



The Cardinals went up three games to one before the Tigers came back to even it up. I pleaded with my mother and father to let me stay home from school to watch game 7 on television. Not yet realizing the grip the game was starting to have on me, they initially refused. But I was not a kid that would beg for something that wasn’t important and my parents began to see what was happening. Finally they agreed to let me watch the game. I still didn’t understand everything about the game but I knew Mickey Lolich was doing something special (winning his third game of the series) and I knew they were beating Gibson. The Tigers defeated the Cardinals 4-1 to complete the improbable series comeback. I was now a full fledged Tiger fan and I never turned back.


Many times, over the years, my father and I have talked about the possibility of the Tigers and Cardinals meeting in the World Series again. We got to see them meet in interleague play a few times but that is not the same thing. Now, after 38 years, it has finally happened. My father still remembers the three wins by Lolich and the great Tiger comeback and he wants his revenge. One way or the other, this will be a memorable week for the Panas family.

3 comments:

  1. Boy, this is the story of the borning of a baseball fan! Thanks for the insight, little kids do think a lot!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for the great story Lee. I always wondered how you became a Tiger fan and now I know.

    ReplyDelete
  3. This is a terrfic story Lee -- thanks for sharing it!

    ReplyDelete

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