Travels with Charley:
A Tale of Taking the Tigers by the Tail
by Charles McKelvy
My friend Randy Lober and I sensed last year that not all would be well with this year’s baseball season.
So we made plans last August to attend a Tigers game in Detroit, in September.
On September 26, 2019 to be precise. That was to be the Tigers’ last home game in quite a while.
Who knew, right?
Well, I guessed Randy and I must have sensed that something like the COVID-19 crisis was going to come along in early 2020 and turn the world upside down, including Major League Baseball.
So we sat down one August 2019 afternoon in Randy’s living room north of Kalamazoo and got the Tigers ticket office on the horn: we lined up a couple of ducats for the Tigers/Twins day game on September 26, 2019. Never mind that the Tigers were ending one of their worst seasons ever. We were going to see some serious baseball, because, after all, they were playing the Minnesota Twins who had earned a playoff berth. We reckoned that the Twins would be playing their back-up players to save their starters for the post season, but we didn’t care.
We just wanted to enjoy the game of baseball on a pleasant September afternoon in the Motor City, and we did. And let me tell you all about it:
Beginning, of course, with our drive over to Randy’s pleasant town on the afternoon of September 25. He lives northwest of Kalamazoo, so we took I-94 to Paw Paw and then plied some of the most pleasant backroads in all of Michigan to reach Casa Randy. We had planned to stay there overnight so Randy and I could get an early start to Detroit on the 26th, and so Mary, his wife, and Natalie could catch up and discuss their many topics of mutual interest, including books and their husbands’ latest antics.
So, we had a restful night with our friends, complete with one of Mary’s famous home-cooked dinners. After a bountiful breakfast the next morning, Randy and and I set out in his Buick Enclave for an afternoon of Major League Baseball in the Motor City.
Randy insisted on driving, and I am glad he did, because I do not enjoy driving in Detroit. But he handled it with ease, and I listened with interest all the way to Detroit as he told me of his service to the nation in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. Randy enlisted in the army and could have easily gotten orders to serve in Vietnam. But he was ordered instead to serve in Germany, and so he “fought” the Cold War there preparing to face the Red Army in horrific combat.
I, who served stateside in the U.S. Navy Reserve, thanked Randy for his service; I told him he had put himself in harm’s way just as much as if he had taken that long flight to Saigon.
Being men of a certain age, we did have to interrupt our trip down memory lane by exiting the freeway before Comerica Park to make, as we say, “a pit stop.” That put us in a gritty, industrial section of Detroit, and, as we were trying to find our way back to the freeway from our pit stop, we spied a bar featuring “adult entertainment;” we wondered if Mary and Natalie would mind if we stopped there after the game. We decided that was not a great idea, and so we went on with our day which included parking in a garage right across Woodward Avenue from Comerica Park, a pleasant stroll to the old ballpark, and then seating ourselves in the wrong seats, up in the upper deck. At least we thought they were the wrong seats, but the Tigers front office said we didn’t look at the seating chart correctly when placing our phone order. Anyway, they made it right, and we soon settled into great seats on the terrace level, along the first baseline. We foraged for ballpark food before the first pitch, and we both found exactly what we wanted, including a couple of Tigers hats. Yes, I am a lifelong White Sox fan, but I do live in Michigan, and I do root for the Tigers when they’re not playing the White Sox, so—
Well, you get the point, and the point of this story is that Randy and I had a great time at the old ballgame, along with 17,555 other die-hard fans who turned out on a gorgeous fall afternoon to watch the Tigers set the dubious record of tying the 1939 St. Louis Browns for the most home losses (59) during a season in the modern era. The Tigers took an early lead, but they snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory by going down 10-4. But we got to see Miguel Cabrera hit a solid single and try to stretch it into a double until the first base coach stopped him. We figured he said something like: “You’re not that young guy anymore, Miggy.”
Hey, we were a couple of old guys enjoying baseball with other like-minded old guys in our section. We didn’t catch the orange t-shirts they blasted into the stands between innings, but we hit the pro shop before heading for home and were their last customers of the 2019 season. Randy bought himself a smart Tigers golf shirt; I got myself some hot Tigers pajama pants to wear with the orange t-shirt I received as a result of volunteering at a church function in Detroit in 2017.
It was all good, and we had a great ride home, chasing the setting sun along I-94.
I kept saying we had to do a repeat in 2020, but Randy kept saying one doesn’t know what the future will bring.
COVID-19 and the cancellation or postponement of everything, including Major League Baseball in 2020!
At this writing, MLB had yet to release an abbreviated schedule for 2020, but no matter, because Randy and Charley have their memories of a great day at Comerica Park in 2019.