Detroit family rejoices upon ALDS win
Suffering dulled as Tigers reward fans for decades of loyalty
Ain't no mountain high enough
Ain't no valley low enough
Ain't no river wide enough
To keep me from getting to you
-- The Temptations
DETROIT -- As that famous Motown music played above the din at Comerica Park on Saturday night, one of the most remarkable scenes in recent Major League Baseball postseason memory was unfolding throughout the wild main concourse.
Fans celebrated the Tigers' 8-3 victory and shocking American League Division Series win against the heavily favored Yankees by emulating the same high-five line that is ceremonial for the victors after any baseball game. Everyone was a teammate, everyone was family, everyone released decades of pent-up emotions.
"We're like a family," said Angie Sikki, as she and husband Jason Sikki of Novi, Mich., went through the same stunning procession. "These guys are phenomenal, that's all there is to it. That's how Detroit teams are. The players celebrated with the crowd, and here we are celebrating with each other. We're all a family."
It was the first weekend that many of these fans had ever seen postseason baseball in person, and for everyone a dream come true with hopeful anticipation of more moments like these to follow. Detroit last participated in the playoffs in 1987, and this was the city's first postseason baseball clincher since the '84 World Series.
"I'll tell you what, that crowd was unbelievable tonight. Unbelievable," said Brandon Inge, the only Tigers player who has remained with the club since before Dave Dombrowski took over as general manager. "They stuck around. They watched the celebration on the field. And you know what? That's for them, too. That 2003 season, they stuck around till the end of the season. They stuck by us. And you know what? We should've taken that celebration out on the field to them. They were deserving of it. I'm glad they got to see a little bit of it first-hand."
It was orange bliss at Comerica Park, a party expected long into the night.
"Unbelievable! We beat Goliath!" shouted Ed Jankowski, 41, of Allen Park, Mich. "This is a big shocker in the sports world. You had the best team playing one of the worst teams -- at least that's what people thought. It just proved that money cannot buy a championship. We know ourselves with the Red Wings that money can't buy a Stanley Cup. Just look at everyone. We don't know baseball in October. I was a child then, and some people were never born then. It's an amazing feeling."
Nick Bianchi, 21, of St. Clair Shores, Mich., was asked what it meant to finally see a postseason celebration for the Tigers.
"The last one was '84, and I was in my Mom's stomach," he said with the broadest smile known to baseball. "This is just great. It's good for the city. It shows how important baseball really is. That's the greatest thing I've ever seen in my life."
Stacey Swick, 24, was wiping tears from her eyes. "This means the world to me," she said. "My dad, [Curt Swick], has taken me to a Tigers game every year since I was 6. He's the biggest Tigers fan ever. I've been bawling my eyes out. I'm originally from Wichita, and I'm one of the fans on Nate Robertson's blog since he's from there, and we're going down to see him now."
Oh, it doesn't matter what you wear
Just as long as you are there
So come on ev'ry guy grab a girl
Ev'rywhere around the world
They'll be dancing
They're dancing in the street
-- Martha & The Vandellas
They were wearing orange. They were waving orange towels. And they were dancing in the concourses and on the streets after it was over.
Jay Tower, 54, is one of those who could put this celebration scene into perspective as a Tigers fan.
"Detroit is a baseball town," said the nearby Huntington Woods resident. "When it's not here, we do hockey. It's just a nice feeling after all these years to actually win. It's the first time the Yankees and Tigers ever faced each other in a postseason, and we're the winners. I remember '84, '68, '87 -- I've seen the good times. This compares to them winning the pennant in '84 and '68, I think. It's wonderful."
Detroit city officials hope that the return of big crowds for Tigers baseball and these types of emotional events will help restore pride and continued economic revitalization downtown, recalling the way the '68 Tigers brought people here together after legendary civil unrest. Mike Ilitch, the owner of the Tigers, recently told the Detroit Free Press: "I've been dreaming about this. And when I see it, I feel like this is not just another town. This is our town, and it is happening."
It was happening on Saturday. Fans here will remember Jeremy Bonderman's bid for a perfect game, the early homers by Magglio Ordonez and Craig Monroe, and the way the Tigers brought their clubhouse champagne celebration out into the stands. For many, they will also remember it as the day that baseball somehow won out over a simultaneous Michigan-Michigan State football game in Ann Arbor, an event that is normally first and very foremost.
"I'm a senior at State and have been through three of those games, and I would much rather be here," said Matt Cebula, 21, an International Relations major at Michigan State from Farmington Hills, Mich. It was the bottom of the third inning when he spoke, and he was calling his mother each inning for football scoring updates. "I was born in '85, and I can't remember any Tigers playoff games in my entire life. This is unbelievable."
His friend, 23-year-old Kevin Garry, is an Accounting major at State who said that it was "heartbreaking" to have to make the decision to be here. But in the end, he said, it was a no-brainer. Near him on the giant scoreboard during the game, the football score was being shown as an update. Nearly everyone seemed to be in the same situation -- no way you could pass this up.
"I drove down today from Ann Arbor, and it was heartbreaking, but we've waited 19 years and you had to be here," said Garry, from Shelby Township, Mich. "We're going to the LCS. How can you pass on it?"
The atmosphere in person was something that these fans will never forget. What a contrast from the crestfallen feeling for many after the Tigers were swept by the Royals on the last weekend of the regular season, resulting in an AL Wild Card instead of the AL Central title. It doesn't matter now. Just seeing postseason baseball again here was an emotional event, and then the bonus was how utterly easy the home team made it all look against an AL East champion thought to be a big favorite.
Wolverines fan Travis George of Detroit said that he would normally be watching his beloved blue-and-maize on TV, and he was walking around Comerica Park asking anyone with headphones on if they had a scoring update from Ann Arbor.
"It's an in-state rivalry, and you can't beat that," said George, 24. "Right now, this is just awesome. I can't think of any other word to describe it. We're doing this to the Yankees. It's awesome. Who ever thought about baseball in October here before?"
They will relish this moment for a long time, and they will never forget it.
"It settled down a little after Bonderman lost the perfect game, but it was crazy all day and night," said Gary Ptasinski, 27, of Woodhaven. "We killed the Yankees! That was supposed to be the best team in baseball, but what does that get [Yankees owner] George Steinbrenner? Another disappointing season. Look at us, we're high-fiving each other. We haven't had anything like this that I can ever remember."
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.