Thursday, September 28, 2006
Knitting and cussing at Comerica
I like going to games by myself, and I’m not one of those people who easily starts conversations with strangers, preferring to quietly keep score and enjoy the festivities.
My new friend Mary Ann would have no part of that.
On Thursday I made my annual final-homestand roadtrip to Comerica Park to see the Tigers and Blue Jays. These excursions have been eventful in the past, from watching the White Sox clinch last year to Mike Sweeney tossing me a ball in an otherwise downbeat trip during one of those make-up games in the first week of October in 2001.
Typically on these trips I can pretty much sit anywhere. But given the Tigers impending trip to the playoffs, there’s a lot of excitement in Motown, attracting 28,000 to an afternoon game.
You can usually get a good seat when you’re buying just one ticket, and the clerk at the booth was able to set me up 20 rows from the field right behind home plate.
After making the mandatory lap of the concourse and inspection of the gift shops, I purchased my yearbook and program and proceeded to section 129.
And there in seat 9 I saw an elderly black woman in a black beret. I slipped past, sat down and politely said “Hello” before taking out my program.
“Young man, I’m going to ask you to forgive me,” she said.
I was confused. “For what?”
“There’s a chance I might curse during the game.”
I laughed, and said, “Ma’am, you’re in the right place. Feel free to cuss away."
She then introduced herself, telling me her name and explaining that she came to the game with her son, Lou, who was attending his first game at Comerica.
My new friend, who Lou later told me was 80 years old, soon told me all about her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, including the son-in-law in the Navy who is stationed in Japan.
Mary Ann belted out both anthems, proud that she knew the lyrics to “O Canada,” though I think Lou wanted to hide under his seat.
The game started horribly for the Tigers, with errors by Brandon Inge and Kenny Rogers contributing to the Jays posting two quick runs. Mary Ann pulled out two small knitting needles and beige yarn, saying she liked to knit when she was nervous. She knit a lot during the game, with good reason.
The Blue Jays jumped all over Rogers – like I haven’t seen him meltdown before -- chasing the notorious Andruw Jones-walker in the fourth-inning. The Jays were up 7-0 by the end of the frame.
After each hit, I heard Mary Ann emphatically say “Sugar!” and noticed her knitting more furiously.
She knew her baseball. Lou was calling for Rogers to get pulled during the first inning, and said players should be fined for making errors. Mary Ann would explain to him that’s not the way it works. Rogers would get a couple innings to right the ship, and players have contracts.
“He’s new to the game,” she told me with a wink.
The Blue Jays lead – and A. J. Burnett not giving up a hit until the fourth -- cheered the guy who sat on the other side of me, a gentleman who lives outside of Toronto and shares a block of season tickets at the Rogers Centre with a group of 10 friends.
When Mary Ann wasn’t talking, my Canadian friend was, telling me how the trip across the border is getting more difficult, new food concessions at the former SkyDome and the lowdown on the Jays’ young infielders.
We were also amazed that the Jays twice tried stealing third base on Pudge Rodriguez, both time failing miserably – especially when turtle-fast Jason Phillips was one of the would-be stealers.
The Tigers started making noise in the bottom of the fourth, loading the bases with none out and Carlos Guillen coming to the plate, the crowd on its feet.
Guillen wiffed. Then it happened.
“Ooooooooohhhhh shit! No! Sugar! I mean sugar! ”
“Mom!” Lou said, shocked.
I just laughed. “You told me that might happen.”
The Tigers made things interesting, pushing a run across in the fourth and adding two in the sixth before adding one in the seventh. Then Sean “The Mayor” Casey launched a two-run bomb to bring them within a run. Lou was convinced each hit was the result of his Mom’s prayers.
Alas, the Jays added an insurance run in the eighth, and Brandon League and B.J. Ryan mowed the Tigers down.
But a good time was had by all – though I never would have expected it. There was something familiar about talking baseball all afternoon with a senior citizen.
I dawned on me later it was like those games from my youth, when my Grandmother would take me to see the Mets at Shea. I finally got to return the favor, taking her to a couple spring training games in 1996. We lost her the next year.
Next time I go to a game by myself I might not be as shy. You never know who you might be sitting near – and it’s OK if they need to cuss a little.