The players of the '04 Tigers have been quoted numerous times this season saying that this is a new team, and that many of them weren't here last year for the ball club that went 43-119. One can only agree with these comments as we see a team with flare, style, and attitude. Fans are hopeful in Detroit and have supported their first place Tigers better in this first home series than at any point in last year's dreadful run. Yet, it is the players who are jumping up and down, high-fiving, and hugging each other with each important play. Even though the Tigers lost on Saturday, it seemed that they were going to win. It was apparent in Craig Monroe's exuberance of crossing home plate to pull the Tigers within one at 6-5. Although this was the last run the Tigers would score on that day, I believe that they played until the final out.
On Sunday, many fans of the Tigers watched at Comerica, on the Internet, or wherever they could, and remembered what it was like to win. Sure, the Tigers had already been in the win column four times this season, but how would they bounce back after their first loss? More importantly, what kind of message would it send to win a series from the defending AL Central champs? Monroe's tenth inning game-winner not only redeemed his poor throw into the stands a few innings earlier, but it was the statement to the Twins and the rest of the baseball world that said, "We are the Tigers. Hear us roar!"
Another thing that is apparent to me is that people who aren't even involved somehow become involved when they see so much effort. A couple of hours after the Tigers extra-inning win on Sunday, people may have turned their TV channels to watch Phil Mickelson go for his first majors win at the Masters. No, people don't hate Ernie Els, but they love the story of the guy that hasn't, can't, or shouldn't. And Mickelson fit this bill, and he did win it with the putt that snuck in the back door. For a day people forgot about Tiger Woods, and they became Mickelson fans. Believe it or not, the same feelings are going to be coming the Tigers' way.
People see a team that was so helpless and lacked any spirit. Yet, after week one of a long season, people have started to enjoy seeing the likes of the Tigers, Devil Rays, and Reds at the top of the standings. As Tiger merchandise has started to fly off the shelves in Detroit, this spirit will continue to spread across America. The same type of karma helped the Marlins during their title run last October. All of that stuff that was said about Pudge Rodriguez joining this team and being a vital part of the Tiger's attitude isn't a hoax; it is the real deal. His energy has juiced other players into playing with passion not only to contend, but also to win. Most notably, this can be seen in Bobby Higginson. For a man that has been a major part of a losing decade, I would like nothing more than to see him running out to congratulate another Tiger win like he did on Sunday.
Despite much skepticism, this is the same path that the Kansas City Royals went down last season. They missed the playoffs, but they had fun along the way and learned how to be winners just one year after losing 100 games. I am going to make sure that I enjoy every ounce of this season as the Tigers learn how to win again.
My Uncle Bill reminded me of a story in 1984 when the Tigers won Game 5 of the World Series and how much my family celebrated that night. He gave me a ride home, but I wouldn't have remembered it. No, I didn't have too much to drink; I was only 4 years old at the time. See, I don't know what it is like to win and cheer for the Tigers. My uncle also commented on how he couldn't believe that I have basically gone my entire life without anything to cheer for, yet I am still a loyal and devout Detroit Tigers fan. So, whatever you do, make sure that you hang on for this ride and enjoy each bit that this team has to offer. There will be plenty of others hopping on the bandwagon of these under-dogs known as the 2004 Detroit Tigers.