If you build it, they will come. The quote originally stems from Kevin Costner's 1989 hit "Field of Dreams", in which a number of deceased baseball players return to life via a cornfield to play baseball in Iowa (OK, so this has to be one of the most outrageous plots of all time for a movie that is considered "good"). The quote was from a voice in the sky (getting crazier) who instructed Ray Kinsella - Kevin Costner - to clear his crop and build a baseball field in its place (and no, I wouldn't blame you if you shut the movie off at this point). The movie then follows Ray in his travels around the country, searching for something that at the time he did not know. It concludes with Ray playing catch with his father, something he never got to do as a child, due to their estranged relationship and his father's untimely death.
Anyone that loves baseball knows the movie. But if Mike Illitch were a smart man, he'd take those famous words "If you build it, they will come" to heart.
Build what? Well, build a successful baseball team, of course. Easier said then done, yes, but certainly not impossible. Illitch need look no further than up I-75 to his billionaire nemesis Bill Davidson, whose Detroit Pistons just completed one of the biggest upsets in NBA Finals history to win their 3rd NBA title.
It was not three years ago that the Pistons were a maligned franchise, jokes from the media claimed that it might just be time to shut off the lights in the Palace. But Joe Dumars, former Piston hero and new General Manager, had a plan, and executed it with the help of an excellent scouting department and an owner willing to spend.
For many years, Illitch has not shown the willingness to spend significant money on the team, not until the team was really ready to compete. Illitch pointed to teams like Oakland and Minnesota as examples, teams that won through their farm system. But the Tigers don't have that farm system – thank Randy Smith for that, and Illitch has to take some blame for that as well, for keeping Smith around for too long a period.
Illitch wants to see a winner before he'll spend, he wants to make money before he'll put more money into the team. But the Tigers don't have the team that's going to push for a playoff spot, at least not right now. The typical catch-22, but it's time Illitch made a bold move and invested money into the team. At this point Illitch has two choices, he can either continue on the path the team is on, keep waiting for the "great prospects" to develop (of which there are very few), or go out and make something happen. This past offseason was a good start, a necessary start, simply to return the team to major league caliber. But to get the team to the next level, top-of-the-line players are needed, and those will only come through free agency.
Tiger fans will always linger around, if for no other reason than basketball/hockey season ends in mid-June, and football season doesn't kick back off until Labor Day. But the fact remains, if a winner is on the field, there will be no worries about selling game tickets, fans will pack the stadium.
Some claim that the city of Detroit is a football-town, evidenced by its love for the Detroit Lions. The nickname Hockeytown has been associated with Detroit for the past 5 years due to the Detroit Red Wings success and incredible support. But neither are true – Detroit is a sports town, bottom line. And when a team is winning, the people of Detroit will give their complete support.
The Palace of Auburn Hills just recently hosted the NBA Finals, and witnessed the hometown Detroit Pistons being crowned NBA champions. Numerous writers tried to put the feeling that resonated in the building into words, but it's an impossible thing to describe. Magical, electric, no words do justice to the excitement that surrounded the team and the game.
It should be noted, three years ago, the Pistons had gimmicks such as Free Haircut Day, just to get people to come to games. Tickets for the NBA Finals sold out completely in just a couple of minutes.
The feeling of excitement and magic once existed with the Tigers, though those were times of long ago. But, a winning team will make Detroiters forget all about the losing seasons. The Tigers and the "Bless You Boys" slogan that followed the 1984 World Series championship team can return.
If you build it, they will come. Just ask Bill Davidson, Joe Dumars, and the rest of the world champion Detroit Pistons.