Sunday, July 02, 2006

Hot Turkey On Wry: Tigers Are Killing Him Softly

Okay, we all know that when you quit something abruptly, like a bad habit, it’s known as quitting “cold turkey.” But what happens when you have to suddenly pick up a routine once again?

The Tigers are causing an entire city to engage in what will be known here as “hot turkey.”

Hot turkey is what it’s called – because I said so – when you have to re-learn a drill with all the easing into it of a boiled tomato being plunged into ice water so that it may shed its skin. Or maybe, since the Tigers have been so bad for so long, it’s the other way around: A cold tomato being plunged into boiling water.

In short, hot turkey is the exact opposite of cold turkey, and what else can you call it when a slumbering, moribund fan base is rousted and told to go full throttle? Tigers fans are being asked to go from zero to 60 in, oh, five seconds.

I called my old pal Hotchkins on it.

“Can’t talk right now. Looking for my Tigers cap,” Hotchkins panted into the phone. He’s a 60-something curmudgeon who only last season gave up on Barry Sanders returning to the Lions. But even a hopeless optimist like Hotchkins has been dormant when it comes to the Tigers. Not that it was ever easy to get him to let go. A few years ago I found him sitting on the curb near Brush and Madison, in front of Comerica Park.

“What are you doing here?,” I asked him, but not before I snuck a bag of Better Made potato chips from his knapsack when he wasn’t looking.

“Playoff tickets,” he said through a wrinkled, weathered puss.

This took the cake for even Hotchkins. The Tigers were about 30 games out of first place, with about that many games remaining.

“WHAT? PLAYOFF tickets? You’re out of your mind!,” I screamed, but not before pointing to something behind him and lifting a bottle of Vernors from his knap.

“Gotta be first in line,” Hotchkins said.

“There IS no line, Hotchie. The Tigers are nowhere near the playoffs.”

“They’re due,” he said.

Now, there’s no dissuading Hotchkins when he has his mind made up, so I let him be. But not before wincing at an imaginary traffic accident to his right, after which I palmed his wallet. I needed gas money.

Anyhow, after Hotchkins told me he couldn’t talk on the phone, I engaged him in conversation. Hotchkins will ALWAYS talk, as long as you don’t mind long, pregnant pauses while he multi-tasks. And when I say pregnant pause, I almost mean that literally. I swear I once waited a trimester for Hotchkins to get back to the phone while he made a limburger and head cheese sandwich. I suspect that was because my waiting time also included the after effects of him consuming that sandwich.

“How about those Tigers?,” I bellowed into the phone as Hotchkins scrambled. He has one of those fancy ear thingies that enables him to talk on the phone hands-free. Hotchkins has also been known to talk thought-free, too, but that’s another story.

“Doing okay…where’s my freaking ‘Bless You, Boys’ shirt?!,” Hotchie said, his breath and his patience growing shorter.

“Hotch…how you handling all this? It’s been awhile since they’ve even sniffed contention,” I asked, genuinely concerned. I’ve seen Hotchkins tear his own hair out watching the Tigers – his armpit hair. Hotchkins takes his baseball seriously.

“Living and dying, my friend. Living and dying,” he said.

“I see where Todd Jones – ,” I began.

“DON’T you mention that #$!#$!% to me ANYMORE,” Hotchkins roared about the Tigers’ up-and-down closer. “He’s DEAD to me! DEAD!”

I thought I heard some armpit hair ripping.

“Whoa, okay…easy now,” I said, and as is so typical when I talk to Hotchkins on the phone, I slipped into air traffic controller-trying-to-talk-a-passenger-through-landing-the-plane mode.
“It’s gonna be okay…we’re gonna get through this,” I said in a calm, even tone. I poured myself a Scotch. It’s not just Hotchkins who I have to get through these conversations, after all.

“I know it’s sudden. I know this is like a glass of cold water in your face at dawn, but it’s a long season,” I said – and now I was pacing. I had to keep him talking. Hotchkins has been one to pass out from implosion.

“No lefthanded hitter. Too much reliance on homeruns. And those $#!%$ WHITE SOX!,” Hotchkins cried, and I could practically see him sliding against the wall into a sitting position.

“I know. I know. But they’re for real. They can overcome that. YOU taught me that, Hotch! You’re the eternal optimist!” I tossed down another Scotch.

“I know they’re for real! Why the hell do you think I’m losing my mind? I haven’t had to care about the Tigers for SO LONG! And I’m NOT ready! This wasn’t supposed to happen this soon! Dammit, where’s my ‘Year of the Tiger’ album?!”

“HOTCH…Hotch,” I said, trying to remain measured in my cadence. “You know how these seasons go – they’re rollercoasters.”

“I SAID – don’t mention Todd $#$!$% Jones to me!”

I winced. I should have known Hotchkins would equate a rollercoaster to Jones. I quickly changed direction.

“Hey – Jimmy Leyland. Huh? HUH?,” I said with a grin.

There was a pause. I heard him sigh. But it was a reassured, content sigh. I imagined a small grin curling Hotchkins’ lips.

“Yeah,” he finally said. “Jim Leyland. Manager of the Year, for sure. Thanks, Eno. I guess I need to get a hold of myself.”

I nodded a knowing nod. I shoved the Scotch glass aside. My work was done. I talked him down from the ledge once again.

“Wow – what a relief,” I said. “I thought I was going to need a pitcher of Scotch that time.”

There was a rumble on the other end of the phone.

“RELIEF?,” Hotchkins said. “PITCHER?”


I sighed, rubbed my forehead, and brought the Scotch glass closer to me again.

Todd $#$%! Jones, indeed.

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