Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Tigers' Magic Began On An Ohio Highway In April

When the story was told, it was to be off the record, but that was back in April so I think the statute of limitations is up. In fact, I myself had forgotten about it until the other day, when I reflected how truly magical this Tigers season has been.

Bless you, boys, indeed!

Manager Jim Leyland was in his office, several hours before a game April 12. It was two days after the home opener, one day after the requisite off day in case of bad weather for the opener. A few ink-stained wretches were in there with him, including this interloper from a monthly sports magazine. After some small talk about that day's lineup, which included Omar Infante as the DH, the talk turned to how Leyland had spent the off day. What followed was a story that, had I been clairvoyant, would have tipped me off as to the kind of season the Tigers were going to have.

The manager was in Ohio, visiting the family, and was on his way back to Detroit. It was late afternoon, early evening. Then a tire gave out, and the man who today could be elected governor of the state of Michigan was nothing more than a stranded motorist, somewhere in the boondocks of Ohio.

A tow truck was called, and when it arrived, the driver saw Leyland's Tigers equipment bag.

"Hey, Detroit Tigers!," the driver said, according to Leyland. "I'm a big fan."

"Oh yeah?," Leyland said, "Well I'm the G** damned manager!"

Needless to say, from that point on, Leyland received the red carpet treatment. The tire was changed, and Leyland responded by telling the guys at the shop that tickets would be waiting for them the next time the Tigers were in Cleveland. But on a more serious note, he was told that the condition of the blown out tire meant that the car could very well have gone out of control, considering his speed.

In typical Jim Leyland humor, he said that when he called the team to tell him that he was going to travel all night to make it back to Detroit in time for the next day's afternoon game, coach Gene Lamont -- who would have taken over the team in Leyland's absence -- supposedly said, "Jim was in an accident? He's not okay, is he?"

That killed the room of visitors and interlopers.

The blown out tire, which was NOT followed by a horrific accident, the tow truck driver who was a Tigers fan (in Ohio, no less, and near Indians country), the red carpet treatment -- all that should have portended good things for Leyland and the Tigers in 2006.

Later that day, I interviewed coach Andy Van Slyke and he spoke of how the Tigers needed to learn how to win and "turn the page" after every game, win or lose.

Well, they did that, but we needn't have worried, after all. Leyland and his Tigers have been blessed from the get go.

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