Big League Stew

The 10 best things about being a Detroit Tigers fan

Ian Casselberry
Big League Stew

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The request we're sending to bloggers of all 30 teams this spring is a simple one: What are the 10 best things about being a fan of your favorite team? What features of the franchise have you excited for opening day and what keeps you coming back year after year?

Over the next few weeks, we'll give each of the 30 teams a day in the spotlight, showcasing the icons and traditions that make each big-league hamlet special. Starting off the series is our own Ian Casselberry, the editor emeritus of Bless You Boys and a tried-and-true Detroit Tigers fan.

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The $214 million reunion: Prince Fielder and Mike Ilitch. (AP)

1. The owner likes to go big: You remember that scene from "Inception" when Joseph Gordon-Levitt is shooting at snipers with a rifle, then Tom Hardy comes over to say, "You mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling," and whips out a grenade launcher?

That's what Tigers owner Mike Ilitch did to general manager Dave Dombrowski with this Prince Fielder signing this offseason.

After Victor Martinez suffered a season-ending knee injury, Tigers fans, bloggers and reporters (and front office staff, most likely) threw out names like Vladimir Guerrero and Johnny Damon as possible replacements. Ilitch essentially said, "Yeah, yeah — whatever!" to such notions. That wasn't good enough. The man wants to win a World Series. So he got the best guy available. What more can a fan ask for?

2. Justin Verlander's right arm: He's the reigning American League Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Award winner. He's a potential no-hitter every time he takes the mound. He's become appointment viewing for all baseball fans. He's the end of any Tigers losing streak. We get to watch Verlander and his right arm mow down opposing batters every five days during the season. That's a lot of fun.

3. A pregame burger at Nemo's: Tiger Stadium may have been demolished, but if there's one place where its spirit might live on, it's at the bar across the street from the old ballpark. Nemo's doesn't have giant flatscreen TVs, it doesn't have boneless wings on the menu. It's dark, a bit cramped, and the walls are covered with framed photos of sports legends, stadiums and newspaper front pages celebrating great moments in Detroit sports.

There is no better pregame meal than a cheeseburger and ice-cold beer (or two) at Nemo's, preferably enjoyed outdoors on the patio during a warm summer evening with your friends and a bunch of fellow Tigers fans. Plus, no worries about getting to the game, parking and postgame traffic, as you can take a shuttle (an old bus) to and from Comerica Park. Just enjoy the baseball.

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(AP)

4. The hat never changes: The Tigers' home cap is one of the most recognizable in baseball. It's navy blue with a white Old English D. Plain, clean and simple. It doesn't have cartoons, animals, different colored bills, trendy colors or whatever this is. And it's so cool that Magnum P.I. wore it regularly.

The Tigers cap that my father wore looks the same as the one that I wear. If I were ever to have a child, he or she would wear the same hat. No Tigers fan has to worry about having a cap whose fashion will eventually pass and look outdated. It is timeless and a classic.

(Admittedly, the Tigers did sign off on this road cap atrocity from 1995-97. I guess we all stray, now and then. It's a shame that Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker and Kirk Gibson had to wear that lid.)

5. Miguel Cabrera's opposite-field power: Batters aren't supposed to be able to do that. It's one thing to watch Cabrera swat a pitcher's mistake into the left-field seats. But how about when a pitcher hits the outside part of the plate, presumably the location he wanted, only to see Cabrera extend his arms, stride into the pitch and launch that baseball to right field? It's an awesome display of power. And Cabrera makes it look easy.

6. Jim Leyland's postgame pressers: National and out-of-town media is enamored with the Tigers manager anytime they get to talk to him and catch some of his crusty, direct humor. Tigers fans get to see it every night on Fox Sports Detroit after the game.

Leyland is amusing when dismissing obvious questions and platitudes from the local press. But he's at his best after an upsetting loss, when he chews out his frustration with a sandwich or piece of chicken and talks to the media with mouth full, practically spitting his meal on the microphone. It's kind of disgusting, yet compelling at the same time.

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Illustration by Samara Pearlstein

7. Samara Pearlstein's "terrible cartoons": The sports blogosphere is full of writers prattling on about their favorite teams with words and numbers. Maybe a chart here and there. But how many fan bases have bloggers who make their statements with hand-drawn illustrations?

For example, plenty of us wrote about Justin Verlander giving Don Kelly a hot foot last July. But what happened afterwards? No need to imagine! Sam drew that scenario up for us. She calls her drawings "terrible cartoons." She's wrong — they're wonderful. You can see all of them at Roar of the Tigers.

8. The guy who killed Jaws played a Tiger: The late actor Roy Scheider is probably best known for playing police chief Martin Brody in "Jaws" who blew up a scuba tank to take out the great white shark. Eight years later, Scheider played outfielder Billy Young in "Tiger Town," a made-for-TV movie that played on the Disney Channel in 1983. Young slogged through his last season before his home run swing was empowered by a young boy and his powerful wishful thinking, leading the Tigers to the pennant. You just gotta believe.

9. Growing up with Sparky: It's difficult to believe that an entire generation of Tigers fans have grown up without Sparky Anderson as the team's manager. But for so many others, the only manager they'd ever known was the man whose white hair and craggy face made him look 55 years old when he was 45. Sometimes, Sparky could be full of it, like in 1989, when he told a local sportscaster at spring training that he had his best team. The Tigers went on to lose 103 games.

But as Sparky himself once said, "you'll only tell your grandchildren the good things." There are plenty of memories to share of Sparky calling Kirk Gibson the next Mickey Mantle, blowing up on the media, or selling cars on local TV. And, of course, winning a World Series championship and more games than any other Tigers manager.

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Magglio Ordonez's game-winning homer in Game 6 of the 2006 ALCS. (US Presswire)

10. Magglio's home run: No need to clarify that it was in 2006 or that it ended the ALCS. Every Tigers fan knows which homer you're talking about. Bottom of the ninth, scored tied 3-3, and Magglio Ordonez facing the Oakland Athletics' Huston Street.

Ordonez turned on a 1-0 pitch, whipping the ball into the left-field seats and holding up his arms in triumph as he rounded first base. On the other side of the diamond, Placido Polanco in his ski cap rounded third, arms flailing, jumping in the air like a little kid. It was the highlight of the best season seen in Detroit in more than 20 years, putting the Tigers in the World Series while erasing the pain of 2003.

Every fan should get to see their team in a moment like that.

Follow Ian on Twitter — @iancass — and engage the Stew on Facebook

Big League Stew encourages you to join in the fun! Please share these lists with your fellow fans on Facebook and use the comment section below to tell us your favorite things about being a fan of the Detroit Tigers.

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