Inning One (Part 2 of 10) Don’t forget to read Part One
Opening Day in Detroit had been a holiday to the locals since the days of Denny McClain. It was a normal weekday afternoon that the Detroit Tigers turned into a tradition of calling into work, getting drunk before noon, and eating enough brats, burgers, and nachos to last a week. There wasn’t a thing any reasonable sports fan in Detroit would rather do than attend Opening Day.
This day was no different. Streams of local yucks were filing into Comerica Park. There would be 41,000 strong today and the sea of midnight blue, tiger orange, and home plate white was already filling in, spilling from the top of the upper deck that swept from above the third base side to the first.
The bat boy (man?) recalled that only a year before he was sitting in his car, listening to the surroundings being described from the local radio announcers. They had done a swell job, he thought, gazing out from the dugout, onto the miraculous diamond that would soon be the canvas of the start of the 2012 season. But, they couldn’t do the real thing justice, no matter how hard they tried.
The next few minutes went by a blur. The new scoreboard, if you looked closely enough you could see a very small hole where Inge had launched one of his batting practice balls into, which had been playing a tribute video to for Tiger players, such as Will Rhymes, was now playing obnoxious music as they showed the growing crowd live shots of themselves entering the ballpark, buying alcohol, making their way to their seats. Some people saw themselves and trying to not look too excited, but most just jumped up and down and held up a finger indicating they were “No. 1”, or kissed the person standing next to them.
“Jacob”. The bat boy (man?) turned, surprised to be addressed by his real name. No one had called him by his name all day. The man speaking was the clubhouse manager, his boss if you will, and he wanted to talk, to make sure Jacob knew what he was going to do.
His conversation went by in a blur. The introductions went by in a blur. Blue and white uniforms bounced out of the dugout stood on the third base line. Red and grey uniforms bounced out of their dugout and stood on the first base line. National songs were butchered. Crowds cheered. Jim Leyland pulled him aside and smoked a cigarette in the shadows on the ramp to the clubhouse.
Players bounced back inside laughing, clapping, roaring. It was Little League all over again. Except each one of these men could buy 12 of those teams. Talk of surrealism. Talk of boys pretending to be men and men pretending to be boys.
The Tigers public address announcer told everyone to welcome their 2012 Tigers and 41,000 people began to cheer. Jacob couldn’t hear himself think.
Out to left field ran Delmon Young (21), followed in suite by Austin Jackson (14) to center and Brennan Boesch (26) to the far right. Big Man Miguel Cabrera (24) lumbered to first base, Ryan Raburn (25) to second, Jhonny Peralta (27) to short, and the home run king, Brandon Inge (15), jogged to third. Alex Avila (13) walked slowly out with Justin Verlander (35), heads down in conversation. They parted and each walked 30 feet 3 inches apart. Warm-ups commenced.
It wasn’t long before Avila tossed the final warm up throw down to second base, where Raburn caught it and applied the imaginary tag to the imaginary runner’s leg. He was out.
Up walked the MVP candidate, Jacoby Ellsbury, former slap hitter turned home run launcher. Verlander would need to keep the ball up and away this go round.
The umpire signaled the start of the game and Verlander delivered just what everyone in the stadium anticipated: A fastball over the outside corner of the plate for a 98 MPH strike. Even Ellsbury watched it in awe. The crowd erupted. The season was officially underway.
The put it mildly, Verlander made quick work of the first, striking out Ellsbury on another fastball, then a knee buckling curve that excited everyone within 500 feet. Carl Crawford bounced out to first on his second offering. A shovel toss from Cabrera to Verlander completed the play and there were two outs five pitches into the season.
Up walked Adrian Gonzalez, a batter who could do just as much damage as Cabrera, field his position cleaner, and grow facial hair. In many ways he was just as impressive. But Verlander didn’t care. He punched Gonzalez out on four pitches, the final a 100 MPH heater up and in that Gonzalez tried to hold up on, but couldn’t.
After a 9 pitch inning, Verlander was on his way to another no-hitter.
The bottom of the first would see Austin Jackson, Delmon Young, and Miguel Cabrera, and if possible, Victor Martinez who would be serving as designated hitter.
Josh Beckett finished his own warm up tosses, played with his small curl of a goatee, and walked Jared Saltalamacchia throw out his own imaginary runner, who also was out via Dustin Pedroia’s tag.
Jacob felt his heart begin to pound. This was where he needed to make sure he didn’t screw up. He would have to retrieve the dropped bats or bring out a new collection of white sphere’s to the home plate umpire if he so did desire.
He didn’t get a chance to do any of that.
Jackson decided to start the season off on the right foot. He struck out on four pitches, three of them out of the zone. No on booed. They didn’t want to get inside his head 10 minutes into the season. Young let two balls go by before he grounded out to short, which everyone thought was a minor achievement until they realized he swung at a third ball well out of the zone.
Miguel Cabrera slowly made his way to the plate, adjusted his grip on his bat, made a new hole in the right handed batter’s box that Young had just soiled. There was a reason he took his time, even if it meant people losing interest in his at bat. It was enough to throw the starting pitcher off his game.
And so it appeared. The first two pitches were balls, fastballs low and outside. Sitting pretty, Cabrera could take the next one, or even the next one after that, in order to wait for his pitch to hit.
But alas, that wouldn’t be the case this inning. Cabrera took a pitch for a strike, then launched a bazooka like swing at a cut fastball on the inside half of his plate. He connected and sent the ball flying out to right field. Jacob rose, the ball was high and looked deep, so deep that the right fielder was charging back, turning around, raising his head…and hauling the deep fly into the pocket of his mitt.
Cabrera stopped with the unwillingness of a three year old, he slouched back along the field and tossed his bat to Jacob.
It appears Cabrera hated airports. And also scoreless half innings.
After one, the Tigers and Red Sox were knotted at nothing apiece.