They came back for memories, for fans, for each other. They certainly came for Sparky Anderson.
"There's a lot of us who came because of him," said Jack Morris, staff ace of the Tigers' last World Series championship team in 1984.
While the 2009 Tigers waited to begin a series showdown with the Twins that will likely define their season, Monday was still the night for Detroit to honor the 25th anniversary of its 1984 World Series champions at Comerica Park. From the looks of pride on players' faces to lines of fans who wrapped around the concourses for autographs and honors, it was a day of honor that became a night to honor Anderson.
World Series MVP Alan Trammell flew in from the West Coast on an off-day for the Cubs, with whom he works as bench coach. So, too, did D-backs coach Kirk Gibson, whose home run in Game 5 of the Fall Classic helped the Tigers put it away.
Then there was Morris, whose no-hitter April 7 of that year stands as perhaps the defining highlight of Detroit's famous and unmatched 35-5 start. He currently works as a broadcaster covering the rival Twins near his Minnesota farm, but he donned a Tigers hat again for a day as he took the field.
"If the truth be known, we'd all like to be able to be in uniform tonight and go play a baseball game," Morris said.
Nobody played Monday; the rain that fell on those who didn't bring an umbrella, such as Morris and Gibson, washed out the scheduled game without so much as a ceremonial first pitch. It soaked the field, but not the enthusiasm.
Trammell, Gibson, Morris and All-Star catcher Lance Parrish all received a rousing ovation when introduced during ceremonies behind home plate. The cheers for Anderson, however, began as soon as he walked out of the tunnel and onto the field, and roared when he was finally introduced.
Anderson, still exuberant, still unflinchingly positive at age 75, soaked in every second of it along with the raindrops in his first appearance at the ballpark since Game 2 of the 2006 World Series. He raised his hands to try to encourage the fans to raise the volume.
"It's a great day for all of them," Anderson said earlier in the day. "It's a great honor."
Trammell spoke to the crowd and personally thanked Anderson, who he said taught them "how to play the game the right way," the credit he has so often given during his coaching career.
Then Anderson took the microphone and thanked the fans from the heart.
"This team will be back, I guarantee you," he said, looking over his right shoulder at the Tigers' dugout. "And this little guy over here will bring it back."
He pointed to current Tigers manager Jim Leyland, who managed in Detroit's farm system during Anderson's first few years as a Tiger before leaving the organization for a coaching job with Tony La Russa's White Sox.
Leyland met with Anderson in the hallway earlier in the day.
"He looks good," Leyland said.
Anderson referred to Leyland and Twins manager Ron Gardenhire as two of the best managers in the game. Earlier, he spoke in wonderment about Gardenhire's ability to manage.
Leyland, standing in the rain on the top step of the home dugout, tipped his cap.
All in all, it was a collective tip of the cap for one of the most dominant teams in recent history, yet a team that has been largely overlooked in Hall of Fame voting.
The Tigers had long since clinched their spot in the playoffs by this point in 1984, on their way to winning the division by 15 games. Not only did they lead the American League East from start to finish, they finished strong, winning 11 of their final 15 when they already had the division all but wrapped up.
By the time they reached October, they admitted there were nerves about losing in the playoffs and ruining such a great season. But there was confidence, too.
"This is just my opinion, which I'm entitled to: We would've beat the 1927 Yankees that year," Trammell said. "It was our year. We weren't going to be denied that year."
What sticks out to the players years later, though, is obviously the start. The term used almost to a man was that it was a team on a mission.
"The whole year was unbelievable," Parrish said. "I just remember about going 35-5. I remember we won our 35th game in Anaheim, and I remember going back to my hotel room that night after the game and sitting there and just kind of running through my head. And I was like, 'You know, this just doesn't happen, winning 35 of your first 40 games of the season.' It was mind-boggling.
"Obviously, that particular memory was great. But the accomplishments throughout the year, just the way that we played together, [stood out]. We never felt like we were out of it. We always seemed to come through."
That attitude, their style of play, came from Anderson, who arrived in Detroit in the summer of 1979 to take over a team of young but talented kids such as Morris, Trammell, Gibson, Parrish, Lou Whitaker, Dan Petry and Dave Rozema.
There was toughness, but there was also loyalty. More important, there was an attention to detail.
"It just didn't happen overnight," Trammell said. "The things that Sparky was trying to get across to us, the little things in baseball that you need to be able to do, to be able to execute at certain times, we finally got it. And it helped. In fact, I can tell you that first hand, it helped. It was one of the reasons why we were able to be successful."
Said Morris: "It was a journey of a life experience for a lot of us. We came up as young kids out of high school and college who had a dream but didn't know how to put that dream together. Sparky was kind of the bond that knew how to put it together. He taught us how to play the game, how to win. We ultimately did that, and now we get to share the memories."
That, Trammell believes, is why this team has remained so close. Many of them, too, have remained close to their old manager through all the years, even though it doesn't seem like long to Anderson.
"It should," Anderson said, "but it really doesn't. You tell children you'll wake up tomorrow and be out of college, and they're only in the third grade. It just happens. I don't know why or how or what makes it work like that. But it does."
Seeing them again, Anderson said, was why he came back.
"That's what he says," Gibson said, "but I think he was one of the first guys to RSVP. But why wouldn't you come? I mean, how many more opportunities are we going to have to come together?"