Devoted Tigers fan has followed his team since 1927

David Harris
The Flint Journal

Russell Springsteen remembers the game like it was yesterday.

It was 1927 at Navin Field, the one-time home of the Detroit Tigers. The Tigers were playing the Washington Senators.

"I was 9 years old and my big brother took me," said Springsteen, now 90, of Flint Township. "The big field was so green. I'd never seen anything like it."

Springteen recalls the Tigers trailing going into the bottom of the ninth. Then the Tigers scored three runs, including two home runs, in the inning to win.

"I thought it was great," he said. "The crowd went wild."

As the 2009 Detroit Tigers made their first appearance at Comerica Park on Friday, Springsteen is ready for another season.

He has been to at least one Tigers game every year, save for a few years when he was serving in World War II and last year when he was too sick, since 1927.

Through the years he's been to some of the Tigers most famous games.

He was at Briggs Stadium (which later became Tiger Stadium) in 1952 when Virgil "Fire" Trucks tossed a 1-0 no-hitter. In 1999, Springsteen went to the final game in Tiger Stadium.

Springsteen also has some funny stories. When he was 16, he went to a game with some older friends. He hopped into the car and they drove from his native Lapeer to Detroit.

His friends got drunk and he became separated from them.

"I knew exactly where we parked, and when I got to where the car was, there was no car," he said. "They must have gone to bar to finish getting drunk."

Springsteen hitch-hiked and walked to get home.

"When I was walking along (M-24) some dogs would come out and chase me a mile down the road," he said with a laugh.

He finally got home about midnight.

His favorite all-time Tiger is Gee Walker, a reserve right-fielder who played for the Tigers in the 1930s. He was a honorable player, Springsteen said.

Springsteen is a big fan of Comerica Park. He has had a seat in one of the luxury skyboxes for a couple games.

"They serve you food right there," he said.

It was quite a bit different from his first game -- way back in 1927.

"We were in the upper deck," he said. "I felt like I was a mile high."

Springsteen also has became a avid fantasy baseball player. He spends an hour or two each day tweaking his lineup.

"You get a chance to manage," he said. "You can a chance to move (your team) up the standings," he said.

The key to winning in fantasy baseball is pitching, he said.

"You got to spend a lot of money on pitching," he said. "Someone should tell that to (Tigers General Manager Dave) Dombrowski."
Jay Wierenga

For the throngs of Tiger fans and critics alike, today's game was for you.

For the talking heads and assorted prognosticators who have predicted another disappointing season in Detroit, today's game was for you.

For those who called for Jim Leyland to run for governor three years ago and are now calling for his head, today's game was for you.

And for those that think the city of Detroit is a walking corpse, today's game was for you.

At no time over the past couple seasons have the Tigers needed a victory more.

Sure, Detroit won a game in Toronto, thus avoiding the same fate as last year's disastrous club.
However, the loss on the following day sapped much of the slight optimism that had begun to pool in the corners of the sports pages.

Detroit needed an emphatic victory, and their kitties delivered in a resounding way, lassoing the Texas Rangers in a 15-2 affair on Friday afternoon.

Okay, I know what you are thinking. This was one game, and the Tigers are still one game below .500. I concede these points. But there is also a lot more reason for optimism than may initially be visible.

The reason that this game was so important was for the psyche of the players, as much as it was for the fans.

Those who felt burned by a drastically underachieving team last year needed to see a glimmer of hope.

Those who howl about Leyland and the overpaid yet under performing players needed to have a season home opener that would make them eat a little crow. Believe me, it goes down easier with a smuggled pocket flask of whiskey and an $8 beer chaser.

And those pitchers that waited in vain for their run support and the hitters that saw 0-0 opening scores turn quickly into insurmountable obstacles needed a day off from the cardiac arrest which was last season.

Let's take a look at what we have seen so far through five games.

The offense has been stellar, winning with both power and manufactured runs. Typical slow starters, like Miguel Cabrera, have flourished. A player looking for a bounce back season, Brandon Inge, has looked fantastic. Even the usually terrible hitter Gerald Laird managed to get a couple hits.

Defensively, the Tigers have been relatively consistent, although three players that the team has flaunted for their defensive prowess, Inge, Adam Everett and Ramon Santiago each have errors. Inge's in particular came at a very inopportune moment. Regardless, they have looked better, and their consistency will come with time.

The real story so far has been the pitching. The bullpen has been interesting to say the least. The two players brought in to lend a stable and steady hand, Juan Rincon and Brandon Lyon, have been lit up.

Meanwhile, the usually inconsistent Fernando Rodney looked great in his inning of work and rookie Ryan Perry has looked like a real gem in his two outings. Nate Robertson has been, well, Nate Robertson.

Additionally, the starting pitching has shown some real signs for hope. Edwin Jackson was a revelation in his start, Zach Miner looked great and Armando Galarraga picked up right where he left off last year. Those three, some might say, are the key to the season (at least in the early part of the year).
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Detroit Three Find Hope In Centerfield

By Mitch Albom
www.mitchalbom.com

When the Tigers open their season this week, fans will look to centerfield at Comerica Park and see the greenery, the flagpoles and the giant fountain. And, as usual, every time there's a Detroit home run, those fountains will erupt.

That spot, in the stadium business, is what they call prime real estate. Companies pay big money to have their logo smack dab in the middle, so that every time fans gaze out there, the brand is what they see.

For the last few years, General Motors has sponsored that fountain, and paid a substantial fee to do so. This season, with all that has happened in the auto business, GM's folks called the Tigers and said, regretfully, they could no longer pay for it.

GM had to step aside.
Which is when Mike Ilitch, the Tigers' owner, stepped in.

There were other bidders. Other offers. Who wouldn't want that real estate? A deal of three years worth between $1.5 million and $2 million was on the table.

Ilitch said no thanks.
He was going to give it away.
Or maybe "give it back" is a better way of putting it. Chalk up an outfield assist.

"It just seems strange to have the car companies in trouble," he told me this past week. "The Big Three, where would this city be without them? I mean, my father came from the old country and got a job at Ford. It put food on our table."

"It's scary to think that any of those carmakers could go away."

So Ilitch told his people to thank the potential paying customers, but to say that the centerfield fountain this year was spoken for. It would be the feature site for General Motors, Ford and Chrysler.

For free.
No charge.
Not one penny.

"It's just a small opportunity to respond to what's happening," Ilitch said, embarrassed by the attention.

There's nothing small about it.
Every business has been affected by the economy; baseball teams are no exception. Walking away from a couple million dollars is not considered a wise financial move. Who turns away paying customers?
In this case, Ilitch did.
Because sometimes it's about the where and the who, not just the how much. A message from the ballclub

"I thought for a few weeks before deciding," Ilitch admitted. "I didn't want to offend anybody. I didn't want to put off the foreign carmakers. And I didn't want people to think we couldn't sell the fountain. As a businessman, you do worry about those things."

"But I finally said, 'The heck with it.' I want to do something to help."
So starting with the home opener this Friday afternoon, the Chrysler, General Motors and Ford logos will be on an equal plane above the fountain. And beneath those logos will be a few new words:

"The Detroit Tigers support our automakers."

It may be as close to a social statement as centerfield has ever made.

Visitors in Detroit for this weekend's Final Four may think our small, thriving downtown looks a lot like other cities' downtowns. But there is something different beneath the surface.

Here, we construct in the face of adversity. We build on hope. Pure investors will tell you a city with rampant unemployment, enormous budget shortfalls, a troubled school system and a laughable city council is not a place to put your money. We do it anyhow.

We do it because we love our past and we believe in our future. We do it because the alternative would be to close shop altogether. We do it because last week there were stories about the gleaming new Yankee Stadium, which cost $1.5 billion and has seats as high as $2,625 a game - and here is Ilitch giving away his fountain for free.

Detroit may be the new home of the bumpy ride, but as the Three Musketeers once discovered, it's a little smoother when you grab hands with others. Think about that the next time a home run sends that fountain shooting up to those logos. Sometimes it really is all for one and one for all.

"I didn't want to offend anybody. I didn't want to put off the foreign carmakers. And I didn't want people to think we couldn't sell the fountain. ... You do worry about those things."
MIKE ILITCH, Tigers owner since 1992
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