Sunday, April 01, 2007

On the eve of opening day

We all remember how last season ended. Not Brandon Inge going down with a chance to take the lead in the top of the ninth of game five. But the body of World Series work. Five separate pitching errors. A quick exit against a Cardinal team that most of the experts didn't give a chance going up against Tiger pitching.

But even with that bitter E-1 taste lingering from last October, there is no way this season could be any sweeter than than the 2006 Tiger team. Watching the team pour champagne over each other's heads in the basement of Comerica Park this October will be something to remember, but how can it compare to last year's surprise.

The 2006 team came into the season without a winning season in the 11 years. They had lost 119 games in 2003, and all they had coming into the 2006 season was a handful of hope.

But hope and promise turned into fulfillment. Justin Verlander went from prospect to rookie of the year, and Joel Zumaya, a rookie who played as a starter through his minor league career, became a national story behind his 100 MPH fastball.

Bonderman pitched well, Kenny Rogers was spectacular, and the Tigers skipped a few lessons, moving from bottom of the pack to the class of the league.

Has anyone, in any sport, ever seen similar outpouring of joy and emotion after a team clinches a playoff birth or wins a series. Players running around the field, spraying Champagne at the fans. The 2006 team was a group of players with no expectations greater than reaching .500. Instead, they first surprised themselves, then shocked the world.

Last year's team didn't win the World Series, but they gave Detroit a perfect gift in a summer filled with bad news from the automotive front. They treated us to the rarest of treats in sports, a surprise that never flickered and fizzled out.

This year's team will never be able to give us that pure season that can only come from no expectations. Hopefully, they can give us a World Series in its place.


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