Detroit and St. Louis clearly qualify as baseball towns. St. Louis has had a little more practice recently, but through the leanest of baseball years in the Motor City, friends who lived there would say: "Detroit is still a baseball town; we're just waiting for the Tigers to get good enough to celebrate again."
And there they are now, absolutely good enough to celebrate. Everybody feels what this means in these two cities, the players as much as anyone.
"It's exciting to play in front of knowledgeable fans, in a place where there's great tradition," Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge says. "That's why it's fun for us to play at home, and that's why it's going to be fun to play in St. Louis."
They'll be playing here in Game 3 of the 2006 World Series on Tuesday night. The Series is even after two games. This World Series is just in its childhood, but already we've had the requisite feats of pitching and hitting and defense, not to mention enough controversy to chew on with Kenny Rogers and the substance on his hand. (And finally, if the umpires say it was dirt, the verdict is in, it was dirt. The pitcher cannot be tried twice for the same substance.)
The healthy respect, one opponent for the other, is an integral part of this Series. It includes the obvious mutual respect and affection between the two managers, but it also goes well beyond that.
On Monday, as the Tigers worked out at new Busch Stadium, Jim Leyland was asked about "the Cardinal way." Yes, the Cardinals have been good enough for long enough, that they get a baseball "way" named after them. Leyland used this query as an opportunity to extol not only the Cardinal way, but also the current St. Louis team.
"Well, they're very detailed in Spring Training," Leyland said. "Obviously their manager is very good at what he does. Everything is detailed and the players go along with it. Their Spring Training is probably the best one I've ever been to. They don't waste any time. They're always doing something with a purpose. I noticed that when I coached for [Cardinals manager] Tony [La Russa] in Chicago, and I tried to pick up on it. I don't think we do it quite as good as they do. It was a great lesson for me. They just have a way of going about their business that's the right way to go about it.
"I want to take this shot today, because I'm tired of hearing about what a favorite we are, and how the Cardinals ... they're happy with their one win. Let me tell you something about the Cardinals: You have been writing for the last several years, they've got one of the greatest, and some people think the best defensive third baseman of all time. They've got the best young player in all of baseball. They've got an eight- or nine-time Gold Glove center fielder, a great player. They've got a Cy Young pitching [Tuesday] night. They've got the All America baseball player at shortstop. This is a great team. I don't really think the Cardinals ... I'm sure they're happy about it. But I don't think they've gotten the credit they deserve. When you start talking about the Cards, you better look closely. They also have probably the best young catcher in baseball. I'm not sure we're favorites."
Well, on paper the Tigers are still the favorites despite their desire to maintain underdog status. But anybody who thought this would be a walkover for them sold the Cardinals short.
It tells you something about the postseason of the Detroit club, when three weeks ago, they were being written off after one loss to the Yankees, and now, their manager keeps searching for reasons his club should not be favored. This is what going 8-2 against the best available competition will do for your reputation. If the Tigers prevail in this World Series, Leyland and the crew will be on their way to starting a "Tiger way."
Game 3 will be, of course, the first World Series in the new Busch Stadium. What a way to inaugurate a new yard. When La Russa was asked about that on Monday he replied:
"Knowing our fans and our history, it will mean a lot more if we're all involved with the first World Series that was won in this park, rather than the first World Series that was played. That's our goal. It's not just to play, it's to win. And we've got a shot. We've got a better shot than most people think."
Either way this goes, a baseball city will be a winner, and a fan base with a long record of devotion and loyalty and perseverance will be rewarded. Yes, there were clubs with bigger names and larger payrolls that were "supposed" to be here. But that's not the issue now. If you spend time in Detroit and St. Louis this autumn, you begin to believe that these are places that make perfect sense for baseball's ultimate event.