DETROIT -- The Stanley Cup finals begin on Saturday night, and J.J. Putz plans to watch as much of the best-of-seven series as his busy schedule will allow. Born and raised in Michigan, the Mariners' right-handed closer is an avid fan of anything connected to his home state, including the Red Wings, who meet the Pittsburgh Penguins for the National Hockey League championship. "I've been a Wings fan my whole life," Putz said. "I can skate, but I never played hockey. My brother [Brian] played, and he was a pretty good defenseman."
The Red Wings are favored to win the series and Putz figures there are two factors separating the finalists. "They have [Sidney] Crosby, and he's legit," Putz said, "but I am hoping the Wings defense comes up big. Defense is one of their big strengths, along with their playoff experience, and those two things will power the Wings to the Cup." Putz was at his brother's house on Monday night and watched the Red Wings clinch a finals berth with a 4-1 victory over the Dallas Stars. He should get to watch the Stanley Cup finals opener as well because the Mariners have a day game Saturday at Yankee Stadium. But Putz might have to TiVo the remainder of the series as the Mariners have only one scheduled off-day during the 10 days it could take to decide the NHL champ. Regardless, he'll be bleeding Wings red for a while. Besides the Steve Yzerman jersey that he has owned since 2002 and wears "once or twice a month," Putz's fondest recollection of his longtime rooting interest in the Red Wings occurred when he was playing baseball during the summer of 1998. "I was playing in the Cap Cod Summer League and another guy on the team, from eastern Michigan, also was a big Wings fan," he said. "Yzerman won his first [Stanley] Cup that year and just seeing him hoist the Cup over his head almost brought you to tears. He was Mr. Red Wing in our generation." That Stanley Cup victory, coming in Yzerman's 12th NHL season, ended a 42-year-old championship drought for the Red Wings, who won four NHL titles during a six-year period from 1949-50 through 1954-55, when legendary Gordie Howe ruled the hockey world. "Yzerman was my guy," Putz said. "I have his jersey and go to their games in Phoenix when they play there [against the Coyotes]." Putz, who lives in Arizona during the offseason, said he and former Mariners reliever -- and Michigan native -- Matt Thornton usually attend Red Wings-Coyotes games together. Putz has a white Red Wings jersey with the name "Yzerman" and number "19" on it, while Thornton dons a red jersey with the same letters and number. "I have the jersey in Seattle but keep forgetting to bring it with me when we come here [to Detroit] so I can have it [autographed]," Putz said. "I just keep forgetting it." Maybe next year. As for this year, he naturally figures the Stanley Cup is coming back to Detroit for the first time in six years. "The Wings in five," he predicted.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.