Talking Tigers tradition from a Canadian perspective

 Justin Verlander’s no-hitter against the Toronto Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre on May 7, 2011 is a key reason why new Canadian Baseball Network contributor Danielle Obel became a Detroit Tigers fan based in Toronto. Photo Credit: Dave Sandford, Getty Images

Justin Verlander’s no-hitter against the Toronto Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre on May 7, 2011 is a key reason why new Canadian Baseball Network contributor Danielle Obel became a Detroit Tigers fan based in Toronto. Photo Credit: Dave Sandford, Getty Images

By Danielle Obal

Canadian Baseball Network

I can vividly remember detailed moments when I was questioned for being a sports enthusiast.

At a wedding, someone looked at me, puzzled, and said, "How do YOU actually like baseball?" This is one of the many moments where I have been asked, "Why baseball?" And more often, "Why the Tigers?"

Crack open a cold one and take a stroll down memory lane with me, will ya?

May 7, 2011, Rogers Centre, Tigers vs. Blue Jays: It’s the ninth-inning home stretch and the Tigers lead the game 9-0. Justin Verlander is putting on a pitching clinic. He heads to the mound, pants painted on and ready to go. The intensity of the crowd grew, harmonizing with the 100 mph fastballs that Verlander was hurling late in the game.

Two down – who’s next?

Rajai Davis steps up to the plate, the last man standing between Verlander and his second career no-hitter. Near pants pissing ensued, swing and a miss, the final strikeout. Witnessing Verlander toss a no-hitter will forever be my favorite baseball moment. My future kiddos will have to fight over who gets to keep that historic ticket stub.

July 30, 2013, Comerica Park, Nationals vs. Tigers: 1-1 pitchers’ duel, sixth inning, bases loaded. Alex Avila crushes a fastball off of Stephen Strasburg, breaking the tie and simultaneously clocking his first game-winning grand slam. Listening to the crack of the bat and watching the ball skyrocket into the stands, paired with the roar of Tigers fans all around is an electric feeling one can rarely describe. That was my first game at Comerica Park – I think I got pretty lucky. There’s not one moment that I would have changed about that game, except maybe my clouded judgment when choosing to drink a Coors Light. I’d like to think that my beer choices have gone on the upswing since then.

Sept. 8, 2017, Rogers Centre, Tigers vs. Blue Jays: I’m from Toronto, and being a Tigers fan surprises many, but this game is part of an easy explanation as to why. At this point, Tigers fans were ready to riot and fire sales became a popular solution to a less-than-stellar season, but this night, the Tigers opened a small window of hope again. Top of the third and Nicholas Castellanos blasts a grand slam off Marcus Stroman, giving the Tigers an early lead. The few Tigers fans in the row next to me cheered as if they had just won a World Series.

The Jays started to bounce back and it seemed like the high of Castellanos’ grand slam had deflated. Fast-forward to the sixth where Kevin Pillar grounded a ball to the third-base line, trapped by Jeimer Candelario, tossed to Ian Kinsler at second, rocketed to Efren Navarro at first to get the final out to turn a triple play. A grand slam and a triple play all in the same night? Don’t tell me baseball is boring.

So, there's my answer. That's how someone like me, a female, can like (an understatement) anything and everything there is to do with baseball.

I grew up watching baseball religiously with my grandpa, starting at the ripe old age of eight. I can remember sitting on the couch with our faux wood TV tables set up, curled up in my 101 Dalmatians pyjamas listening to him talk about Billy Koch and the Blue Jays. My grandparents – emigrated from Ukraine – had a tradition of rhyming off players’ names that sounded Ukrainian and promptly answering with "Well, he must be ours." Mostly, they were not, but it’s one of those stories that always seem to come up during any baseball game I watch.

I can remember talking to my dad about him growing up in Franklin, Mich., and listening to the Detroit Tigers postseason at school in the gym, or my parents sitting on the cold metal seats at the old Exhibition Stadium in Toronto, cradling a frozen beer just to catch a Blue Jays game.

It’s through those memories that my curiosity for the game began to flourish. Baseball is a sport that I’ve truly grown to appreciate and the Detroit Tigers are a team that I’m extremely passionate about. But it’s not just the energy and the adrenaline of the games, or the "rub some dirt on it," Kinsler-type players that I admire and relentlessly look up statistics for.

Ever get that feeling of pure bliss when you’re reunited with someone special in your life? Or, in my case, reunited with a fresh tube of pizza flavored Pringles. That’s how I feel about baseball – it’s about tradition.

I count down the days until Spring Training or the next Opening Day and vehemently keep my eyes peeled on trades and plan out weekends ahead of time that I can make the trek to Detroit to see my favorite team and snag a Lafayette Coney.

Here’s the question I should have countered with: Why are women with an involvement in sports still considered taboo?

There has always been a misconception about women in sports journalism, whether it’s blogging or even sending out an opinionated tweet, and I am determined to cross that barrier.

Writing under an alias or staying silent about my opinions on Twitter became a serious contemplation, but while I continue to see some female reporters being subject to hateful criticism, it fuels my passion for writing about baseball even more.

I’m continually inspired by the women going against the grain and getting involved in baseball and other sports, and those that I’ve reached out to for advice or conversation have been the most welcoming and supportive.

That’s not to say that all males fall under the category of disbelieving in the female perspective. I have been fortunate enough to connect and talk to a vast community of Tigers fans, men included.

This is my contribution – albeit small – to breaking down the fallacy that women are seemingly subpar or less knowledgeable about baseball than the male fan base.

Being a supporter of baseball does not explicitly correlate to having every statistic buried as a mental Rolodex. I do research on the backgrounds of players and their statistics, learn more about analytics, and try to indulge in as much baseball reading as I can.

While the Tigers season may have ended on a flat note, fans were reminded of the fun that this team possesses and were reminded of a hopeful future.

Why the Tigers? Gardenhire said it perfectly, "They never gave up and I’m proud of them for that."

It’s not just about baseball; it’s a sense of community, inclusion, and a progression forward, and while they may have not won or played every game perfectly, they reminded fans of why they’re worth watching and sticking around for.

Here’s what I am most excited about for the upcoming seasons as we go through this rebuild: watching players get called up for the first time, seeing a continued support of the Michigan community by players, and hearing baseball perspectives from all channels of a fan base.

I take pride in knowing that I am part of a much bigger picture of tradition that baseball has to offer, and to me, that is what baseball is all about and that’s why I choose to be a Tigers fan.