Detroit Sports Masochism: Big Papi, Crazy Uncle Jim Leyland and Neanderthal Man


I learned long ago that my garage is never more organized than it is on autumn Sunday afternoons.  When the Lions are on, something positive has to happen by 4 PM.  So, to the embarrassment of my wife, I buried a coaxial cable under the ground and ran it to the garage so I could keep half an eye on my latest garbage-picked 32″ television  while I fold paint tarps, sort screws, clean bike chains or set mousetraps.

Glory Days?

Glory Days?

I have been a Lions fan since the mid 1970’s.  I have seen the Dallas Cowboys and 49ers go from bad, to great, to bad again, then great again.  And since turning negative-seven years-old, the Lions have amassed exactly one playoff victory–in 1991 against the Cowboys without injured Troy Aikman.  For me, Wayne Fontes is the good old days.  No Lions head-coach has ever been a head-coach anywhere else.

"We don't need no stinkin' Cy Young!"

“We don’t need no stinkin’ Cy Young!”

Last night, I smugly watched the amazing Max Scherzer throttle the life from the fearsome Boston Red Sox.  But his pitch-count, like Anibal Sanchez’s the night before, was quickly increased by a wily team that knows how to work the count.  Outlast the ace and good things happen.  At the end of the Verlander Rainbow, a big pot of Phil Coke is awaiting you.

Sure enough, David Ortiz, who was featured at batting practice on Fox during Tom Brady’s miracle touchdown just down the highway, was identified as batting over .400 against Scherzer, the probable Cy Young winner.  Great.  Jinx the Tigers why don’t you, I whined.  Instead, Scherzer deftly handled the slugger, but his pitch count continued to climb.


And, as sure as Joe Buck and Tim McCarver will say “no hitter” fifteen times between commercial breaks, Fox’s wish came true.  Up stepped Ortiz to the plate with bases loaded and two outs in the eighth innning.  On the first pitch from Benoit, the reliever who has “no trouble with lefties” he launched the ball over the wall–barely–right behindTorii Hunter’s glove before he flipped over the same wall–and, unlike the ball, was not caught by anyone in the bullpen. 

Welcome to Detroit.  Welcome to Sports.  Welcome to Life–at least for guys.

Put two guys in a long elevator ride, in a shared cab, on neighboring barstools, there is the only common denominator:

“Where you from?”


“Oh man.  I’m sorry.  Your Lions suck.”

“Yeah, I know.”

And thus the bridge is built and, who knows, in seven or eight elevator trips, these two guys may actually know each other’s names.  Perhaps.

A place where no one knows your name--or wants to

A place where no one knows your name–or wants to

My wife belongs to two book clubs and sometimes they actually discuss the books.  But when a book club is wrapping up in our living room (after I raid the amazing potluck food and grab a nice glass of wine) I might sit down and join them.  Odds are they’ve covered information relating to all of the following–children, grandchildren, neighbors, work, politics, yardwork, paint colors, non-profits–and, before my arrival, Neanderthal husbands who are known to yell at at the TV quite a bit, scaring the dog.

Early ballparks

Early ballparks

Men’s default setting is simple.  We are fighting a million years of hardwiring that has trained us to do really two thing–chase mammoth and then kill mammoth.  Try it sometime.  Look around a restaurant and peek at the conversations around you.  If the guy is talking, he’s probably not looking at his phone, cutting his food or even rubbing his tummy.  We are single-taskers.  If there happens to be a game going on, the poor date is on her own.

"Say, Mr. President, did you know that we're watching a no-hitter?"

“Say, Mr. President, did you know that we’re watching a no-hitter?”

So, despite my innate realization that Joe Buck and the Fates were in collusion against Scherzer’s great effort.  I muted the screaming Fenway fans and watched Big Papi’s silent swing like the Zapruder film–over and over again.

I was so mad that I actually needed to share it with someone (beside fellow angry texters and Facebook friends). I needed to divide my pain and give it to someone else–so, of course, I shook my wife awake.

I know, I know. Stupid Neanderthal.

Kicked out of book club

Kicked out of book club

It woke me this morning 4 AM. Why would anyone on the bench, behind the plate, or on the mound think it made any sense to put the ball over the plate?  One walk and one run comes in. Three walks and one out and the Tigers are still winning.

Why put it within sixteen feet of the plate?

And, the real question, why does it matter?  We’ve got a stalemated Congress and problems around every corner.  Why is this a big deal? 

The same reason why Detroit has four sports radio stations and two news stations.  It’s a lot more fun to complain and spend money on things that we don’t have any control over–but it might end up nicely.  We might actually kill that mammoth–or get the thrill of nearly being stomped on trying.

Lost in the last round of the playoffs.

Lost in the last round of the playoffs.

My father, during one of the many dark days of being a Lions fan, decided to insert logic into his existence.  “I’ve decided to root for another team.  I’m going to become a Pittsburgh Steelers fan.”  To my doubtful look he rationalized, “It’s a blue-collar town.  I know a lot of nice people there.  And it’s only four hours away.”

Go Lions!

Go Lions!

But it didn’t work.  Despite the Steelers’ many Super Bowls and charming black and gold, we found ourselves pulled by the undertow every Sunday afternoon sitting dangerously close to the TV come 1 PM.  And like a dog that keeps biting you and you keep trying to pet it anyway, by 1:30 we were angry, frustrated, grouchy and wouldn’t have it any other way.  Pitiful.

Extricating yourself from a local team is like trying to divorce your family.  And, so far,  there’s no court for that.

Uncle Jim

Uncle Jim

Like a dysfunctional family reunion, I’ve got my regulars I have to visit , like crazy Uncle Jim Leyland, who continues to have undying faith in his frustrating sons.  “Sure, Don Kelly, we’re going to put you in the lineup one more time.”  “Austin, you’ve only struck out 13 times, that’s not bad.  Swing away at the next 3-0 count you get!  Attaboy!”  “Benoit, go ahead and put it down the middle.  What’s the worst that can happen?”

And then, when if I question Uncle Jim about his odd decisions, I get a smack.  And yet we keep coming to that family picnic.

My support group

My support group

Pretty lame, eh? complaining about Uncle Jim, since he’s taken us to the World Series twice and here we are in the ALCS for the third year in a row.  But of course I’m going to complain.

What else is there to do in that elevator ride–talk about politics or our kids or something?

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About Kevin Walsh

Kevin began in 2013 as an experiment that was as simple as "What's a blog?" and ended up becoming a forum for fellow writers. He's been a high school teacher for 28 years and worked as an administrator and instructor in colleges for 6. Contact him at: He is also the producer of the web-series and blog, www.DiggingDetroit, founder and producer for MMD Productions at which offers quick, professional photography, video and multimedia solutions for individuals, organizations and businesses. His high school media production text, "Video Direct," has been used in 40 states--and he occasionally still sells a few. He is the current president of the non-profit DAFT (Digital Arts Film and Television) which sponsors the Michigan Student Film Festival. He lives in Royal Oak, Michigan, is married to Patrice and is tolerated by his two kids Aidan and Abby who have all graciously allowed him to write about them on occasion. Follow Kevin on Twitter @kwteacher

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