Opening Day.

My father would wake me early in the morning to let me know if we had tickets. This year we did. A quick bowl of Raisin Bran, brush my teeth, then I looked outside to check the weather. Looks like it’s gonna to be a nice one.

The energy was building and I was already looking for my mitt. It was in my closet, somewhere, on my brother’s toy chest, maybe.

I couldn’t find it.

“Mom, where’s my mitt?”

“You’re what?”

”My mitt!”

“What do you mean?”

“Where’s my baseball glove?”

“Did you check under the bed?”

There it was.

How did she know that?

Dad drove down Woodward as we listened to voices on the radio discussing the game. Tickets were hard to come by and this year Dad could only get one pair, which left my younger brother, Nicky at home and me feeling a bit guilty. But, dad explained how he’d bring him next year and that he was probably too young to enjoy the game, anyway. It sounded reasonable. To my brother’s credit he never complained. Just seemed happy for me. But, I think it was a few years before he came along.

For us, Opening Day began in Greektown; usually Hellas, sometimes Mykonos (where Uncle Don handed me singles to stuff in the outfits of belly dancers – but that’s another story). Uncle Don was actually my mother’s cousin but he was everybody’s uncle. He’d hold court early providing friends and clients with drinks and plenty of lamb, grape leaves and baklava before distributing tickets for great seats.

Ex players Gates Brown and Jim Price were there, Mickey Lolich, Jim Northrup, and the great pitcher Denny Mclain – two Cy Young Awards and an American League MVP – winners of the 1968 World Series, though at the time I was too young to know what it meant. Members of Michigan and Detroit City government were there, union leaders, judges, business execs, cops and firemen, reporters, and the room was always filled with beautiful women. Uncle Don asked about my mom and brother and gave me a few autographed Tiger baseballs to bring home. In my eyes, he was larger than life. Had a mustache that curled up on the ends like Rollie Fingers, with a big smile and a boisterous laugh. And, he swore like he owned the words.

From my vantage the room was all handshakes. Men in suits held out thick fingers with gold rings on them, they drank and smoked with grins that often revealed gold caps on their teeth. Women, whether professional or fashionable, were well dressed. I remember one who enjoyed cigars. And, the wait staff was very attentive. No one tipped. Uncle Don took care of that himself.

After Dad worked the room, introducing me to his associates, we drove to Tiger Stadium. We parked the car in his favorite lot – which I later learned had more to do with price than aesthetic – and walked over the bridge toward the towering white structure. People moved quickly, while others purchased pennants and peanuts from vendors calling out their wares.

“Tickets! Tickets!” a voice rang out.

The stadium seemed to grow in size as we neared the gates. Throngs of people bottlenecked to get through the turnstile. The faint murmur of sounds inside the ballpark, music, fans, the loudspeaker all combined to form one distinct resonance that is only audible on game day. Once our ticket was checked a feeling of security fell over me and I could finally collect myself from the whirlwind of activity that aroused my senses.

Dad and I would spend a little time looking at souvenirs. It was always a tough decision determining which item I would take home for my brother. “We’ll get one on the way out”, Dad would say. “Let’s find our seats.”

Entering the stadium was an intense experience. The tunnels leading inward were dark, and once through we found ourselves in a moving stream of people, flowing steadily this way and that; concession stands, hot dogs, pop, cracker jack, a flash of sunlight from inside the park, more pennants, jerseys, little baseball bats, stuffed tigers and people moving quickly, spilling beer, as they sipped from their cup.

“Do you need to use the bathroom?” Dad would ask.

“Yeah,” I’d say.

He taught me to go in through the out door.

Inside the restroom was dark, with deep green cement floors and stalls. Dirty cream walls supported large troughs that operated as urinals. Men drank and smoked as they used them. One guy read a program.

“Who’s pitching?” someone blurted out.

“Rozy!” a voice replied.

“Can you believe how much they want for a beer?” someone shouted.

“They gotcha comin’ and goin’,” came a voice from the line.

Back in the corridor, dad led the way to our section, stopping first to pick up a program, which was always my favorite souvenir. I rolled it up and grasped it tightly as we stepped out into the open air of the greatest ballpark ever made. It was majestic; lush green grass, surrounded by the deep, dark green wood of the structure.

Finding our seats, we sat down and readied ourselves for a long afternoon.

“Who’s playing?” I asked.

Funny, how who was playing meant a lot less than simply being at the game with your Dad.

“Red hots! Get your red hots heere!”

Dad waved the hot dog man over and bought us each a dog with mustard. Nothing like em’ anywhere. Wrapped snuggly inside Tiger Stadium, the outside world seemed to disappear.