Every year at playoff time I see the same fly ball. This month marks the 10th anniversary of its flight. I've forgotten who hit it, but I'll always remember the way it traveled—softly to rightfield in Tiger Stadium, where Al Kaline caught it and clinched the 3-1 win over Boston that gave Detroit the 1972 American League Eastern Division title.
I was then a sophomore in college who had been lucky enough to have secured seats in Kaline country for that game. It was in the top of the ninth, Tigers up 3-1, when I decided it was time to make my move. Woodie Fryman, picked up on Aug. 2 after being waived by Philadelphia, had just been replaced by Chuck Seelbach, but Fryman nonetheless stood to get his 10th win in two months. And Kaline, my childhood hero, had carried the club the last two weeks. His seventh-inning single, which completed a 22-for-44 tear, had knocked in the go-ahead run off Luis Tiant. I wanted to get a closer look at these stars and the rest of the Tigers.
I had reached a spot behind the home dugout when the ball skied out to right, and in a move I now must deplore for its wrongfulness, I bolted through the box seats and leapt the railing, leaving two startled security guards grasping at air. Television replays proved it was true: I was the first fan on the field.
By the time Kaline caught the fly, I had reached Steady Eddie Brinkman, the shortstop, midway between the mound and short. Delirious, we danced together, twirling arm in arm as if doing a polka.
Crazily, or maybe because I played shortstop in college, I grabbed for Brinkman's glove. He had it covered. "Please," I pleaded, "Eddie, I have to have your glove."
"No, no," breathed Brinkman. "You can't. I need it. I need it."
We were still dancing. So I went for his hat. No dice. He had that tucked tightly under his arm.
Suddenly, our music stopped and Brinkman was swallowed up by a sea of celebrants. I turned, dancing alone, until my roommate, Jim Millan, appeared, brandishing his Tiger treasure—Fryman's navy blue cap.
I could have recounted my pas de deux with Brinkman, but this was no time to talk. I took to tearing up sod—pennant grass—from the field, cradling it with a love now reserved for my infant daughter. Sadly, the grass died a waterless death in my dorm room some weeks after the Tigers had lost the American League playoffs to Oakland. But I'll never forget that grass, or Kaline's catch, or Steady Eddie. How could I? It's playoff time.