Monthly Archives: August 2018

A BRAVE NEW MIDWESTERN SPORTS WORLD

Last week I delved into the history of the sports scene here in western Michigan. I am looking forward to a possible trip to the Big House to see Michigan football, and even a trip to South Bend to check out the land of the Fighting Irish. Wrigley and Lambeau both beckon across Lake Michigan. This area of our great nation is just oozing with sports history and tradition.

With all of its history, and and the traditions that abound in Michigan and all around the Great Lakes, there is a newness that welcomes an East Coast guy like myself.

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Following the Detroit Tigers also comes with an American League Central Division education.

Having relocated from South Florida to the Great Lakes region in April, I was welcomed by Detroit Tigers baseball.

I grew up in New York City where I had the best of both worlds. I was exposed to the Eastern Divisions of both leagues. As I followed the New York Mets, my baseball radar gravitated towards the National League. Having lived in South Florida since before the Florida/Miami Marlins ever set foot on the field, my National League focus continued.

The rivals of both the Mets and Marlins included the Phillies, Nationals/Expos, Braves and of course, each other. Back before the invent of the Central Division, the Pirates, Cubs and Cardinals were commonplace rivals ( more in New York than in South Florida).

The closest National League baseball club is across Lake Michigan in Milwaukee, or a couple of hours away in Chicago. The baseball club that grabs the headlines in these parts are, of course, the Detroit Tigers.

This year I have been following, and finding myself embracing the Tigers. It has been an odd summer. For a guy that followed the National League East for so long, I now find myself looking at an unfamiliar area of the standings.

First off, the American League? Weren’t they forced to welcome the Astros in 2013 by then commissioner Selig? Didn’t Selig volunteer to take his Brewers (yes the closest National League team to Grand Rapids) out of the American League in 1998?

I know that growing up in New York the American League had the city’s glory team playing in the Bronx. As a kid growing up on the Queens/Nassau County border I only saw the Yankees as the crosstown rivals. I looked at the Yankees schedule from time to time while concentrating on where the Mets were in the standings, and who they were playing day-to-day. I never really focused on the Yankees and their rivals, however my toes do tingle when the Red Sox come to town. The recent four-game sweep at Fenway Park did grab my attention.

Back to the new part of my sports world. In embracing the Tigers, I have gotten a crash course in Midwestern baseball. It has been a summer of looking up at the Cleveland Indians, and being neck and neck with the Minnesota Twins. I have spent this season looking over my theoretical shoulder at the Kansas City Royals and Chicago White Sox.

Back in the two division days the Indians and Tigers were in the same division (American League East) as the Yankees. They were somewhat familiar faces up until 1994 when the Indians headed to the newly minted Central Division. In 1998 when the Tampa Bay Rays franchise joined the Junior Circuit, my new hometown Tigers were moved to the Central Division.

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After years of following the Miami Dolphins in the American Football Conference, I am now fully entrenched in the National Football Conference and its North Division.

Ahh…the Black and Blue Division of the National Football League. This AFC fan has heard about it, and have watched the likes of the Packers, Bears, Vikings, and Lions battle it out from afar. The truth is I am a lot more familiar with the NFC football than I am with baseball’s American League.

As a kid I took a liking to the Dallas Cowboys and was turned off when Jerry Jones bought the team and unceremoniously kicked legendary coach Tom Landry to the curb. When I moved to South Florida I embraced the local culture and was hooked on the Miami Dolphins. My NFC roots, as well as my ties to New York, did continue however. The New York Football Giants have been my number two team over the past 29 years.

This weekend the NFL preseason began in earnest. When the Dolphins and Giants both opened for business, it hit me. Neither team was on TV locally here in the Great Lakes region of the American Midwest. It hit me that I was deep in the heart of the Black and Blue. I was in Detroit Lions territory. There is no AFC team around for miles. The closest American Conference team resides either in Cleveland or, gasp!, Buffalo!

So here we go again. New sports season, new set of characters. The local NFL scene will include the Lions, Bears, Packers and Vikings. The local headlines will bash Aaron Rogers and focus on Matthew Stafford and perhaps Golden Tate. It will be a year of watching Ryan Tannehill’s comeback in Miami from afar. It will be a year of bashing the Patriots and Jets from a distance. Oh, and by the way that Brady guy in New England will be bashed from a distance!

Yes, it’s a brave new world with such sports teams in it. Welcome to the Midwest, the American League Central and the Black and Blue Division!

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IT’S ABOUT TIME I SHOWED UP!

It was March 4th when I last published, and then “poof!” I vanished from the social media radar. It’s time I explained myself to you, my valued readers.

At the beginning of this past October, Robin and I made a life-changing decision.

Following a rather short stint in South Florida, our daughter, Megan and son-in-law Matt sought greener pastures. They moved back to Matt’s home state of Michigan. This meant that Robin and I would be without all of our children in South Florida. Coupled with the painful reminders of our son Justin no longer being here, we decided we weren’t going to miss out on being close to our family. We didn’t want to miss seeing Madeline, our granddaughter, grow up either.

On the morning of April 14th Robin and I got on the Florida Turnpike, headed north and began a three-day journey to Megan and Matt’s home in Belding, Michigan. We got there in time to celebrate Madeline’s first birthday and I haven’t returned to Florida since. Robin went back on April 22nd to finish up family business and headed to our new home for good on May 19th.

During this big, life-changing transition, as much as I tried at the end of February and beginning of March to keep things going, it left little to no time for writing. I apologize for just disappearing from the blogging landscape, but now I’m back! I will be publishing on Sunday morning once again. For now I will back burner the Wednesday feature until the baseball post-season.

I now come to you from my new location in my home in Wyoming, Michigan! Wyoming is located just outside Grand Rapids and is a booming, sprawling suburb. Robin and I couldn’t be happier being near our children and grandchildren!

Over the past few months, I couldn’t help but survey the sports makeup of my new home. I’ve learned quickly that the teams headquartered in Detroit have a far-reaching appeal throughout the state of Michigan.

The Detroit Tigers logo is proudly displayed throughout Western Michigan. I truly live in Tigers territory!

A big difference in the sports scene up here, as compared to South Florida, is its history. South Florida has its Dolphins, Marlins, Heat, and my personal favorites, the Panthers. However, South Florida is still relatively new to the world of big time professional sports. The Dolphins began in 1966 as an expansion team in an up-and-coming American Football League and remain the top dog in South Florida today. The rest of the sports scene didn’t really develop until the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.

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The big time sports scene in South Florida began in 1966 when the Miami Dolphins began play as an American Football League expansion team.

The Dolphins were the lone big league franchise in South Florida until 1988 when the Miami Heat joined the NBA as an expansion team. In 1993, the late H. Wayne Huizenga legitimized South Florida as a major league locality. Huizenga led groups to join both Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League in the early 1990’s. The results of Mr. Huizenga’s efforts still live on in the Miami Marlins and Florida Panthers.

In contrast to the expansion and late coming sports culture in South Florida, I have found Western Michigan to be much different.

Grand Rapids seems to be Detroit’s sports scene’s breeding ground. There are three minor league franchises playing in the Grand Rapids area, all three have ties to the big clubs over on the east side of the Lower Peninsula.

The West Michigan Whitecaps are the baseball team in these parts. They play in the class A Midwest League and are affiliated with the Detroit Tigers. They play in the town of Comstock Park, which, like Wyoming is located just outside downtown Grand Rapids.

The Van Andel Arena is located in downtown Grand Rapids and is home to the American Hockey League’s Grand Rapids Griffins. Much like the Whitecaps, the Griffins are the AHL affiliates of the Detroit Red Wings.

Downtown Grand Rapids also has a minor league basketball team. The Detroit Pistons’ G-League affiliate, the Grand Rapids Drive, call the Delta Plex Arena home.

The Detroit Lions have been members of the National Football League since 1930, and have called Detroit home since 1934.

The major league culture here in West Michigan, unlike South Florida is very traditional and full of history.

The Tigers have been around since 1894 and are one of eight charter franchises in the American League. The Olde English “D” logo on their caps and home jerseys remain virtually unchanged, much like the pinstripes and Olde English NY of the New York Yankees.

The Lions franchise originated in Portsmouth, Ohio in 1929 and joined the National Football League in 1930. The franchise was known as the Portsmouth Spartans until they moved to Detroit in 1934, when they were re-named the Detroit Lions.

The Detroit Red Wings franchise has been around since 1926. The Red Wings and their iconic logo have been around since 1932. The franchise joined the National Hockey League in 1926 as the Detroit Cougars, and changed their name to the Falcons in 1930, before settling on the Red Wings in 1932.

The Pistons are the “new kids in town” in Detroit. The Pistons’ franchise is a charter member of the National Basketball Association. They originated in Fort Wayne Indiana in 1941 and moved to Detroit in 1957, making them Detroit’s “newest” professional sports franchise.

The Detroit Pistons are the area’s youngest big league franchise. They moved from Fort Wayne, Indiana in 1957.

For 29 years I saw games played in an empty Marlins Park (and Hard Rock Stadium before Marlins Park was built ) and BB&T Center. The Miami Heat played to full houses at the AmericanAirlines Arena when the likes of Shaq and Lebron were on the court, not so much otherwise. The Dolphins can sell out regardless of what they put on the Hard Rock Stadium football field. I heard it for years, Miami is a football town with no room for much else.

I am intrigued and excited at the culture up here in the Great Lakes Region. History abounds not only here in Michigan but on the other side of beautiful Lake Michigan as well, where you find bothWrigley Field and Lambeau Field.

The fan bases of all four Detroit franchises are loyal, and have been around for generations.

I am truly looking forward to a sports scene containing Lions and Tigers and across the lake, Bears (two different varieties) oh my!

I promise to be back next week!