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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