Dateline: Mudville

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Detroit does not appreciate being patronized any more than any other city. It’s thoughtful of you to have cheered for the Tigers because ‘it would be good for the city’ or whatever but a World Series victory was never going to renovate abandoned buildings or convince consumers to buy Volts. It would have been cool, though.

If Detroit has an abundance of anything at this point in its history, it’s a defiant civic pride. Shirts, buttons and sticker proclaiming love for the city are their own thriving cottage industry. And the Tigers’ old English D has become the de facto emblem of all things sturdy about the city. Arrive as a passenger at the Detroit Metro Airport and you are greeted by a sign welcoming you to “The D.” All cities have bonds to their sports franchises, but Detroit is uniquely and thoroughly synthesized, by choice, with the Tigers’ logo.

The logo, unsurprisingly, was everywhere you looked this World Series weekend. Fans seemed comforted not only by home field advantage, but also by being underdogs again. Detroit isn’t used to being the favorite.

Of the various promotional swag that was being handed out around the stadium before game three, a button with the logo and just the word ‘Believe’ was the most coveted. There were also signs with the 1984 World Series rally cry “Bless You Boys.” Faith seemed to be the key message. The street preachers who were proselytizing to the lines tried to capitalize on the religious fervor, but the prayers being mumbled were directed to the less-than-holy ghost of Sparky Anderson.

Fans like to think they can alter the outcomes of games by sheer will. But once the game starts, there really isn’t much to do but wave a white towel (sponsored by Taco Bell) and stand up at the appropriate times of heightened drama. In Game 3, and then again in Game 4, the Tigers provided fans more than enough opportunities to get out of their seats by putting men on base in seemingly every inning, then were equally quick to remind those in attendance that they were only spectators. An entire stadium’s collective wishes dribbled into double plays and took brief and ungainly flight as infield pop-outs. The most overheard phrase of the night: “What can you do?” The unheard response, which was the only response, was: “Nothing.”

After Game 3, Tigers fans exited Comerica Park with heads bowed in silence and made a beeline to the Greek Town casinos, assuming the bad luck was non-transferable. Inside the casinos was like some strange Halloween party where everyone was dressed up like Alan Trammel, Al Kaline or Justin Verlander. There was even a Bobby Higginson in attendance. All these Tigers ghosts crowded around the craps table waiting for an opening.

It was hard not to think, win or lose, that this was a good thing for the city. Money was changing hands in a moderately aboveboard way, and Downtown Detroit, which can be eerily empty even on a weekend, was thriving. I got into a taxi cab and was told a price that was at least double what it should have been. When I asked the driver to turn on the meter, he replied “it’s World Series night. I can charge whatever I want.” The next taxi was more willing to play by the rules and in the mood to diagnose the causes of the team’s lack of offense. When asked if he was making good money due to the Tigers’ post-season run, he said he was, but he was worried more about the effect of the NHL lockout.

There’s reason to worry, there. Detroit fans will have to spend a hockey-less  winter wondering: ‘What if Cabrera had swung?’ ‘What if the ball didn’t bounce of third base in game one?’ ‘What if Barry Zito didn’t suddenly re-learn how to pitch?’ There are no answers, of course. And it all only matters so much: if the Tigers had won the 2012 World Series, it wouldn’t have saved Detroit. It would have been cool though.

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