A broken city experiences victory in defeat

by Beacon Staff • November 1, 2006

Such is the case with the city of Detroit, which, despite feeling the sting from the Tigers' World Series loss, can stand tall and be proud. Detroit is a baseball town once again.

Consider how the 2006 season progressed: it was winter in Michigan.,Sometimes when you lose, you actually win.

Such is the case with the city of Detroit, which, despite feeling the sting from the Tigers' World Series loss, can stand tall and be proud. Detroit is a baseball town once again.

Consider how the 2006 season progressed: it was winter in Michigan. Chilly temperatures and dime-sized snowflakes were present much later in the year than most would have liked. Detroit slept soundly, its skyscrapers hidden beneath a blanket of snow. With each headline, the city dozed: "GM FACES JOB CUTS." "THREE SHOT IN LOWER WEST SIDE."

It seemed there was no escape. As the world awoke each morning, Detroit was still dormant.

Never has such a stark contrast existed between a city and its suburbs as the one present in Detroit. To call oneself a Detroiter is an empty declaration. The city itself and the neighboring suburbs exist in two distinct worlds: the blue-collar proleteriat pitted against cookie-cutter houses and high-end department stores. The separation has divided the community in two.

It was March. It was spring training.

To most Detroiters, this was just another meaningless event that occurred as regularly as the falling of the leaves, but to the devoted followers, the ones with their faces painted orange, Tigers spring training meant the world.

At first, the change was barely noticeable. Games were met, as usual, with sub-par attendance. But as the weeks passed and the weather improved, amazing things began to happen. The Tigers had won as many games as the champion Chicago White Sox.

It's too good to be true, the city thought. This season will be just like the rest.

As much as the city hoped for a winning team, the ghosts of seasons past made it hard to believe. They'll screw it up, the sportswriters reported.

And the fans of Detroit, scarred by history, had no choice but to agree.

June soon came. Fans flocked to games in 90-degree heat, eager to see the team with the best record in baseball. The Tigers' winning streak continued through the summer and the city began to wonder: will they ever screw it up?

September: for 13 years, Detroiters spent autumn watching the league powerhouses with envy. But something was changing in the baseball world: the team the country was buzzing about for the postseason was-the Detroit Tigers.

They dominated the front page of The Detroit Free Press. Other news was pushed to page two, although one item managed to reach on the Oct. 18 front page: "PLAYOFF PARTY PAYS OFF." The estimated economic impact through that date was $73.5 million, with each World Series home game adding an estimated $9.5 million. But most importantly, the ballpark, so often left empty while the Tigers struggled to avoid becoming a national laughingstock, had become the liveliest place in the city.

Detroit had fallen under the spell of America's greatest pastime; the city was in a baseball frenzy.

Back on Oct. 1, when the Tigers discovered they were up against the all-mighty Yankees, the city barely flinched. National sportswriters doubted the team's playoff potential, barely giving them enough credit to beat the Yankees in one game, let alone three.

But Detroit didn't care. It had heart, a commodity more valuable than any payroll.

Four games later, on the final out of the final inning, the city beamed. A sell-out crowd at Comerica Park celebrated alongside their Tigers. The Yankees fell to the underdogs.

The team that everyone had counted out became the Cinderella of baseball, and no one was more ecstatic than the Motor City.

The whirlwind of playoff passion erupting from the city was like nothing they had witnessed in more than 20 years. For Detroit, the Tigers meant more than baseball. They were a symbol of hope for a forgotten metropolis. A city previously defined by frustration and division was suddenly coming together.

When the treasured team was unable to pull off a Game one World Series win, the city stood still for a brief moment, but nonetheless stood proud. They had made it this far with spunk and spirit. One game could not ruin Detroit's remarkable transformation.

Another four games later, on the final out of the final inning, the city cringed. The celebrated team had failed to produce a happy ending. They played the final three games of the fall classic with the prowess of a tee-ball team.

Yet the strength resonating throughout Detroit was certain. We came this far, the city thought. And we'll be back next year.

Despite their loss, the Tigers had succeeded in returning Detroit to glory as a baseball town. The team's collapse was felt deeply, but win or lose, the city that slept through decades in obscurity had finally risen to find the unity it so long desired.

While the world around Detroit moved forward, the city stirred, jarred from its catatonia by a team that reminded it how it felt to win.

When the smoke clears, Detroit will appreciate what it has discovered this October: a sense of togetherness lost for years.

Detroit has realized that it's possible to be a champion, even in the absence of victory.