Wednesday, March 08, 2006

My First Brush With Tigers Greatness

This blog is named after Johnny Grubb, but the first Tiger I met in person was Bill Freehan, and I couldn't have been more dumbstruck.

It was in 1976, and somehow my mother knew someone at Ford Motor Company who knew Freehan, who was in his last year as a player. It was arranged that we would have tickets behind the Tigers dugout, and for a bonus, I'd get a chance to meet Freehan -- catcher extraordinaire -- before the game.

Freehan, a Tiger from 1963-76

My friend Steve Hall and I, and my parents, were instructed to go to the Tigers clubhouse entrance and ask for someone in particular, who was to fetch Freehan for us. It seemed like we waited by that big green door forever.

Finally, it slid open, and there stood Freehan, his over six-foot frame seemingly taking up the entire doorway. He was in his baseball pants, and a sleeveless warmup top that made my mother swoon. He had a broad smile.

"Hi, fellas," he said to Steve and me.

And the two of us, who jabbered all the way to the stadium in the car about what we'd say to Freehan, stood mute. Maybe we managed a weak "Hi."

He said a few things -- no, I don't remember what they were -- and chatted with my folks for a bit. Then he told us he'd wave to us before the game.

The green door slid closed.

Sure enough, before the game, Freehan popped his head out of the dugout, located us, and waved. We waved back, and I took great pleasure in knowing others around us were wondering how we rated, getting waved to by Bill Freehan.

I just wish I had opened my big mouth and spoken to the man. Oh well -- what do you expect from a starstruck 13 year-old?

By the way, I ran into Freehan again, about 10 years ago, outside a restaurant in Petoskey. This time I said hi, even though he didn't know me from Adam.

Twenty years after our initial meeting, I found my voice.


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