My father was a Detroit Tigers fan. His allegiance to the major league ball club from the Motor City was unflappable. Some of my earliest life memories are of warm summer nights, with the windows open throughout the house; the sounds from the old Philco radio floating into my bedroom from the kitchen. There, my father would sit in the wooden rocking chair, creaking back and forth while he endured the AM radio signal that came from Tiger Stadium.
WXYT in Detroit would broadcast the sounds of the ballgame, described by the legendary sportscaster Ernie Harwell, over hill and dale, bouncing off the atmospheric cloud cover and skipping across the Great Lakes to my house in Acushnet, Massachusetts and there, to my dad’s awaiting ears. It was never a clear signal by the time it reached our home. The whoop and hum of frequency interference rose and fell like the luck of the Detroit nine. A distant thunderstorm somewhere over Pennsylvania or New York would cause static to drown out the action as the electronic crackle of lightning burst across the AM dial. If the inning was late and the game was close, the rocking chair would stop it’s creaking. All would be silent, with just the close-by crickets producing their own natural sounds of static; all I could hear beyond the drone of the distant broadcast play by play. However, there were some nights, when the conditions were just right, the call of the ballgame came through crystal clear, without any interference at all. Those were fine nights, indeed. Nights to live for.
Tucked in my bed, in the converted pantry, which became my room, I could listen in and imagine the game being played so far away in Michigan or perhaps, at the home city of one of the Tiger’s American League rivals. The sound of the static and buzz that battled old Ernie’s call of the game drifted to my ears like so much crowd noise. The creak and groan of my dad’s rocker kept pace with the game while singing me into sleep with it’s wooden lullabye.
My dad became a Tiger fan in odd fashion. He wasn’t from Detroit, not even close. He hailed from upstate New York where baseball was defined in Yankee terms… Lou Gherig, Babe Ruth and the boys were kings in my father’s home town. But, at my dad’s address, baseball was low on the list of ideals to consider. Thus, when a highschool classmate asked him which team would win the World Series that summer, he had no ready answer. “There must be a team called the Tigers,” he thought on the fly. That became his answer in 1938 and it remained his answer for the rest of his life. Interestingly, the Detroit Tigers went on to win the World Series that year. My father was hooked and the lifetime of allegiance had begun. It lasted through the many summers of wins and losses. Dad’s heroes were the ball players. Names like Bill Freehan, Norm Cash, Al Kaline and Dick McAuliffe frequented his conversation during my growing up years. In later times, I would bring up those old timers and get my dad going on the reminiscing pathway as he looked back through the years. He passed away, many decades later with a Detroit Tiger cap firmly on his head.
My dad listened to yet another frequency all those Tiger years. The sound came from Far Away… Over the landscape it travelled, skipping through the atmosphere of earth’s interference, news from a distant - yet drawing closer - land. The inning grew late and the score was close. The creaks and groans of earth would grow still one last time - this time for good. Yet, if I listen closely I can still match the rise and fall of that far signal in my own bed at night, as the static lessens and one Voice becomes crystal clear. The crowd is cheering. It must be a win. I think I will wear dad’s old Tiger cap in the morning. He left it behind for me.