My Father’s Day With Mr. Tiger

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It was June 19, 1966. Father’s Day. We lived in Queens. That’s where the shiny new Shea Stadium was. It’s where the New York Mets played. Oh, the Met’s were OK, but we were Yankee fans. Shea Stadium was a 15-minute drive from our house. Yankee Stadium was a schlep at least three times that length of time. But it was Father’s Day and my father wanted to go to the game. You see the Tigers were in town. He wanted to see Mr. Tiger–Al Kaline.

We’d seen him before–in 1961. In that game Roger Maris hit two of his 61 homers. The Tigers lost. But my father kept telling me to watch right field when the Yankees were up. Mr. Al Kaline was playing there for the Tigers. I was 9 years old. Never heard of him. But before the game was over, I’d heard plenty. My father went on and on about how graceful Kaline was in the field, and man, what a great hitter.

So here it was, five years later and Mr. Tiger was in town again. For Father’s Day at Yankee Stadium it was also Bat Day. They gave out real bats back then. It was before the renovation that downsized the capacity at the stadium, so there were 72,000 of us in the sold out house banging our bats on the concrete decks shakin’ the place. I still have the program. Yeah…I wrote all over it.

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Poor Mickey Mantle was on his last legs back then. He hit one in the monuments in deep right center. Al Kaline, playing center that day, ran like hell to catch up with it but the monuments were in play and despite his grace, you can’t win against slabs of stone on the field of play. Still, he grabbed the horsehide as quickly as he could and fired it in. The combination of Kaline’s quick actions and Mantle’s lame knees held him to a triple. My father noted this and noted if Mantle was younger he would have had an inside the park homer, but then thought about it and added, “if the monuments weren’t there, Kaline might have thrown ’em out.”

Al didn’t have the best of days at the plate, however. You can see by my amateurish attempt to keep score. Hard to see. Kaline batted cleanup. He was 1-4, hitting into a double play, popping out twice (that’s what the PO’s mean. I was a kid) and salvaged a double at the end of the game. But the Tigers won on the back of Dick McAuliffe’s bat. The third bagger hit two homers.

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It’s OK. It was a great day at the House That Ruth Built. A ballgame with dad on Father’s Day, a free Bobby Richardson bat and a chance for my father to pay tribute to the guy on the opposing team he’d admired for years.

I had to ask him, though..

“I thought you were a Yankee fan” I said.

“I’m a baseball fan,” he answered. “And Al Kaline is a great baseball player.

RIP Mr. Tiger.

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