NEW YORK OF THE MIDWEST -- The flick heard 'round the world.
Joe Nathan walked off the mound after getting the final out of the ninth inning Wednesday, put the back of his hand to his chin, and gave Tigers fans another reason to boo him with zeal the next time he jogs onto the field.
Yeah, we speak Italian gestures here. We know what you meant, Joe.
Maybe Nathan expected something a little different when he signed a contract to join the Tigers. He had spent most of his career in Minnesota, after all, with all the lakes and smiling Scandinavians and Garrison Keillor stories. All the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all of the closers are above average.
But this is Detroit, man. The Motor City. We bring lunch pails to work. We wear hard hats. Our collars are blue. Allowing runners on base isn't going to fly here. If Joe Nathan didn't know he was signing with the Yankees of the Midwest, well, that's his problem, not ours.
We expect perfection. We are the Tigers. We have four World Series to our name. How many do you have?
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Joe Nathan has done everything poorly. He's pitched poorly. He's communicated poorly. He puts runners on base. He blows saves. He's said some things about teammates and fans he shouldn't have. And now, he's used an Italian gesture to tell them just what they can do with themselves.
Joe Nathan is the antihero. You don't have to like him, but he's going to play a key role in any successes the team has. If you want to see the Tigers hoist a trophy, spray Champagne and celebrate a fifth championship on the streets of Detroit, you're going to need Joe Nathan. Period. You're going to need him to be a little better than he has been. But you're going to need him. You may as well just reconcile yourself with that right now.
No denying, what Joe Nathan should have said was this:
They have all the right to be mad because they're paying whatever kind of money to come here and see a good show. But I want them to understand that we're really trying. We don't want to give it up, we don't want to lose. We're in a really tough stretch and this is when we need the fans the most. As soon as the team goes outside and sees the atmosphere outside, the fans in the game, we feed off that. We feed off that and that's what we want to see, we want the fans to keep backing us up.
Those were the words of Victor Martinez. They acknowledge the problem, the team's role in the problem. They ask for patience. They ask for help. Victor Martinez wants a ring. And if he gets one, he will be a hero.
Neither Joe Nathan nor Victor Martinez should be the story today, though.
You are the story.
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"Just because you can doesn't mean you should."
I guess we see things a bit different here. Sports can be a great spaghetti Western, a melodrama, us vs. them. If you don't take it too seriously anyway, it can be pretty fun. The "us" part of the equation is Detroit and the Tigers. The "them" part of the equation is EVERYBODY ELSE WHO GETS IN OUR WAY. Cheer the white hats -- or in this case, the navy blue hats with crisp, white Old English D on the front -- when they come onto the stage. Boo the black hats when they make their entrance. The message gets a bit mixed when you boo the white hats, too. Who are the good guys here?
Damn it Joe, you put on the wrong hat.
It's hard not to feel the loss of fun a little more each year. 2006 was a great year because it was unexpected. Those were carefree times. You sat back, you enjoyed it. Today, the demands have grown as high as the payroll. Fans seem angry that the team won't win 100 games. They are downright perturbed that every game isn't an easy victory, that a starting pitcher allows a few runs and doesn't go seven innings, that a batter grounds into a double play. Heads are demanded. Pitching coaches, batting coaches, managers, players. The best person for the job is whoever doesn't have it now.
Look, this is draining -- this constant criticism, this negativity. This is not fun -- unless you're in New York or Philadelphia, anyway. I don't know about you, but I've never had much respect for a New York sports fan, and I sure as hell do not want to act like one. I sure as hell do not want our fan base to be compared theirs. But that's what we're becoming. We are becoming spoiled. We are obnoxious. We are not easy to live with.
Nathan pointed that out poorly. Martinez pointed it out tactfully. We are not New York. Stop acting like it.