The 2006 season will live fondly in the memories of Detroit Tigers fans for the rest of our lives. After too many years of baseball misery throughout the ‘90s and early 2000s, that 2006 campaign was a magical surprise filled with non-stop fun brought to us by a crotchety-yet-heartfelt manager in Jim Leyland, a future Hall of Fame catcher who still had more to prove in Pudge Rodriguez, a stud rookie pitcher looking to make a name for himself in Justin Verlander, and a group of undervalued veteran hitters that included Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen, and Craig Monroe.
The Tigers were full of a wonderful cast of characters, but the one player who epitomized what 2006 was all about was their exciting young center fielder, Curtis Granderson.
Granderson was only 25 years old when he won the starting center field job for the Tigers, and while his best years were still ahead of him, his personality and pure joy for the game were exactly what Detroit needed when he arrived on the scene. Known for always wearing high socks, he played the game with the same exuberance that little leaguers played with all over the world. He flew around the base paths with blazing speed. He dove for every ball that was slightly out of reach. He went down swinging. For better and worse, he was electricity on a baseball diamond.
I wish I had more vivid memories of 2006. I was only 10 when those 2006 Tigers took Major League Baseball by a storm, and while I remember the defining moments like Magglio’s American League Championship Series clinching walk-off home run, overall it’s just a general feeling of excitement that I remember the most.
However, I also remember one particular game that my grandpa had taken me to that Ron Wade, who worked for the Tigers then, so graciously tweeted a thread about.
My favorite Curtis Granderson memory: May 20, 2006. The @tigers got out to a great start that year, but after decades of not being competitive, fans (myself included) were still skeptical about whether the team was a contender. It’s a Saturday night at Comerica Park...(1/7)— Ron Wade (@ronwade) January 31, 2020
On a night where the great Ken Griffey Jr. launched a home run off a 100 mile-per-hour fastball from Joel Zumaya, Granderson stole the show and the game. The Tigers would go on to win 7-6 in extra innings over the Cincinnati Reds, but it was Granderson’s home run that made the night. If you could point to one game that defined the 2006 Tigers, it’s that game right there. The 2006 Tigers were relentless. Against all odds, they just kept winning, and winning, and winning, and at the center of all the excitement always seemed to be Curtis Granderson.
Before that season, the last time the Tigers had been in the playoffs was 1987. While good players had come and gone, nearly two decades had passed between seeing a quality baseball team fielded in Detroit. It still stings to this day that the Tigers weren’t able to win the World Series that year [Ed.: And we haven’t forgotten about it, it seems], but that doesn’t minimize the fact that the 2006 club lifted up a fanbase and a city that needed something to cheer about.
There isn’t a single “face” of the 2006 Tigers — I mentioned a half-dozen players above, and didn’t even include Kenny Rogers, who didn’t allow a run in three postseason starts — but in terms of the excitement, joy, and hope that they brought to Detroit, no one in the organization epitomized that more than Curtis Granderson. He personified the “Spirit of Detroit” in every way.
Granderson would go on to do great things on and off the field over a 16-year career, but his contributions to the Tigers will never be forgotten. He was a great player, and by all accounts an even better person for the philanthropic work he did, and continues to do, in the community. Enjoy retirement, Curtis, and thank you for the magic in 2006.