Wednesday, July 16, 2008

So Long Tiger Stadium

To an extent, our sports legends and the teams we come to root for as children are inherited from our fathers. Taught about the game and, if we’re lucky enough, taken to the game, by our dads at a young age, we have very little say in which team will be our favourite, or even which sports we’ll follow – at least in the beginning.

Accordingly, my brother and I were born Detroit Tigers fans. And whereas I’ve known guys who have learned to move on from the teams that destiny (i.e. their father’s urging) had thrust upon them, somehow the wearing of Tigers’ baby pajamas has had a long lasting effect on me and my brother. Indeed, to someone not similarly afflicted, my love of the Detroit Tigers would seem to defy all logic (Consider the fact that the Tigers had just 2 winning seasons from the time I was 8 until I was 25 and perhaps you can understand why people went ballistic when they managed to win the American League championship in 2006).

However, as much as my appreciation of The Tigers may have been my dad’s wishes, it likely wasn’t him that has created this lasting impression of the team so much as it was Tiger Stadium.
While I can’t remember my very first visit to Tiger Stadium, it doesn’t actually matter because, as most fans who visited The Corner can attest, walking out through those dark tunnels that led toward the field was virtually the same experience every time. Tiger Stadium is old. Assuming I saw my first game there at age nine, the building was already 77 years old. To a young kid, this huge old building seemed like a massive, old, cement maze and, depending on how good our seats were, the walk up to the ramp could be unbearably long. We’d pass a weird barrage of ticket takers, older kids yelling about programs and 50/50 tickets, long lines of men buying beer; we could smell hot dogs, pop corn, maybe hear the announcer over the PA. Then it got really dark for a second and you were aware only of the bright light ahead. Then suddenly: Baseball.

No one walked out of the tunnels at Tiger Stadium at the beginning of a game without stopping to just stand there for at least a second and breathe it in. You’d walk out, likely still in the shade yourself given the massive overhangs all over the stadium, and in front of you, lit by bright sunlight you’d suddenly see that huge, green field and the tall, blue bleachers and those massive outfield stands. Your favourite players were down there warming up in clean white uniforms and it seemed you could actually here ball hitting glove from any where in the stands as they tossed the ball around.

It didn’t matter how old you were or how many times you had been to the stadium. Walking out of the tunnel toward the stands in Tiger Stadium, you were always suddenly very certain of one thing: This was baseball.

Tiger Stadium just felt historical. It was an authentic place with real grass, groomed, full dirt base paths, towering light stands and notably, for a long time one of the deepest centre fields in all of baseball at 440 feet.

Yes, even peeling paint, chipped cement, and rusting girders. Tiger Stadium was ancient; and you could tell. You didn’t need to know that the building was built in 1912 to know that Ruth, Cobb, Dimaggio, Williams, Kaline, Gheringer and Cochrane had played there. You could tell.

My brother and I are too young to have even a small slice of the storied history of Tiger Stadium. We were too young to remember the 1984 Tigers’ World Series win, and even their 1987 AL East division Championship, but as kids, we still cheered on Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker.

By the time we were going to games at Tiger stadium, Sweet Lou and Tram were past their prime to be sure but, in the early nineties, they were still more than capable of showing occasional flashes of the brilliant ball playing that typified their reign as one of Major League baseball’s best ever double play combinations. Perhaps most memorably during a game my brother, my dad, and I were at in 1994 against the Texas Rangers when Whitaker, just one year away from retirement, followed up a 3rd inning three run homer with an 8th inning grand slam. I was only 13 years old at the time and I still remember it. My brother was only 10 and he remembers it better than me.

The last game at Tiger Stadium was played on September 27th, 1999.

Between that day and the day it first opened (April 20th, 1912 – The same day Fenway opened), a lot of kids, and indeed a lot of grown men, too, built similar lasting memories at Tiger Stadium.
We life long Tiger fans have had time to accept that baseball will no longer be played at Michigan and Trumbull. We’ve even been to games at Comerica Park, as much as we resisted the idea of it. We may have even come to appreciate Comerica Park a bit (maybe just a little bit).
But it doesn’t make the demolition of Tiger Stadium, started just a few days ago, any easier to watch.

I’m sure that fathers, sons, brothers, and friends can and will build memories at new ball parks. Some kid taken to see his first ball game at Comerica or at the new Yankee Stadium next year may very well feel that same rush when he sees those fields for the first time. I’m also sure that, under manager Jim Leyland, the Tigers have the potential to create some more exciting Tiger history very soon at Comerica Park (though sitting at .500 at the All Star break as of this post, the outcome of this season is questionable). But while bulldozers raze the outfield walls in Detroit, and the battle led by Ernie Harwell to keep some small part of Tiger Stadium in tact begins to look more and more futile, let’s just take a minute to remember the great old stadiums like the one that stood at Michigan and Trumbull for 96 years and all the memories that were built both on the field and in the stands there.

Here’s wishing one of the greatest parks in baseball a very fond farewell.

1912 - 2008


Thursday, July 10, 2008

Dude, They're Canadian.

I love this country. Without a doubt I think Canada is one of the greatest countries in the world and I’d be hard pressed to think of anywhere else I’d want to live. We have progressive social programs, the land is clean and visually stunning, we’re culturally rich and diverse, and our beer is kick ass.

Canada also has a lot of incredibly talented and musicians; K-os, Feist, Arcade Fire, The Guess Who, etc. etc. etc. Indeed, along with comedians, Canada actually seems to produce an inordinate amount of musical talent. However, a distinction needs to made, these artists are talented and Canadian. They are not talented because they are Canadian.

In this country, we have strict Canadian Content laws. Essentially, for the radio, these laws dictate that 35% of the content played on Canadian radio stations between 6am and midnight needs to be Canadian. We also have strict laws about what makes that content officially Canadian (if you want more info or need help falling asleep, these laws are outlined here).

I have come to the conclusion that it is these Canadian content laws that are precisely what has led a lot of Canadians to believe in a lot of things, musically, that are blatantly untrue. A good example of one of these commonly accepted lies is the idea that anything Kim Mitchell has ever done is worth listening to.

Because of the need to fill the airwaves with Can Con, a large amount of seriously shitty music has been pounded into our collective Canadian psyche for years and, because of that, a lot of you have been brainwashed into thinking it’s actually good.

Don’t believe me? Let’s go back to my Kirmbo example. You think he’s good right? Or at the very least, you think, “He’s OK.” Am I right?
Now take two seconds and think really hard about the music of Kim Mitchell. Really listen to him. Go to his website and listen to the song, “In The Stars Tonight” that plays automatically.
OK? We’re in agreement that he absolutely blows? Good. Now, approach a few of your buddies and say this: “Man, Kim Mitchell blows.”
I’ll wager a thousand dollars that the response from at least one of your buddies will be this, “Man! Patio Lanterns?”
Patio Lanterns. This is always part of an attempt at a defense of Kim Mitchell. It was his biggest hit, he recorded it in 1986, it actually went triple platinum, and it is absolute shit. You know why Canadians think it’s good? Because Can Con laws have ensured that it has been a staple of classic rock radio stations for the past 22 years. It’s not good; it’s just that you’ve heard it 8 thousand times.
Don’t you think there’s a reason Kimbo never quite “made it” any where outside of Canada? The reason is this: He sucks.

Look at him for God’s sake.

But there’s another response you may get when you attempt to enlighten your friends about Sarnia’s most famous export. One of your friends might say to you, “Dude, he’s Canadian.”

You’ve probably heard this before, too. It happens every now and then when, God forbid, some one dares to question the popularity of other shit Canadian acts. It’s as if it is some how un-Canadian to question the talent of any Canadian acts simply because they are Canadian; as if not embracing Go For a Soda as your personal anthem makes you a bad Canadian.

Well I’m not going to take it any more. Some things need to be said:

Life is not a highway. Nor is it a Riverboat Fantasy.

You only think Tom Cochrane and David Wilcox are worthy of radio time because one company, Corus Entertainment, controls the airwaves in most of Canada. The reason you hear Wilcox asking you to Do The Bearcat on virtually every classic rock station in Canada, is because they’re all actually the same station. Corus Entertainment basically has a “New Rock” station and a “Classic Rock” station in all ten major Canadian markets, and they all have virtually the same playlists. Check out the radio section of Corus’ website and you’ll likely find that most of the radio stations in your city are Corus stations. Classic Rock 101 in BC, Q107 Classic Rock in Alberta, Q107, The Wolf 101.5, 103.9 the Hawk, Rock 101.9 in Ontario. It’s all the same shit people. And they’re all spoon feeding you Rush. Or Three Days Grace.

(For the 6 people that are going to read this and be angered with my definition of shitty bands, please put your shirt back on, open another 50, light a Peter Jackson and calm down. Music is subjective. You have your tastes and I have mine. I just happen to like “good” music. Don’t worry, David Wilcox and Tom Cochrane will still be at your town’s Bluesfest/Classic Rock Fest/Music Fest/Pembroke Waterfront Music Festival this summer).

And so, aside from abandoning the radio for your iPod, it would seem there’s really not much you can do about the Canadian shit avalanche on our radio stations. These radio stations have been doing their thing for years and it’s obviously working for them. Can Con laws and an unwillingness for radio stations to change up their playlists have ensured that dusty Canadian rockers aren’t going any where (Fuck, Q107 in Toronto even gave Kim Mitchell his own daily radio show. Now if you want to listen to classic rock in Toronto from 2pm to 7pm, you not only have to put up with Kim’s music, but you have to listen to him talk – often about his own music). And it seems there’s always going to be a market for shitty Canadian music (Avril Lavigne has sold 30 million albums).

I think we all just need to know when to draw the patriotic line. You don’t have to love music just because it’s Canadian. It’s awesome to be patriotic - when you’re watching the World Juniors; not when you’re discussing or buying music. For God’s sake, Trooper is still touring people! This is your fault.

Try to have a discerning ear. There is a ton of fantastic Canadian music out there, just keep in mind, as we’re inundated with the worst of it, that not all Canadian music is fantastic just because it is Canadian.

(It’s still okay to rock out to “Boys in The Bright White Sports Car,” just don’t tell any one).


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