The coronavirus stole something special from Detroit Tigers fans: An Al Kaline tribute
The coronavirus is a dangerous, deadly thief.
It stole a home opener from thousands of Detroit Tigers fans on Monday night.
And it stole a special moment from Al Kaline’s family — or at least the chance to see it in person when the Tigers held a beautiful tribute for him.
And so, it seemed fitting that dark, grey clouds hung ominously over Comerica Park as the Tigers went through pregame ceremonies before their season opener against the Kansas City Royals.
But the stadium was empty; no fans were allowed inside because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Still, the Tigers organization tried its best to make it seem normal. As the Tigers and Royals were introduced, the same cheer track blared over the loudspeakers for both teams. To my ears, it was an equal volume for both teams, which seemed incredibly polite, if not generous.
But you make do, right? So Tigers pitcher Joe Jimenez had fun with it, urging the virtual fans to cheer louder when he was introduced.
Many players from both teams were wearing masks. And they tried their best to social distance.
After both teams lined up on the foul lines, they took off their caps and watched a video tribute to Kaline, who died April 6 at 85.
It was a beautiful tribute — the Tigers do these as good as anybody.
“When I was a youngster, life was a baseball game,” Kaline said, opening the piece. “There was nothing more exciting than a good old game of ball.”
And then a long list of Tigers stars — representing the past and present — gave warm tributes to him.
“I’m just thankful to the good Lord that he put me and him together for over 60 years,” Willie Horton said.
“My childhood hero,” Kirk Gibson said.
“He’s like a father of the Detroit Tigers,” general manager Al Avila said.
“He carried himself with such respect,” current Tiger Cam Maybin said.
“He is Detroit Tigers baseball,” Matthew Boyd said.
And then, the video closed with two of the biggest names in team history: Mr. Tiger and Miggy.
“I was one of the luckiest Major League Baseball players ever to have lived for being able to spend my 22-year career here in a Tigers uniform,” Kaline said.
“He was a great person, a great human being and one of a kind,” Miguel Cabrera said.
In center field, the U.S. flag went up, followed by a white and navy blue "KALINE" flag.
Eight members of Kaline’s family watched from their home in Bloomfield Hills.
A musical tribute
The national anthem was performed virtually by Jose Feliciano, one of Kaline’s friends.
Feliciano performed the "Star-Spangled Banner" at Game 5 of the 1968 World Series, which was controversial because it was a Latin jazz-infused rendition.
But now, it wouldn’t even create a stir.
“I love you, Al Kaline,” he said, after the performance.
Later, the Tigers released an interview of Feliciano.
“He was, to me, the Babe Ruth of his time," Feliciano said. “He was a good man. He had a good heart.”
Mr. Tiger deserved a crowd
It was a wonderful tribute.
But if there were any justice, this would have happened in front of a sold-out crowd in Comerica Park.
That’s what Kaline deserved.
Mr. Tiger deserved to have thousands of people standing in ovation, as grandfathers told their grandkids about the 1968 World Series.
He deserved to have people sitting in the crowd, wearing No. 6.
His family deserved the opportunity to walk on the field and feel the love from all of these current Tigers. One of the greatest things was watching Kaline walk through the Tigers clubhouse, talking to the players, giving encouragement. He carried himself in such a beautiful way.
And Tigers fans deserved a chance to say goodbye in person. This city loved that man. For his class and dignity and the way he played the game and lived his life.
But sadly, none of the fans were able to see it in person.
Don’t get me wrong. The Tigers made the best of this situation. It wouldn’t have made sense to wait another year. And Tigers fans could watch on TV.
But it wasn't the same.
I just hate this virus.
It keeps killing people and ruining lives and stealing away moments we'll never get back.
Kaline died in the middle of a pandemic. Fans were never given a chance to go to a public memorial. They never got a chance to pay their last respects. They never got a chance to show him the respect that he deserved.
Contact Jeff Seidel: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter@seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go tofreep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.