Back on May 14th of 2003 T.J. and I went to a Tigers-A's game for his birthday. By that point of the season the Tigers were already 13.5 games out of 1st place and had exhibited the potential to go down as one of the worst teams in Major League history. Despite the plethora of reasons to NOT drive 90 minutes from Clio to Detroit to see the completely overmatched Tigers take on an Oakland team that had won over a 100 games the year before and were starting their ace Tim Hudson against no talent ass hat Gary Knotts we decided make the journey anyways because 1: There wasn't shit else to do and 2: We were losers obsessing over the most depressing team in baseball (although T.J. would flatly deny the accusation of being a loser, even as he was laying around his parents house at 24, stoned, wearing nothing but Spongebob boxers and playing Pokemon on his Gameboy DS. Oh yeah, did I mention he was 24. I did. Great.) Anyways, the two of us showed up along with 11,000 other equally bored people, bought two tickets in leftfield and settled in for what was surely going to be a bloodbath of a loss. Instead we were treated to a pitching duel that led to a scoreless tie in the bottom of the fourth when a then relatively unknown Craig Monroe strolled to the plate to face Hudson.
"He's gonna hit a homerun this at-bat", said T.J. as Monroe dug in at the plate.
I looked at him incredulously before spitting out, "Are you insane? Hudson's one of the best pitcher's in baseball right now. No way you think Monroe, who you've never even heard of before tonight and who is only playing for this glorified Triple-A team because he's slightly less terrible than Gene Kingsale and Hiram Boccachica, is going to take Hudson deep. I bet he gets carved up for a strikeout in, like, 4 pitches."
T.J. continued, "I can't explain it, I'm just getting weird vibes from him right now. It's like we've connected on a higher metaphysical plane. I am guaranteeing a homerun in this at-bat."
I started to argue that if this guy had one iota of talent he wouldn't have languished in the minor leagues for 8 years and not get regular playing time until he was 26 and.....but I stopped, it just wasn't worth wasting my breath over this argument, especially since I was attending that game while confined in an iron lung (That joke only works if iron lungs help you breathe. I stumbled across this picture on Wikipedia and had been waiting for a chance to use it so that last joke was completely forced, if you couldn't tell already). So we watched Monroe's at-bat with much anticipation, waiting for the result and the chance to rub the result in the other's face because even though T.J. and I have been friends for years we secretly hate each other, (wait, what do I mean secretly. Our whole relationship is based on overt hostility and aggression towards one another at all times). And we waited....and waited....and waited as Craig Monroe put together the most impressive at-bat I've ever seen in person, fouling off pitch after pitch and even calling time so he could perform some basic sword swallowing and tying a series of balloons together in the shape of a carousel and handing it to a sick child sitting behind the dugout. With each pitch the anticipation in the stadium was building before, with a full count and on the thirteenth pitch of the at-bat, Monroe took a cut at a Hudson pitch and watched it explode off the bat towards deep left field and straight for T.J. and I. The two of us stood there awestruck and tried to position ourselves among the gathering crowd that was vying for the homerun and watched as the ball descended from the clear twilight sky and right into the hands.....off the guy standing next to us. We missed out on catching the homerun but T.J. screamed out with delight, not so much over the fact the Tigers had taken the lead but because he was right and Monroe had delivered on his prediction in the most tense and drawn out way imaginable. The battle lines had now been drawn. T.J. would now support Monroe for life and incessantly bring up the fact that he had predicted Monroe's blast and I would continue to disparage Monroe at every possible moment in every medium available and to anyone who would listen to me. C-Mo could have slept with my girlfriend, run over my dog and eaten the last bowl of Trix and put the empty box back in the cupboard (a big pet peeve of mine and something my old roommate Mike used to specialize in) and it still wouldn't have alienated me any more than proving T.J. right that night.
Monroe didn't stop proving me wrong after that homerun either. I talked about how he was an atrocious outfielder and then he would make a spectacular catch the next game. I predicted he wouldn't hit over .250 in a season because he couldn't hit breaking stuff and he went on to hit .293 that season. I said he was nothing more than a decent fourth outfielder on a contending team and he would never contribute to a team that had real post-season aspirations. Then he became one of the integral pieces on a World Series team. Monroe even continued to perform for T.J. whenever he was in attendance as he had arguably his best game of this season against the Royals with T.J. and I in attendance once more. By that time it seemed as though T.J. was Monroe's only remaining fan considering the amount of groans from the crowd as he strode to the plate with two on and two outs. I turned to T.J. and said, "Fucking great, here comes Mr. Rally Killer himself." T.J. was silent, maybe a little unsure if his continued support of Monroe was justified when, on the third pitch of the at-bat, Monroe took De Le Rosa out of the park. The crowd went wild and T.J. and I just sat there smiling knowing Monroe had made me look like an ass again.
It turned out to be one of Monroe's last homeruns in Detroit and it feels as though I was present for the bookends of his career as a Tiger. I understand that baseball is a business, that Craig Monroe had been maddeningly inconsistent and that Cameron Maybin is the future of the Tigers and had earned the right to play given his superlative play during his short stint in the minors, but I would be lying if I said I was reveling in the demise of my arch enemy Tiger. But in spite of all my thinly veiled hostility towards Monroe, I always wished him to do well and in a deep down place far away from anywhere T.J. could see I kind of liked Monroe, and it's sad to see him leave.