Former Detroit backstop throws out first pitch at Comerica Park
DETROIT -- The Detroit Tigers know about tradition. It's all over Comerica Park, from the concourse statue of longtime broadcaster Ernie Harwell to the retired numbers adorning the brick walls beyond the outfield fences: Hank Greenberg's No. 5, Charlie Gehringer's No. 2, Al Kaline's No. 6 and Ty Cobb's name because he had no number.
So it wasn't surprising that the heart of the on-field ceremonies before Game 3 of the American League Championship Series against the Red Sox on Tuesday afternoon was the appearance of local hero Lance Parrish, the stalwart behind the plate for the last World Series championship team in this city, the 1984 Tigers.
Parrish, who now lives in Nashville, Tenn., threw out the ceremonial first pitch, which was caught by Tigers catcher Bryan Holaday. Before he departed the field, Parrish gave a quick pep talk to the crowd, which waved white rally towels and stood up to salute him.
"Well, this is where I kind of cut my teeth on professional baseball," said Parrish, who was with the Tigers from 1977-86 and was on the Tigers coaching staff from 1999-2001. "It has a special place in my heart, obviously, the Detroit Tigers organization, coming back here.
"This ballpark, to be honest with you, doesn't have as fond of memories for me as Tiger Stadium, obviously. But just being around guys wearing the olde English D and putting this hat on brings back some pretty great memories."
Parrish said he and his wife are enjoying a quiet life in Nashville, where he's close to the country music he enjoys.
"I don't know if any of you have listened to my latest album," he said, getting a laugh from the media assembled in the Comerica interview room. "No, I wish I could sing."
For now, Parrish is awash in reflections of that magical 1984 season and hoping that it happens again 29 years later.
"I'll never forget the recording of the last out when that fly ball went to left field and Larry [Herndon] caught it and we were all jumping around on the field," Parrish said. "I'd be lying if I said that encounter with Goose Gossage with [Kirk Gibson], in fact, I just watched on TV today him hit his home run off [Dennis] Eckersley in the '88 World Series. The home run he hit off Gossage in '84 was just as amazing, I thought, with the drama and everything involved.
"That was just it was a fun, highlight type of moment that I can always attach to the '84 World Series. I obviously have some personal memories, as far as what I did. But the thing that really sticks out, that, for me, that Gibby home run kind of made the whole thing. It was a fun moment."
There were other fun moments on the field at Comerica on Tuesday.
The national anthem was performed by Motown legends and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees the Four Tops in delicious four-part harmony.
The game ball was delivered by hospital corpsman second class Matthew Pukey of the United States Navy. Pukey, who is from Sterling Heights, Mich., served two combat deployments in Afghanistan and also served at naval hospitals in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Camp Lejeune, N.C. During his four years of service, Pukey has been awarded the Navy Commendation Medal, Navy Achievement Medal and the Combat Action Ribbon.
As the Four Tops sang, a monstrous American flag was unfurled, covering most of the outfield.