This was the most exciting night of my life. I clutched my aunt’s hand and jumped up and down swinging through the air with excitement.
I was an eight year old boy, leaving Tiger Stadium moments after the Detroit Tigers beat the New York Yankees 2-1 to clinch the pennant and a berth in the World Series. There were no playoffs. Only one team in the American League and one in the National League were standing at the end of the regular season. It was baseball’s last pennant race and this was so exciting.
Wild Joe Sparma was on the mound that night. But guess what? He wasn’t wild this night, walking just one Yankee batter while scattering five hits.
The Yankees tied the game 1-1 in the top of the ninth. But as usual the Tiger pulled out another late-inning miracle with two outs in the ninth.
As we left the stadium horns honked and hundreds of Tiger fans danced on Michigan Avenue. Then I saw something that sent chills down my spine and showed that the power of sports could overcome just about anything.
A white man and a black man gave each other an enthused bear hug as they laughed and joked on Michigan Avenue. That might not sound like a big deal today. But this was huge back then. We were a year removed from the 1967 riots where the division between black and white and city and suburb was at its greatest.
People stared in amazement as the two men embraced.
We were at war and it was just beginning of a lot of bitter battles between whites and blacks in our community.
Sports brought us together even if it was just for one embrace.
A year earlier I attended an afternoon game. After the game a white guy and black man got into a racially charged argument on Michigan Avenue and the black guy knocked the white guy out with one punch. It was scary seeing this man shake on the pavement while laying unconscious. I thought he was going to die.
People came to his aid and he was walking around within a few minutes.
One year I witnessed a devastating punch and the burning of my city. The next year there were celebrating horn honks and a huge hug. That shows the power of sports even during our most trying times in history.
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