Lunch with Mr. Tiger
It was a cold February day in Batavia Ohio. Piles of snow ringed the parking lots outside the Ford transmission plant where I worked as a perishable tooling analyst. It could have been just another late winter’s day but it wasn’t. Today was special. I was having lunch with Mr. Tiger himself – Al Kaline. Now to me, any major league ball player was someone to be admired. But this was Al Kaline – first ballot hall of fame, 18 time all-star, never played a day in the minors, youngest player ever to win a batting title Al Kaline! So how did I get so lucky to spend time talking baseball with Mr. Tiger? Just a case of being in the right place at the right time.
As I said It was February. Still winter in Ohio but just about time for Spring training to begin in Lakeland, FL. Al was driving from Detroit to Lakeland and was making a stop in the Cincinnati area to visit his son Michael who was playing baseball at Miami University in Oxford, OH. Coincidently, one of the sales reps who called on us – Chuck Vordenberg – had two sons about Michael and Mark’s (Al’s older son) age. Chuck’s sons were ballplayers too and had played with and against the Kaline boys in various leagues and tournaments throughout the Midwest over the years. Well Chuck and Al became friends through their sons baseball and Al would often check in with Chuck when he was in the Cincinnati area. I almost forgot to mention that Chuck was a sales rep for a perishable tooling company which of course is how I got an invitation.
While Al was in town Chuck asked him to visit several of his customers for meet and greets. So we’re waiting in the plant lobby when we see these two old enough to know better guys running – no racing – in from the parking lot in their sports coats and wing tips. When they get a little closer we see that it is Al and Chuck running and laughing like two little kids and I’m just hoping nobody gets hurt and lunch gets cancelled. Fortunately, nobody got hurt and after introductions we made our way to the restaurant for lunch.
For those of you familiar with the Cincinnati area we had lunch at the Millcroft Inn in Milford, OH. There were 8 of us so we were seated at a rectangular table with 4 on each side. I took my seat first and then to my surprise Al sat down directly across from me! At first I was shocked. Starstruck is probably more accurate. I mean here I was a 27 year old kid sitting across from arguably the greatest player of his generation! What was I going to say? By the time lunch had ended I felt like we were just a couple of guys talking about baseball. Artificial turf – got some hits that would have been outs on grass but it was tough on his legs. Designated hitter – he did it a few times in his final year. Didn’t really feel a part of the game when he did. Did he have any regrets for not playing one more year and getting his 400th homer? No – he was ready. 22 years was enough.
Before we broke up and went our separate ways, Al gave us all personalized, autographed photos. Here’s a photo of the one he signed for my son Michael. Al Kaline spent his entire professional life with the Detroit Tigers acting as a broadcaster, coach, executive and goodwill ambassador. He was lovingly known as Mr. Tiger in Detroit. Al Kaline passed away on April 6, 2020.