6.08.2005

Hero to Hero

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Tony Giarratano might not have realized that the voice inside his head when he stepped up to the plate last night in the seventh inning was mine -- "There you go, Tony. Easy now. You've dreamt of this moment your whole life. Steady on the back heels. Keep those hips square. Field of dreams, kiddo, field of dreams" -- but he tuned into my intersoulular transmission nonetheless, and the results were what The Five People You Meet in Heaven might call, well, heavenly.

Tony stood in against the Dodgers' Duaner Sanchez (has anyone ever been truly successful in life with a name like Duaner?), put bat to ball, and belted his first big-league dinger. With one flick of his still youthfully thin wrists, greenhorn Tony brought Taco Night back to Chavez Ravine, and perhaps brought a Tigers season that had spun off the rails back from the brink.

The 22-year-old rookie, visibly stirring with the sort of presence that shouts "I've arrived and this game has changed because of me" after replacing an injured Carlos Guillen (whom there will be much weeping for later, alas), told we dizzied scribes as he polished off his horsehide souvenir that "I don't feel like I have much power. But I was happy to help."

What refreshing humility in a time of between-innings contract renegotiations.

Though Giarratano's blast wasn't the only sweet music to emanate from roaring Tiger bats last night -- those perennial big cats Dmitri Young and Ivan Rodriguez also lent their manly strokes to the fireworks display -- there was little question that, coming as it did from a player who knocked a mere 11 homers in 726 minor-league at bats, the most spectacular star on view in the Detroit sports constellation was one that, before the seventh inning, you might have pegged as just another Joe about to be laid off from a GM assembly plant out there in the great American expanse.

However, in an age when the highlight loop runs in an ever-tighter circuit, yesterday's heroics become tomorrow's expectations. So let me take a little time out here to talk to our man Tony directly.

Heavy hangs the head that wears the crown, young man: Yes, you're now the most popular figure in Detroit since Rasheed Wallace finished off the Heat on Monday, and you are likely to reign until at least the start of the Finals of Thursday. Yes, you'll now have a target painted on your back by the likes of Johan Santana and Mark Buehrle. Yes, the air will get a little juicier and the fans will stir a little more palpably when you stride into the box. Yes, you'll still have to carry Uggie Urbina's luggage.

You could very well come in fifth or sixth in the voting for the American League Player of the Week. You are a force to be reckoned with. Remember who you are, Tony. You are the soul of the Tigers. You are Tony the Tiger. You love frosted bits of wheat product soaked in milk. And you like hitting homers.

Bless you -- me, us.

Tony?

Mitch Albom has written many books on non-sports topics.

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