Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Brad's Dad Knew It Was A Special Night At The Corner

A week ago I wrote about the special night one local prep baseball star had in making his major league baseball debut in the stadium he dreamed of playing in. Brad Havens imagined since he was a lil' slugger of being a real big leaguer and on June 5, 1981, that dream came true at fabled Tiger Stadium when he walked out of the visitor's dugout as the starting pitcher for the Minnesota Twins.
Brad's Dad, Howard 'Bud' Havens, who still lives in the house his big league son grew up in, called me after I ran the original piece and gave me, with apologies to Paul Harvey, the rest of the story.
"Oh man, what a night that was -- there were signs everywhere, and a lot of them were big bedsheets hanging off the rails in the upper deck, all of them rooting for Brad," the elder Havens remembers with an unfailing clarity. "It's a night I'll never forget and it was so special because it was at the stadium Brad dreamed of playing in. There were a lot of Tiger fans who weren't rooting for the Tigers that night."
Federal funding to grant the ole' ballpark the needed liquidity to save the field and a small portion of the stands passed a major hurdle last week when it was approved out of subcommittee in Washington D.C. Whether of not the bill that the funds are tucked within will pass is another matter, but Dems Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow weren't hiding their smiles back even if both were clearly hesitant to claim victory on the issue.
Compared to today's hulking baseball giants, Havens was a minute 155 pounds as a prep pitcher in the mid-1970s, but none of that mattered when the last-place Twins took on the 6th-place Tigers at 'The Corner' in 1981. "Brad pitched so well that night, too," Mr. Havens remembers. "He got the first hitter and then (Alan) Trammell hit a ball at the shortstop (Pete Mackanin), who bobbled it. The official scorer gave Trammell a hit but it should of been an error. It didn't matter, though, because Brad picked him off first a minute later. In the 6th, Trammell hit a ball over the fence in left and it was the only real hit Brad gave up," Havens said. "Brad got the next hitter and then got a blister on his pitching hand. He came out for the 7th but he couldn't continue and was pulled."
More than the thrill of making his debut at 'The Corner' was the way his son got to the bigs. As a high school senior, Havens was planning on going to play college baseball at Western Michigan University when a scout for the California Angels saw Havens throw a bullpen session. The Angels drafted the Royal Oak Kimball product and the next thing you knew, Havens was throwing in the pen with Frank Tanana, former Detroit Catholic Central Shamrock and big league star. The Angels later traded Havens to the Twins for Rod Carew.
"I still have the photo of Frank with his arm around Brad and I will never forget it, because Brad idolized Frank Tanana, being a local player and all," recalls Mr. Havens, who also remembered that Tanana and Havens would be teammates during Brad's last year in big league baseball, the 1989 season with the Tigers. "Those years Brad was in the big leagues were so special, and if you think you worry about your kids when they play youth sports, you sweat it out with every pitch watching them in the big leagues. It's the most nervous times I've ever spent in my life."
Havens would go on to play two seasons in Baltimore with the Cal Ripken Sr. and Jr., a pair of seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers, an organization Bud Havens called the 'classiest' team Brad got to play with. "The Dodgers were so good to Brad, because you have to remember they were still owned by Walter O'Malley, the last non-corporate-owned team in major league baseball. The Dodgers voted Brad a full share and a World Series ring when the team won the '88 World Series."
Clearly, Tiger Stadium holds a place near and dear to hearts of Detroiters and Michiganians statewide. These are the types of stories that Tiger Stadium embodies to so many of us, and why I hope part of the park can be spared from this ugly death.
~ T.C. Cameron is the author of Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries, due August 25, 2008 from Arcadia Publishing


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