LAKELAND, Fla. — While eight-year-old Kai Cabal was playing catch on the left field berm, there was 91-year-old Barbara Cvengros, sitting under the sun.
These were just two of the fans who came together on a recent Tuesday to watch their Detroit Tigers take on the New York Yankees at historic Joker Marchant Stadium, as part of the ritual of Spring Training.
Legends from Al Kaline up to Miguel Cabrera have created a timeless atmosphere for the location, and have bridged generations of fans. Some have had the opportunity to watch the evolution of the team.
“Since forever,” Cvengros said about how long the Tigers have been part of their lives. This was their first time at a Spring Training game, just a quick stop in their road trip through Florida from Detroit. She is 91 years old, and her son John is 65.
For four weeks in March, Florida reflects the culture that resides in Detroit through the summer. As people line up to get to the ballpark wearing their Kaline, Verlander or Cabrera jerseys, the tradition of baseball in Michigan becomes visible.
The franchise has been in Detroit since 1901, and it has never been renamed. Tigers have been training in Lakeland since the 1920s.
“I’d listen to the translucent radio in Elementary School, ’68 Tigers, ’84 Tigers, World Champions,” John Cvengros said. “I’m a retired school teacher now, so it was the optimal time to come”.
John and Barbara chose to watch the game sitting on the berm rather than on a seat behind home plate.
Right next to them, some children were running around in eager anticipation. Detroit lost the ball game, 7-2, but it did not seem to affect the younger fans in attendance.
Harry Nongueskwa, a long-time Tigers fan, expressed the importance of creating an accessible environment for young people.
“If you don’t get the younger generation to come baseball it will go down hill,” Harry said.
Asked what makes spring training so appealing for the younger generation he said it’s “the atmosphere, it is so fun to come here.”
The children at Joker Marchant Stadium seemed to be doing exactly that and enjoying the atmosphere.
Some children were running around the berm with their gloves in eager anticipation catching a foul ball from their hero on the field. There were other children sitting on the grass mesmerized by the hot dogs and ice cream in their hand.
Kai Cabal was accompanied by his father and catch partner, Isiah. The eight-year-old has played baseball for three years, and by the looks of his serious demeanour and steady arm has no plan of slowing down anytime soon. He was eager to watch the game in anticipation of seeing his favourite player Miguel Cabrera.
World War II veteran Peggy Brown threw the first pitch at the ball game. The 94-year-old epitomized the value of tradition on the baseball field creating an atmosphere of camaraderie and warmth at the Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium.