ERIE, Pa. — The game was over, the title won, and 50 bottles of champagne were set up on a table in a garage behind UPMC Park.
Iced down and ready.
Time to celebrate.
And I thought: Oh, man, it’s been so long since we’ve seen a champagne celebration in the Motor City. Detroit Tigers fans need to see this again. Shoot, most Lions fans need to see it just once.
But I had to go to the minor leagues to see it, if only to remember what it’s like.
Several members of the Erie Seawolves, the Tigers’ Double-A affiliate, walked through the door and entered the garage after a 7-3 victory over the Richmond Flying Squirrels (the San Francisco Giants‘ affiliate) to win the Eastern League’s Southwest Division series on Thursday night.
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The Seawolves looked tentative at first — everything is a learning experience, right? — until a few brave souls started grabbing some bottles. But nobody popped them. They waited patiently for their teammates to arrive. This was a celebration that unfolded in slow motion. If nothing else, these young prospects are polite. It’s such a likeable team.
Greg Gania, the team’s longtime radio announcer (and, improbably, the radio voice of the Tigers’ combined no-hitter back in July), started handing out bottles to players.
“Speech!” somebody said. “Speech!”
The players waited for Gabe Alvarez, the team’s affable manager who played parts of three seasons in Detroit in the late 1990s.
Alvarez grabbed a bottle and walked to the middle of the garage, and the players circled around him. Some players were wearing sandals, others were already shirtless, ready to get drenched.
“Hey,” he said. “Listen up.”
Alvarez held a bottle out. He is a fantastic manager who has pushed all the right buttons, leading this team to back-to-back division titles. “You guys did an incredible job,” he said. “It’s not easy to win the first half, stay in it and come out fighting.”
He turned. “Two more wins!”
Erie will play the Binghamton Rumble Ponies — the New York Mets‘ Double-A affiliate — for the Eastern League title, beginning Sunday.
“Let’s have some fun!” Alvarez said.
Champagne sprayed into the air, as the Seawolves danced and sprayed and jumped up and down and shouted and doused each other some more. It was pure joy, and so dang fun to watch.
Yes, Detroit, you deserve to see this again.
Growing up, learning to win together
The importance of this moment cannot be overstated.
These young players are not just learning the game, they are learning to win together. To trust each other. And that’s invaluable.
This team featured 14 of the Tigers’ top 30 prospects (in MLB Pipeline’s rankings) this year. Some, such as Colt Keith, Dillon Dingler and Justice Bigbie, have already moved up to Triple-A Toledo. One — Jackson Jobe — made just a single appearance at Erie before he was shut down for the season. And Sawyer Gipson-Long made it all the way from Erie to Detroit — he’s the Tigers’ starter Friday night in Oakland.
But all of these prospects contributed to this title in different ways; all of them learned together, grew up together and, yes, won together, and there is something incredibly important in that.
“This is a really good group of guys,” pitcher Ty Madden said after earning the clinching win. “Minor league baseball can be pretty selfish. And this group is, I mean, we’re all pulling for each other. We hang out more than I think any minor league team hangs out, and it’s just a great group of guys and we want to win this thing.”
Madden, the Tigers’ second pick in the 2021 draft (at No. 32 overall) and the No. 6 prospect in the organization, got the start. He was dealing Thursday, throwing in the high 90s until he got into trouble in the seventh. He finished with five hits and three runs over 6⅓ innings, with eight strikeouts and three walks.
“It’s great,” he said. “The boys are excited, the boys are celebrating, but we got unfinished business.”
Yes, there is more work to do. The Seawolves are two more wins from another champagne celebration.
And I found Madden’s approach fascinating. This is exactly how you want a future Tiger to talk.
Celebrate the win, the first step of the playoffs, but don’t be satisfied.
There’s no question in my mind that Madden is going to be a part of the Tigers’ future. He finished the regular season with a 3.43 ERA, second-best among qualified pitchers in the Eastern League. He finished third in strikeouts, tied for eighth in innings and fifth in opposing batting average. He ended his regular season allowing just one earned run over his last 15 innings of work.
But it’s more than the numbers.
He has some pitbull in him, and on Thursday night, he showed composure under pressure. That’s the kind of thing you want to see before you call him up — I assume — at some point next season.
He showed that he has that big-moment presence. Unafraid. Pumping strikes.
Even though this was a minor-league game, it was a huge learning moment for all of them.
“Just slow heartbeat,” he said. “Don’t let the moment get to you, and the boys did a good job today.”
He is roommates with Brant Hurter, who pitched Game 1 of this series. In that game, Hurter was outstanding, earning the win. He struck out six and allowed just two hits and no walks over six innings.
They are two peas from the same pod. They hang out together, talking baseball, dreaming of getting to Detroit. Dreaming of winning a title together. Dreaming of bringing champagne to the Motor City.
“The reason we’re here is because of our starting pitching,” Alvarez said. “We have the number one and two guys in ERA in the league. It’s a great feeling. It’s a comfortable feeling and you know we feel good when they’re out there.”
Still learning even in a win
There was one mistake on Thursday night.
RJ Petit dropped a bottle and it shattered, so there was a bit of a scramble to clean up the broken glass.
Yes, these are learning experiences.
Oh, and there was another mistake: Chris Meyers couldn’t see who he sprayed or who sprayed him.
His eyes were burning.
“I couldn’t tell you,” he said, smiling. “I mean, everybody was spraying everybody. And it was in your eyes. You couldn’t see anything. So it was it was fun.”
What a rookie mistake.
We pause here to let out a sigh and remember the good old days.
First lesson, boys, taken from Max Scherzer‘s celebration style: Always wear goggles during a champagne celebration.
Oh, there’s so much for baseball players to learn.
But Meyers could do anything he wanted on this night, especially after blasting two homers.
“It’s not just me,” he said, spreading the credit. “I mean, the pitching staff was great out there. All through the lineup. We hit the ball really well tonight, and I mean, you can’t really ask much more when both things are clicking.”
The Seawolves got contributions from so many players.
Jace Jung, the Tigers’ top pick in 2022 and one of the most important players in this organization, performed in the clutch. He scored a run and drove in a run.
“What is this team like?” I asked him.
“Man, it’s kind of like being back in college almost,” said the Texas Tech alumnus who hit 14 homers for Erie this season — interestingly enough, the same number as Keith, Trei Cruz and Jack Holton hit. “It’s just like, easy-going. Hey, we’re gonna go out there, with dominant pitching and try to get a win.”
That’s what they did on Thursday.
And they walked away soaked with champagne.
How freakin’ cool.
Yes, Detroit, you deserve to see this again.
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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Erie Seawolves’ party means big things for Detroit Tigers’ rebuild
Source: Yahoo Sports