The one thing you must understand is that my lack of disdain for the very disdain-worthy Ryan Raburn isn’t entirely rational. I can’t explain or reason with it any more than I can explain or reason away any number of my odd, irrational attachments.
Raburn isn’t a very good player. He has his moments of brilliance, as do most Major Leaguers; he was good enough to make it to the Majors and be a mediocre to downright bad replacement level (or worse) player. There are plenty who never made it that would probably give nearly anything to walk a mile in Raburn’s cleats.
My entirely irrational fondness for Raburn lies in a family death in 2009.
It had been a very difficult summer to that point. Family member after family member, it seemed, was taking ill or even dying. My parents were struggling financially. My brother was out in California. I had my own problems, as well.
On June 9th, I found out my grandfather, who’d long suffered from emphysema, had chosen to end his treatments and accept the inevitable. He couldn’t talk anymore, as he was hooked up on ventilators and monitors and so many machines you could hardly tell where they ended and the man began, but he gave his order and we weren’t about to defy him. My brother was flown in from California.
Two days later, my grandfather was taken off of the machines and he passed away with his family surrounding him. I held my grandfather’s hand, watched him pass peacefully, with a smile on his lips and a dash of J & B Scotch on his tongue.
It was a difficult, frenzied time as the family made viewing arrangements and funeral arrangements, and generally my brother and I were lost in the shuffle. It’s understandable, but it didn’t make anything any easier.
I didn’t know what to do; the pillar of our family was gone in a matter of two days. I grieved, I shut myself off from the real world and my friends and became the Dutiful Mourning Daughter/Granddaughter.
At the funeral home, in the snack room where family escaped for a few moments of stolen peace of mind, someone turned on the Tigers/Pirates game on a tiny TV set. We watched snippets here and there of a bewildered, godawful Dontrelle Willis get hammered by a terrible Pirates team. Somehow, that just added to the hurt I was already feeling; not even the Tigers could pull me out of this for a few hours.
On June 19th, I thought I was ready to throw off my grief and go back to the real world. I was wrong. I cried in public and I was right back to being the Mourning Granddaughter. I was embarrassed and thought there had to be something wrong with me. Back then, I didn’t realize you couldn’t just be done with grief whenever you wanted to. You had to ride it out.
A couple out-of-town friends tried to make arrangements with me to go to a Tigers game. I wanted to go but wasn’t sure if I should because, obviously, the family was still in mourning and my mom and dad probably needed me with them to grieve as a family or something. My mom gave me the okay, but my friends’ arrangements looked like they might fall through, so I decided it was probably a sign from God I shouldn’t go.
On June 23rd, at the last minute, my friends were able to come to Detroit for the first game of the Cubs/Tigers series. I shrugged off my guilt at leaving my family at home for a few hours and told myself it wasn’t wrong to have fun. You can only mourn for so much before it becomes unbearable, and this would be the perfect escape.
It might have seemed weird to go to a ballgame in the midst of all this. They’re supposed to be enjoyable experiences, after all. I’d had enough of feeling miserable, though, and decided to pause real life long enough to go with my friends to the ballpark.
It was a relatively well-played game, and the two teams seemed to be trading runs.
In the seventh inning, Brandon Inge gave the Tigers the lead on a two-run homer. The very next half-inning, Joel Zumaya returned the favor and blew the save on a two-run homer to the Cubs.
Everything I’d been feeling since June 11th seemed to be bottled up in that homerun off Zumaya. I felt like God had taken me and squished me like a bug between his thumb and forefinger. It’s kind of a melodramatic way of putting it, but that’s how I felt. Served me right for going to a ballgame when my parents and brother were at home, dealing with real life and the loss of my grandfather. Right?
Not so fast. An inning and a half later, the Tigers had the tying run on base and Ryan Raburn at the plate. Ryan Raburn, utility outfielder/infielder/backup break-glass-in-case-of-emergency catcher. This couldn’t possibly end well
Raburn lifted the second pitch he saw to left-center and right away, we all knew it was gone. The feeling that ran through me when I saw the ball jump off Raburn’s bat wrapped itself around my heart and carried it straight out of the ballpark. I went from the lowest of lows, feeling as down as Zumaya looked in the Tigers’ dugout like I was the one who had just lost the game for my team, to the highest of highs, to Don Kelly pumping his fists as he rounded third for home, to the Tigers pouring out of the dugout and screaming and jumping up and down like children, to Ryan Raburn grabbing onto Jim Leyland after he scored the winning run and giving him a big hug.
The ballpark has always felt like a second home to me, but this just sealed it. This was cauterizing the wound. Thirty thousand fans screamed with one voice, and the ballpark felt alive, vibrating with energy. I felt energized (reenergized) right along with it. I felt like I could get through the coming days, weeks, even months now as long as I kept this experience tucked away in my memory banks.
I’ve never been able to hate Raburn because of that. I know he really didn’t do much for me, specifically, but he provided something I needed at the exact right moment, gave me a moment to latch onto when I had little else.
Ryan Raburn will never know how much that homerun meant to me, and that’s fine. Very few people will probably understand the connection between that homerun, Ryan Raburn, and my grandfather, and that’s fine too.
I don’t think it’s meant to be completely understood.
It’s irrational and outside the bounds of reason.
That’s fine. That’s good. That’s kind of the point.
(I reworked parts of something I wrote here.)
* * *
Thanks, man. Really.