Tuesday, February 12, 2013
Happy Birthday, Chet Lemon!
I learned from Twitter that today is the 58th birthday of Chet Lemon. One of my earliest baseball memories is of Chet Lemon going back on a ball, leaping, and robbing a player of what would have been a game-winning home run. I wasn't the only one who took notice of the catch. The Tigers based a 1986 promotion on the play. As a seven-year old kid, I had never seen such a play before and I was mesmerized. I think I told everybody who would listen about that play. I was so taken by it that later that year, when I saw video of Willie Mays' iconic catch and heard it referred to as the best of all time, I balked. Lemon's was better than that! Admittedly, I lacked historical context, but to me at the time there was no debate.
I obviously never forgot seeing that catch and back then it served to put Chet Lemon on my radar. I started seeking him out when I would watch the Tigers and I grew to love the way he would nonchalantly glide under fly balls to center and catch them one-handed, glove next to his ear. I remember our little league coaches instructing us to catch fly balls with two hands. If one of us would get cocky and field one without that second hand, the most common retribution was, "Two hands! You're not Chet Lemon out there!" A friend of my mom's said that if she could be granted one skill, she would ask to be able to run down and catch a baseball as beautifully and as effortlessly as Chet Lemon.
How much of an impression did the hustling center fielder make on a young Tiger fan? I'll just say that when I picture the Tigers' away uniforms from the 80s, the default player who's filling it isn't Gibson, Parrish, Whitaker, Trammell or Morris. It's Lemon. So happy birthday, Chester. I hope you're happy to know there are a lot of Tiger fans who will never forget you and properly appreciate your contribution to the Tigers.