Maybe it’s the Robert Fick jersey popping up at a road game, or a talking head mentioning the time Shane Halter played all nine positions in one game. Sometimes it’s my brother reminding me of the guy I dated that one summer who looked like Rich Becker, or how the name Chad Kreuter seemed to us as children both vaguely pornographic and slightly B-movie horror madman-esque.
However they’re called up, the specters of the players we grew up with (and had perhaps even entirely forgotten about until they were invoked, like disembodied voices at a séance) still linger near the dirt of the on-deck circle, exist, somehow, side by side with Miguel Cabrera even though maybe they’re now living in Florida or running a limo company or imprisoned in South America.So when Binge (B + Inge = Binge, and describes, for this fan, his feast-or-famine approach to offense) poked one through the infield, turning his all-time hits ticker from 999 to 1000, it was only fitting that the leading edge of Bobby Higginson’s right forearm could be seen as his transparent self marked a cautious lead at third, his whole mouth stuffed with Big League chew and, of course, that fabulous goatee meticulously trimmed.
And why wouldn’t Higgy be there? He’d played with Inge since the day Brandon made it up from the minors in 2001. They slogged through terrible seasons together, including the back-to-back 106- and 119-loss seasons. Higginson, who exited the game quietly in 2005, playing just 10 games and retiring in the offseason, was the last Tiger to get 1000 hits with the team.
Maybe it was something like unfinished business that kept the five-years-ago Higgy haunting the base paths.
When Higginson hung up his cleats, he did so without ever having a winning season under his belt, let alone having the success of the following season, when the Tigers tore through their opponents like some kind of nuclear disaster and entered the World Series as the best Cinderella story since the Boston Red Sox a few years prior.
I don’t know why, but he seems to be hanging around the edges of major league baseball lately.
Higgy is a Philadelphia native, and when the Phillies’ Roy Halladay tossed a perfect game this season, sharp fans were quick to note that Halladay took a no-hitter into the 9th on September 27, 1998, when the intended third out, Higginson, broke it up with a home run.
Maybe it’s the way Higginson sort of disappeared slowly, like Marty McFly’s hand. Maybe it’s the silence, the lack of a formal announcement preserved in the annals of the internet, the full page ad in Detroit papers, thanking the fans, which we all remember him placing but seems to occupy a disintegrated sheaf of newsprint I cannot find record of now.
Maybe it’s got something to do with the fact that he hasn’t said a word about the Tigers since he retired, and he certainly hasn’t been brought back to the ballpark except by fans like me, who swear they see him swaggering out of the dugout on his way to left field.
It’s the same as the backyard game, playing short teams and calling for ghost runners. Even though you’d just been there, standing on third, and now you were knocking the bat against the soles of your shoes, you could still see your forty-seconds-ago self out of the corner of your eye, getting a lead.