Here I sit, gazing upon my Mickey Lolich autographed bobblehead, given to me free of purchase at last night’s Whitecaps game. But, how did Young $narf aka Eric Ralph arrive at this moment?
We begin this legacy in Detroit, Michigan, where my grandpa taught my father the sports I would someday fall in love with. My dad swears when he came home from work late one night, my 1 or 2-year old self was awake with the TV on. He sat down beside me, asked me what was up, and I declared, “I’m watching Pistons basketball.” A bad boy from birth…
I grew up with a younger brother similar in size and age enough to consistently play against him and the neighborhood in football, baseball, basketball, soccer, swimming, skating, and every kind of hockey: roller, air, or knock-hockey!
I love sports. To quote Nelson Mandela, “It laughs in the face of discrimination,” bringing different people of different backgrounds together to achieve a common goal. I saw young girls in my grade better than the boys competing on the playground; great athletes of every different ethnicity; and learned from coaches of varying styles – it all adds up to the foundation of joy most of my experiences have thrived on.
Granted, once we moved to Rockford, I was immediately cut from the basketball team; told I was “too slow” despite trying out for baseball with pneumonia; and too gun shy to even pursue my best sport, soccer. But along the way, I kept organizing backyard football games for all us suburban underdogs, played and starred in a local church league comprised of genuine JV players by my senior year, and always got to keep being with my brother.
I am also perhaps the biggest fan of both in-state colleges. After growing up a die-hard Michigan State fan, I was enamored by Ann Arbor and Michigan’s campus at first site, and now I break remotes in half when the Spartans crush our dreams… but along the way, you realize how many people just like football.
Which leads us to now. I took a bad fall as a Junior Wolverine, shattering my calcaneus (the heel) bone and being forced to repair it with a metal plate (permanent) and nine metal screws – also permanent. I am not your average 28-year old. I moved back in with my dad, who recently retired and was also in need of slowing down. Through acupuncture, better dieting, less stress, four Tigers division titles, a Peyton Manning Super Bowl 50 win, countless Lions, Red Wings, and Pistons games, the 2013 Calder Cup Championship, and honestly, too many games to recall, we have bettered our lives and now live directly across from the West Michigan Whitecaps’ stadium, a fantasy turned reality that has you waking up each day anew, in dream-like wonder.
So that’s how I was able to get one of the last Lolich bobbleheads and wait in line for over three hours with fellow Tigers fans to meet him. Upon seeing him, I told him of my dad’s history, growing up with a family that worked in the Eastern Market. He had a walking stick similar to my own. As he finished signing his name, I saw him smiling and laughing as I described my dad watching him make donuts in Detroit.
What a thrill. What a life, even at my somewhat young age, to watch life come full circle and land my family right where we’d want to be. There were some snarfs in line who I shook hands with after completing a night in line. As I walked away, a G said, “Walk tall, brother; walk tall.” I plan on it.