When I was a 16-year-old high school baseball player in Michigan, 40 minutes from Detroit, Jim Leyland took my favorite baseball team, the Detroit Tigers, to the playoffs for the first time in my life, and then the World Series.
It was easy to say that Leyland quickly became someone I looked up to.
On Friday, Leyland will manage his fourth different Tigers team in the playoffs, this time against the Oakland A's. Once again Leyland will be in national spotlight and Tigers fans, and Leyland fans in Perrysburg, will be glued to watching the gruff manager try to take his team the World Series.
When I heard he was from Perrysburg, as a teenager I just thought it was neat that he was from a town so close to Detroit, and a place I saw off the highway when visiting my family in Findlay.
Now I'm pumped that he's from Perrysburg because when someone sees me around town in a Tigers hat, I often hear stories about him and his family. What is not to enjoy about the tough-guy manager who has been known to get emotional about the support from fans in a struggling city? Last week, he was weeping while talking about winning another division title hoping that Tiger fans feel like they get their money's worth.
In my first weeks at The Blade, I was assigned to work on a story about Leyland donating $100,000 to Perrysburg High School for new baseball and softball facilities at the high school. I've heard about how Jim would pick up Thanksgiving turkeys from Perrysburg Township Trustee Gary Britten's family farm for years. Now, Mr. Britten's son Brian works with Leyland in the Tigers organization.
While watching a Indians-Tigers game at a Perrysburg sports bar with my neighbor who loves the Tribe, we heard about how Leyland was a ladies' man when he was younger.
At Harrison Rally Day, I heard stories of his entire family from someone that went to high school here with the Leylands. And others have attended St. Rose Catholic Church where Thomas Leyland, Jim’s brother, was a priest.
As a nerdy baseball fan, these stories get me fired up. Growing up, I defended Leyland to some of my buddies who would argue about some of his managing decisions. I thought I was the biggest Leyland fan -- until I moved to Perrysburg.
I encourage anyone with a fun Leyland story growing up or on how they've followed his career from Pittsburgh, to Florida, then finally Detroit -- to add comments about them. The childhood Tigers fan and baseball nerd in me loves it.