- The Washington Times - Friday, October 20, 2006

Strange as it may sound, the good times are rolling in Detroit.

Witness Michael Weiss, a 12-year assembly line worker at a Ford Motor Co. truck plant. While Ford’s troubles deepened this year and Mr. Weiss, 37, contemplated a buyout offer, he and his wife stopped taking vacations and switched to smaller vehicles.

Yet this week the Livonia, Mich., couple paid $137 for Detroit Tigers souvenirs as their baseball team prepared for its first World Series since 1984. Among the purchases: a T-shirt with a picture of Albert Einstein and inscriptions like “Jimmyball 2006” that praise Jim Leyland. The Tigers manager is rated a genius for taking the team to Major League Baseball’s championship after 12 consecutive losing seasons.

“It’s a great boost for people’s psyches for the World Series to be in Detroit this year,” says Detroiter Jeff Case, who returned to work as a truck driver in July after a four-month layoff. “It makes you forget the hard times.”

Mr. Case, 44, spent $85 for a shirt bearing the name of Tigers relief pitcher Joel Zumaya and says he will buy a World Series shirt when he gets his bonus check next month. The seven-game series begins today in Detroit against the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Tigers’ success is now a symbol of Detroit’s determination in hard times. The area’s two biggest employers, Ford and General Motors Corp., are cutting 60,000 jobs. A third of Detroiters live in poverty. And no state has a higher unemployment rate than Michigan’s 7.1 percent.

“To have pride and optimism, even if it’s just from baseball, is important to Detroit in a way that people in cities like New York will never understand,” says Kevin Boyle, a former resident who wrote a book on Detroit’s race relations.

The city has been through this before. The Tigers’ 1984 World Series appearance came as automakers were recovering from an oil price spike that forced Ford to cut its U.S. work force in half. In 1968, they went to the Series 15 months after a race riot that left 43 dead. The Tigers won the Series both years.

Detroit’s latest mood swing is so stunning it might help Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm win re-election against Republican Dick DeVos, said Ed Sarpolus, president of EPIC-MRA, a polling firm in Lansing, Mich.

Before the baseball playoffs began Oct. 3, a poll found that 26 percent of Michigan residents expected the state’s economy to improve during the next six months. By last week, the number had jumped to 34 percent, Mr. Sarpolus said.

For the Weisses, the Tigers provided a season-long lift. After winning just 43 games in 2003 and losing 119, the team posted a 95-67 record this year, lost its first playoff game, then won seven straight to beat the Yankees and Oakland Athletics and make it to the World Series.

“The Tigers give us something to watch,” said Kendra Weiss, 37. “They give us something to do.”

The hard part will come after the Series, said Mr. Boyle. “This year’s ride has been wonderful, but it won’t reverse the decline of the U.S. auto industry.”

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