by Scott Kindberg
October 16, 2006
Lunetta Granted Another World Series Opportunity
“I’m stationed there every game I’m in Detroit,” the Jamestown native said.
Not surprising, really.
As longtime friends and professional colleagues – Lunetta is the director of minor league operations – the two have shared the highs and lows of the demanding game, including winning the 1997 World Series when both worked for the Florida Marlins.
“I said in ’97 that if I never get back to the World Series, I’ll be thankful because I had the opportunity,” Lunetta said.
Well, guess what? Lunetta can add another entry on his rather amazing baseball resume after Saturday’s Game 4 of the American League Championship Series.
With the Tigers and Oakland Athletics tied, 3-3, with two outs and two on in the bottom of the ninth inning, Magglio Ordonez belted a three-run, walk-off home run to lift Detroit to a 6-3 victory and a berth in the World Series.
FOX television replays captured the images of Dombrowski hugging Lunetta and John Westhoff (Detroit’s vice president, baseball legal counsel) in celebration as Ordonez was mobbed by his teammates at home plate.
“As soon as the ball went off the bat,” Lunetta recalled more than 24 hours after the blast, “ we all jumped up and I could hear Dave and John yelling, “There it goes, there it goes.’ As soon as the ball landed, we jumped up and down and started screaming. ‘We’re going to the World Series, we’re going to the World Series.’ It was just incredible.”
Everything about the Tigers has been incredible in 2006.
Just three years removed from a 119-loss season, Detroit has been the feel-good story in major league baseball.
In some cases, it has left Tigers of yesteryear in tears.
In a private box next to where Lunetta, Dombrowski and Westhoff were celebrating were assistant general manager Al Avila, director of baseball operations Mike Smith and former Tiger greats Al Kaline and Willie Horton, who are both Dombrowski’s special assistants.
“I looked over and Willie Horton was crying like a baby,” Lunetta said. “It was pretty special. Willie and Al represent everything the Tigers are about.
“Al has been so emotionally wrapped up in this. More than anybody, he has carried the burden of the down years of Tiger baseball and now he’s so elated to see the organization back on top. And to see Willie’s tears, it just shows how much this means to so many different people.”
Lunetta already owns a World Series championship ring, but the Marlins never got to defend their title because ownership disbanded the team almost immediately.
“Not only did Dave have to rebuild this organization, he almost had to implode it and, literally, start from scratch, Lunetta said. “… Dave has had numerous strokes of genius, but I think the best move that he’s made, at least in terms of his tenure with the Tigers, is hiring Jim Leyland.”
With the veteran skipper leading the way, Detroit is making its first World Series appearance since 1984.
Ironically, Lunetta, Leyland, Tigers owner Mike Ilitch all have Jamestown connections. While Lunetta was born, raised and started his sports management career here, Leyland and Ilitch both started their minor league careers as members of the Jamestown Falcons.
Now, the trio gets to work together in pursuit of baseball’s ultimate prize.
“We look at each other and say, ‘Isn’t it amazing we’re here, because we never thought we’d get here this quickly,” Lunetta said, “That is a testament to the job Jim has done.”
Lunetta isn’t about to take part of the credit, but it’s been obvious through the years that Dombrowski has the utmost confidence in his good friend.
“I think (the World Series) reaffirms to me this is where I belong,” Lunetta said. “Since the breakup of the Marlins, there were some challenging years in the game where I wasn’t sure where this was going to play out.”
On Sunday night, he got the most definitive answer, thanks to one swing of Ordonez’s bat.