Six weeks ago, Robert Fick was in Lakeland, Fla., undergoing strenuous rehabilitation following surgery on his right shoulder. He hadn't played baseball since a short call-up to the Detroit Tigers last season.
On Monday, Fick assumed a place in Tiger lore, hitting a grand slam in the eighth inning of the last game played in 87-year-old Tiger Stadium.
Fick, a former Cal State Northridge All-American who played at Ventura College and Newbury Park High, hit a pitch by Jeff Montgomery of the Kansas City Royals onto the roof above the right-field stands to cap an 8-2 victory.
It was the last hit and the last run in the stadium. The Tigers will move to Comerica Park next year.
Fick, a catcher and designated hitter, entered the game batting .200 with two home runs in 30 at-bats.
"After all I went through this year, to have the opportunity to do something like this is unbelievable," said Fick, who lives in Thousand Oaks. "It's an incredible feeling."
The Tigers' center fielder was Gabe Kapler, who played at Moorpark College and Taft High. Jeff Weaver, a right-handed pitcher from Simi Valley High, watched from the Detroit bullpen.
Tigers past and present rhapsodized along with sportswriters about Fick's feat:
* Kirk Gibson, former Tiger: "Now [Fick] has got something and he'll never forget it. A packed house. Anticipation. Bases are juiced. Last game at Tiger Stadium. He'll never forget the feeling when the ball went off his bat."
* Todd Jones, Tigers' relief pitcher: "He will never be able to do anything bigger besides hit a World Series home run. In this town, he will be remembered forever. I mean, you talk about hitting. . . . And how Gibson-ish. His strides were almost like Gibson in the World Series. And all the flashes. And just how great it was."
* John Lowe, beat writer, Detroit Free Press: "And then . . . and then . . . oh my! Fick rocketed a grand slam off the right-field roof--straight toward Comerica Park. For a second or two, everyone waited to see if it would bounce over the roof and become the final roof-clearing homer at Tiger Stadium. But it didn't quite make it. No matter. Fick's NASA shot clinched the victory.
"In the Maltese Falcon, Casper Gutman tells Sam Spade: 'The shortest farewells are the best.'
"Not always. Fick walloped the Long Goodbye, and it was glorious."
* Mitch Albom, columnist, Detroit Free Press: "Today, the center fielder's name is Gabe Kapler, a muscle-bound 24-year-old stud out of Reseda, Calif. But not long ago he was Chet Lemon, and before that Mickey Stanley and before that Johnny Groth, Hoot Evers, all the way back to the ornery batting champion, Ty Cobb, who patrolled this same grass in this same building in the 1910s.
"On Monday afternoon, Kapler, the kid, seemed to travel through time. He was wearing Cobb's uniform--no number on his back--and for a moment, as the ball dropped out of the sky, it might have been the Georgia Peach himself squeezing it for the out."
* More from Albom: "You make your memory, and you savor it for years to come. Baseball connects us that way. Just as one day this winter, Sparky Anderson will be sitting on his back porch in Thousand Oaks, sitting in one of the two wooden seats he owns as souvenirs from Tiger Stadium. He will be thinking of the past.
"And across town, the rookie, Fick, will be dreaming of the future."