Watching pre-game analysis before Game 1 of the World Series last night, I couldn't help but be struck by how big a gap in time six years appeared on the TV screen.
The first dead giveaway: none of the footage was in HD. Justin Verlander was a rookie. Kenny Rogers, Todd Jones and Magglio Ordonez have been retired for a while. Just about every single Tigers fan had a look of 'just happy to be here' plastered all over their faces.
I know I did.
Seeing my single favorite sports team, bar none, playing for a championship again has given me a lot of reminders of the fall of 2006.
I was in my ninth and final semester at Central Michigan University - stuck around an extra half-year so I could have two minors and watch everything I'd known for four years change on me.
Of course, I had to prepare for the 'real world.' By this point in October, I was already whipping up packets of resumes and clips to foist upon any newspaper editor in Michigan who would have me.
More importantly to the 'real world,' I was no longer living in the residence halls and not having friends immediately at hand was already making an impact.
But the sports world? Never better. The football team at CMU, a doormat when I enrolled, had caught fire under the direction of Brian Kelly. About a month later, I'd see them win a MAC championship.
In the middle of this, something completely incomprehensible for the first 21 years of my life: The Tigers in the World Series.
I was born in 1984, so for nearly all my life, the Tigers ranged from mediocre to downright awful. I still remember waiting for Dad to pick me up from my first year of college: May 1, 2003. Mike Maroth carries a no-hitter into the eighth and the Tigers then give up six runs to Baltimore.
The summer of 2006 was the first in which I didn't go back to the U.P. The job I'd gotten gave me a lot fewer hours than I thought I'd get, so I was bored, broke and had a lot on my mind. Then that team came along. Instant entertainment!
Then, the school year came along and the wheels came off. After blowing the AL Central title, I declared them "lambs to the slaughter" at Yankee Stadium.
I believe I skipped a class to watch Game 2, only for the cable to cut out on a short two-out fly ball at Yankee Stadium just before it landed in the right glove.
From then on, it was a dream time, until the World Series started.
I watched most of the games on a big-screen TV at the Wesley Foundation, a campus ministry where I was a regular. As Curtis Granderson slipped and that fly ball went over his head in Game 4, I realized it was over. Two nights later in Game 5, as Brandon Inge struck out to end the series, I was overwhelmed with the feeling that it just wasn't meant to be.
Fast forward six years.
The Tigers are in the Series again, but their fan base is noticeably more angst-ridden. Verlander, once promising, is now dominant, and a roster of players who went from mediocre to the World Series seemingly by magic is now a roster of players that were supposed to be here, whose every underachievement and slump is cause for someone to get fired.
Game 1 felt a lot like 2006. Irrational overconfidence brought forcefully down to earth. A long lay-off and another bad outing from Verlander. Screwy bounces for the NL team. Oh, and Brian Kelly's coaching a good football team again (unfortunately, not in Mount Pleasant).
However, I can't go back in time and neither can they. As great as 2006 felt, just winning the pennant is something I've already experienced the Tigers doing.
Those 2006 dreams gave way to the real world. I still have hope that this 2012 team, very much a product of the 'real world,' is capable of the stuff of dreams.
Brandon Veale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/redveale.