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Love for baseball still burns hot for former Tiger Chet Lemon

MLive.com, Walker, Mich. — Steve Kaminski MLive.com, Walker, Mich.

July 08--It has been nearly 30 years since Chet Lemon played his final game with the Detroit Tigers.

The images he left Detroit fans never get old, though, whether he's diving head first into first base or leaping over the centerfield wall to steal a homerun away from Rod Carew in California.

Lemon, who played centerfield for nine years in Detroit, hasn't forgotten the Tiger fans, either. Lemon is headed to Fifth Third Ballpark in Comstock Park this week to participate in Tiger Wednesday. The Whitecaps will host Quad Cities at 7:05 p.m., and Lemon will begin signing autographs at 6:15 p.m. The first 1,000 fans will receive a Chet Lemon bobblehead.

"The Tigers have always been great to me, and the fans are absolutely wonderful," said Lemon, who resides in Tavares, Fla. "I'm looking forward to coming to Grand Rapids, and Michigan period. That's home to me. My wife is from Michigan, so we try to visit as much as we can and as often as we can. The people all over Michigan have been so good to us."

Lemon broke into the big leagues in 1975 and played with the Chicago White Sox through 1981 before he was traded to the Tigers. Lemon batted .287 in Detroit's World Series championship season in 1984 and was selected to the MLB All-Star Game. Lemon, a three-time all-star, retired in 1990 and completed his career with a .273 batting average and 215 homeruns.

Lemon never strayed from the game after retirement. He continues to operate Chet Lemon's Juice, which is recognized as one of the top youth baseball programs in the nation. He also is the director of baseball operations for Chet Lemon's Big Yard, which is based out of The Big House. The Big House is a 165,000 square foot indoor training facility and community center in Tavares that offers basketball and volleyball in addition to baseball.

"I experienced some illness when I left the game," Lemon said. "Since then, I have gotten better and stronger, and I think being involved in baseball and working with these kids has really helped. I'm out there every day. I'm not just a figurehead, I'm out there coaching these kids. That has been the one thing that has given me a lot of energy and a real desire to want to press forward and to see the joy on these youngsters' faces.

"We have had over 70 first-round draft choices, including Zack Greinke, Prince Fielder and Billy Butler, and that's not including all the kids who have gone to college in our program. We are just really, really happy. It has been just a joy."

It has been 35 years since the Tigers won their most recent World Series, and the organization recently celebrated the title with a day at Comerica Park. Lemon returned to participate in the festivities.

"Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammell, Lance (Parrish), Gibby (Kirk Gibson), Darrell Evans," Lemon said. "We were all there, and it was really nice, getting a chance to see all of the guys.

"We will have a bond forever for what we accomplished in '84, and actually, '87 as well. It is something we will hold onto forever."

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