“Mike Ilitch was the biggest Tigers fan around,” J.P. Morosi said this evening on MLB Network. It’s tough to put into words just what someone like Mike Ilitch means to the city of Detroit. But I think the thing that sets him apart, like Morosi said, was that he was just one of the fans. Twice Mike Ilitch bought professional sports franchises, and twice he made them contenders. Why? Because he loved them, he rooted for them, and he was a fan of them.

Ilitch was born in the Detroit area in 1929 and spent a couple of minor league years in the Tigers organization. We all know the story, he made a fortune on Little Caesars, bought the Red Wings–winning four Stanley Cups, then bought the Tigers. Transforming both franchises into perennial contenders. The Tigers made two World Series appearances under the ownership of Ilitch, falling short each time. But he loved the Tigers. After clinching the American League crown in 2012, at the trophy podium, Ilitch said, “I couldn’t be happier between the Red Wings and the Tigers. But, the Tigers are something special.” Yes, Mike, they are; they are special because you took the chance on them and made them into a quality team that fans love watching.

Ilitch was willing to spend on the team, to the chagrin of some of the fans. However, it does not matter what people think or say, the man loved his Tigers and did everything that he could to ensure they contended. For that, you can’t fault him. For that, you help but admire him.

When Opening Day rolls around there will be one empty seat in the owner’s box. Hearts will be heavy and eyes will be damp. But one thing is for sure: On that day, there will be one guy standing in Heaven, smiling because his team is taking the field again.

Thanks for everything Mr. I. We love you, we thank you. May you rest in peace.