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On the Road: Devoted fans in Michigan
Brothers pride themselves on Tigers, Whitecaps fan loyalty
07/11/2013 10:57 AM ET
Raymond (left) and Ryan Ortega arrive long before anyone else gets to the park.
Raymond (left) and Ryan Ortega arrive long before anyone else gets to the park. (Ben Hill/MiLB.com)

Like anything in life, the successful acquisition of limited edition bobbleheads at a Minor League Baseball game boils down to a simple question.

How bad do you want it?

Though most fans, on some level, desire these undulating collectible craniums, the general tendency is to show up a half hour or so before game time and hope for the best. But for hardcore fans, such a laissez-faire approach won't cut it, as on their personal Maslow's pyramid "baseball souvenir procurement" has assumed an almost physiological primacy.

Two such fans are brothers Raymond and Ryan Ortega, passionate Detroit Tigers (and, by extension, West Michigan Whitecaps) supporters from Granville, Mich., who have established their fan bona fides by repeatedly showing a willingness to wait in line hours and hours before the gates open.

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Raymond and Ryan have a bond that far surpasses Detroit sports fandom; Ryan is just a year and a day older than Raymond, and the two are the 14th and 15th siblings in what grew to be an almost inconceivably large family of 19 children. I met them on a Friday afternoon at 1 p.m. in front of West Michigan's Fifth Third Ballpark, where they were the only individuals in line for the Whitecaps' Lou Whitaker bobblehead giveaway (some 2,000 were going to be distributed).

Sweet Lou was scheduled to be at the ballpark, and reportedly amenable to signing the bobbleheads, so the Ortega brothers wanted to make sure that they were well prepared. What follows is an excerpt from our conversation, in which they dish on the methods behind their madness.

MiLB.com: Right now, it's more than six hours before gametime and there are no other fans in the immediate vicinity. So why are you guys here?

Raymond Ortega: Because we're always first, that's why. We're always first and always want to be first. We're huge Tigers fans, went to ballgames in '84, ride or die with the Tigers and that's the truth. We're die-hard Michigan fans, too. ... Anything Michigan-related, we're into it.

MiLB.com: But why is that so important? To be the first no matter what?

Raymond: (looks at his brother, then pauses) Because we're No. 1! (laughter) We have to officialize and authenticate our "fansmanship."

MiLB.com: And is it a joint effort between you two? Or is one the ringleader?

Ryan Ortega: Total joint effort.

Raymond: He motivated me for this one, but when we won [2006] World Series tickets for the Tigers, I motivated him for that one. I called him, said "Let's leave work early," and we took half days so we could stand in front of the Grand Rapids Press. We won those tickets and it was a state-wide contest.

MiLB.com: Do you guys come here for every Whitecaps bobblehead giveaway, or do you pick and choose?

Raymond: We were here for Mickey Tettleton, Lance Parrish... the good Tigers, you know?

MiLB.com: How do you guys prepare for such a prolonged stretch of waiting in line? Any strategies?

Raymond: Bottled water, chairs, and we've got raingear in the vehicle just in case so one of us can go and grab it. We didn't bring chairs last time, and it didn't get us out of line but we know to bring them now.

MiLB.com: What are the most extreme conditions you've dealt with while waiting in line?

Raymond: In 2006 we were waiting in line to win tickets [from a Grand Rapids radio station]. We started around noon, and people were calling in to the station left and right, talking about us. We were carrying huge signs, I was wearing a huge sombrero and [Ryan] was wearing an Elmer Fudd hat with sunglasses and we were all painted up with the Old English "D."

At one point the [Grand Rapids] fire department called [the station]. They said, 'We see these guys out there, let's see what kind of Tigers fans they are." So they came out with water extinguishers and said "You guys mind if we hose you down?" and we said "We're fans, run it!"

So they hosed us down, it was 40 degrees out there, and we stayed out for another three or four hours until we knew we'd won those tickets.

Ryan: We were causing a block party down there, because everybody coming by was honking. One guy called in and said "These guys, they must have some coconuts."

MiLB.com: And then there's tonight. Where does Lou Whitaker rank for you guys, in the pantheon of all-time Tigers greats?

Raymond: He's got to be in the top two. Him and Alan Trammell -- that's the keystone combination, and those two held it up for us for a long, long time.

Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.
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