Ryan and Carlee Madis love each other, of course, and they love baseball, and she surely would have come to adore his departed mother who’s the reason he loves baseball in the first place.
All of that came into play when it was time to name their strapping first child, who arrived late Saturday morning at Munson Grayling Hospital. They wanted a name that reflected their passion and honored the late Kim Madis, that would look good on either the back of a uniform or the front of a book, that would convey a certain grace and distinction.
A few people have already been puzzled by their choice and others have practically cheered, which is appropriate. You could say the name came out of left field, except that as Carlee’s father says, it actually came out of right.
Weighing in at 9 pounds, 9 ounces, standing 21½ inches if he could actually hold himself upright:
Kaline Ignatius Madis, welcome to the world.
That’s Kaline as in Al, the Detroit Tigers’ Hall of Fame right fielder who died last April at 85. Ignatius as in the 16th-century Spanish saint, the bringer of light. K-I-M for Kim, who took Ryan to Tiger Stadium in utero and made sure Ernie Harwell’s voice was the soundtrack to his childhood.
“We considered some family names,” says Ryan, 36, along with “some authors and characters from literature.”
Given Carlee’s background — she taught high school math, and now works for a nonprofit that trains math and science teachers — “we talked about engineers and math people through history,” he says.
But they kept coming back to Kaline, who needs no introduction unless you’re the friendly neighbors who inquired about the baby as Ryan was walking the family dog Sunday in Houghton Lake.
“Kaline?” she asked, clearly mystified.
“Yeah,” her husband said. “Al Kaline.”
Al Kaline retired in 1974, well before Ryan or Carlee, 31, were born. They knew him as a broadcaster, a legend and a favorite of their parents.
Colin Kaline, who knew him as grandpa, says he’d have been honored to hear of Kaline Ignatius, if maybe a bit mystified.
“It’s a wonderful tribute,” says Colin, 31, a former Oakland University baseball coach who’s now in sales. “It speaks volumes to the impact my grandfather had on the community.”
Colin says he’s heard vaguely of a few people with Kaline as a middle name, but a first is a first. While Al Kaline grew to accept that sort of reverence, he says, it spoke well of him that he never completely understood it.
“I think he would have been taken aback, but not in a negative way,” he says. “It would have been more like, ‘Really? For me?’”
Yes, Ryan says — though not without some research.
In today’s world, reputations can change quickly. So he pored through books and articles, searching for anything that might topple Al Kaline from his pedestal at Comerica Park, and blessedly struck out.
Next, wanting to make sure Carlee was completely on board with the name, Ryan offered alternatives. What about Trammell or Whitaker, as in shortstop Alan and second baseman Lou? Hughie, as in Jennings, the Tigers’ manager from more than a century ago?
What about Virgil, for pitcher Virgil Trucks? Or for that matter, Trucks?
“I even tried Wahoo Sam Crawford,” Ryan says. Unlike Crawford, a Hall of Fame outfielder who played in Detroit from 1903-17, “It was a non-starter.”
Baseball itself has been with them since the first innings of their courtship.
They met working at what’s now Higher Ground at Lake Louise, a summer camp in Boyne Falls. Given their five-year age gap, there was no notion of romance until both attended a wedding in Phoenix, Arizona, in 2017.
She was teaching near San Diego, and he had tickets to an international event there called the World Baseball Classic. He offered her a ride back to California.
The pivotal moment, he says, was “when she made us peanut butter and jelly sandwiches while I was driving. I thought, ‘This girl knows how to road trip, too.'”
They married in 2019 on Pi Day, March 14, and held the reception in June. Figuring that “nobody wants to see us dance,” Ryan says, they skipped the formalities and bought out a 200-seat section at a Toledo Mud Hens game that came with hot dogs and beer.
Then it was back to Houghton Lake, where she works remotely and he’s been commuting or telecommuting to a job in economic development in Oscoda Township.
Come May, he’ll become the village manager in Ortonville, but they’ll keep their current house as an up north getaway.
Its pale yellow nursery is decorated with photos from one of their other passions, national parks. Hanging above the changing table are young Kaline’s first Tigers cap and a signed copy of a commemorative book about Al Kaline’s life.
Carlee says there’s a similarity between a seat in the bleachers and a hike through Bryce Canyon.
“There’s this peacefulness to baseball that feels like Zen to us,” she says. “We don’t have that in many places.”
She says her appreciation for the game comes from her father, John Hollenbeck of Tecumseh. As passionate as he was about the Tigers, she says, he didn’t want to alarm his future wife, so he took a painful hiatus when they were first dating — during the World Series championship season of 1984.
Cassie Hollenbeck probably wouldn’t have been scared off. John says they eventually owned a chocolate lab named Gibby, for Kirk Gibson.
“Now we have a Kaline in the family,” he says. “We’re just amazed.”
And, surprised. Kaline’s name was a closely held secret and had only a coin flip’s chance of being used.
Ryan and Carlee didn’t know their baby’s gender until he was in the doctor’s hands. They had a different bit of creativity lurking had he been a she.
A sister, and the answer to that mystery, might arrive later. More pressing for now is planning Kaline’s first trip to the ballpark.
They’re thinking no later than June, Ryan says, and a Tigers spokesman says the team will be waiting with a handsome certificate welcoming Kaline to the family.
Beyond that, Ryan notes, his aunt Michelle Jones in Marysville has already come up with the perfect baby gift, a warm, snuggly Tigers outfit.
It would be too much for summer — but ideal in October, for Kaline’s first World Series.