Nostalgia never goes out of style.
Ask any millennial with an internet connection, and they’ll probably admit that their emotions were toyed with this week at the sight of an old friend from Nickelodeon reassuring them that they should be proud of all that they’ve done in life.
The High-A Lansing Lugnuts recently pulled that nostalgia cord a little closer to home.
On Aug. 28, the team hosted a “Tribute to Tool Time” to a crowd of nearly 5,500 for their game against West Michigan.
The A’s affiliate chose to honor “Home Improvement,” the Tim Allen sitcom that ran from 1991-'99 and was set in Michigan, with a night of flannel-patterned jerseys, trade vendors and an appearance from one of the show’s co-stars.
“This is actually something the creative team here set up I think for 2020,” said Zac Clark, the Lugnuts assistant general manager. “They had the bones in place, and I came into it and picked up the banner and ran with it.”
Of course, “Tool Time” is the fictional home improvement show within the actual TV sitcom “Home Improvement.” But to many fans of the show, they’re one and the same. Clark likened the connection to a person calling a photocopy a “Xerox.”
Richard Karn, who played sidekick Al Borland on the show, was in attendance to sign autographs, greet fans and throw out the first pitch. The team set up trailers beyond the gates with workshops on welding and blacksmithing that blared during game breaks. And, in true sitcom fashion, there was even a happy conclusion to the contest as the Lugnuts got the win over the Whitecaps, 7-6.
But, according to Clark, the night really came together with one more hook to the festivities.
“We just really felt like we were missing something that packed a punch,” Clark said. “So we decided to do the jersey.”
The team's on-field uniforms were made to look like the flannel shirts that Karn wore on the show -- well, both shows -- while also giving a nod to the Lugnuts’ black and red colors and the Athletics’ green and yellow.
“We actually found a headshot of Richard from when he was doing ‘Tool Time,’ and he was wearing a flannel that looked a lot like the one we did,” Clark said. “We just were like, 'Oh, this is perfect.' It's kind of iconic, it's what he was wearing in the show, people remember that. It just made a lot of sense for us to do it.”
Clark said the team encouraged fans in attendance to dress like Borland in their best flannel shirts, but the temperature nearly reached triple digits on the August night and their request turned into more of a fun idea.
“A lot of people didn't wear flannel, but some folks did. They braved the heat and did it, and it was really cool,” Clark said.
After the game, the flannel-patterned jerseys were auctioned with the proceeds going to the Lansing Makers Network, whose Twitter bio describes itself as “Lansing's community workbench. … Like a gym, but for tools.”
The LMN provides a creative space for people who don't have the tools or equipment to do different crafts or building. They’ll also teach people who don’t have the means or the know-how to do certain things like wood working or blacksmithing.
Simply put, if the LMN were a TV show, it would be “Tool Time.”
The organization even brought some of the tools and activities that can be done at their workspace to the ballpark that night and were able to display a lot of the different things that can be used or learned at their space.
Beyond the activities and the spectacle of the night, Clark was confident the 30-somethings and older in the crowd felt the same rush of nostalgia he did.
“We would come home from school, our parents would get off of work, and we'd watch an episode of ‘Tool Time’ together before dinner, and a lot of people have the same story,” said Clark, a Dansville, Michigan native.
Not only was the show a sentimental reminder of youth for many, it was a particular point of pride for people from Michigan.
“The show was a huge hit here,” Clark said. “This show was set in our state and featured [Allen] our celebrity, and I think Michiganders took a lot of pride in that, and that's kind of what we did. We watched ‘Tool Time’ before dinner.”
Now, some familiar with the show may be thinking, why didn’t they call it the “Salute to Tool Time?” -- given the show's frequent use of the phrase.
“That was one of those like, 'Darn it!' moments,” Clark said with a laugh. “We all just like looked at each other like, 'You gotta be kidding me.' So, it was just one of those things we just kind of laugh about. ... Maybe we were too close to it, I don't know. But we definitely missed a golden opportunity there.”
But would that missed opportunity spoil an excellent time? To quote Al Borland: I don't think so, Tim.
Gerard Gilberto is a reporter for MiLB.com.