Homeless man’s fortune turns with Tigers’Written by Justin R. Kalmes | | email@example.com
DETROIT — He’s loud, he’s proud and he’s eating up the heart of a baseball-crazed town during an improbable World Series run.
Like the team he vehemently supports outside each Detroit Tigers home game, 58-year-old James Van Horn’s luck has changed this magical October. With a simple rallying cry that has made its way inside Comerica Park and some kindness from other Tigers fans, he has gone from nameless homeless man to minor celebrity.
“I want you guys to never forget,” Van Horn said to two men outside the ballpark before Detroit’s 3-1 win over St. Louis Oct. 22. “Eat ’em up Tigers! Eat ’em up!”
The chant provided Van Horn his only source of income while he lived on the streets of Detroit the past 18 months, he said. He would stand outside the stadium before and after games shouting the chant over and over while the occasional passer-by would slip some change into his plastic tip cup.
“It was good, but it is fantastic now,” Van Horn said of his tips, which now amount to as much as $400 a night.
Van Horn and his catchphrase caught the attention of Nick Johnston and Mike Riley, two longtime Tigers fans who promised to make him famous by putting his face and slogan on T-shirts. After printing 10 or 15 shirts in July, Johnston said they ordered 200 to 300 more because of the buzz generated through the initial batch.
“So many people asked us for [the shirts], we thought maybe we could really help do some good for him,” Johnston said.
The men started a Web site — www.eatemupdetroit.com — dedicated to Van Horn where visitors can read his biography and purchase merchandise bearing his likeness and slogan. They donate all profits to Van Horn. Johnston said profits so far have amounted to about $1,000.
“It just seems like he’s part of the experience of going to the games,” Johnston said. “We’re hoping that this really goes somewhere and it really changes his life.”
It has, Van Horn said. He has used the money to pay for regular shelter and improve his quality of living.
“It’s unreal, especially after being homeless with no money at all,” said Van Horn, who formally earned $50,000 to $60,000 a year as a welder before falling on hard times. “It’s just a dream come true.
“I wish this could happen to every homeless person.”
Monroe resident Brian Sexton said he has been familiar with Van Horn for the past two baseball seasons. He and a friend bought their shirts with Van Horn’s likeness two months ago.
“There’s a little subculture for ‘eat ’em up man,’ ” Sexton said.
Though some call him a panhandler, Van Horn said nothing could be further from the truth. He views himself as an entertainer.
“I don’t beg nobody for nothing,” he said. “You must ask someone for something in order to be a beggar.”
As for his World Series pick, Van Horn said he hopes the Tigers sweep the Cardinals in St. Louis, even if it means no more home games until next year.
“Honestly, I want them to win it in St. Louis,” he said. “But financially, I want it to come back here.”