From the Mud Hens to the Tigers
58.3 miles — and yet ‘The Show’ is so far away
CHUCK DENTON THE WASHTENAW VOICE
A Toledo Mud Hens batter closely watches as the ball is released by the Columbus pitcher, deciding in a split second whether to swing.
A few hours before taking on the Columbus Clippers and their fearsome third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall, the Toledo Mud Hens were going about the business of getting ready.
Each player had a routine, every move designed to help them get the call they all wanted. Next stop, The Show, just 58.3 miles away, at Comerica Park, where they hope to join the Major League Detroit Tigers.
Adam Wilk, 23, a left-handed starting pitcher, was the last of the Tigers’ roster cuts this spring. He talked both about the blow of not being up north, and the rigors of trying to earn a spot with the Tigers.
“It’s really disappointing, obviously,” he said “but at the same time, you’ve got to make the most of the opportunity down here.”
“You can learn to read swings better down here. We’re all competing for the same thing. You try to be better every time out. Try to learn more with every start, and be just a little bit sharper than the last time.”
He’s trying to be patient, but that’s a virtue hard to come by when talent and ambition collide.
“I’m pretty young, and I’ve been able to watch myself develop,” Wilke said. “I feel like I’ve got some more developing to do, both in my body and in my pitching. So much of this game is mental. You’re always trying to beat every batter you face, just be a little bit better than they are.”
Wilk faced big league hitting during spring training, and knew then that he had what it took to pitch at the next level.
“The batters in the majors are good, but they’re not necessarily better than the ones in the minor leagues,” he said. “I mean, they don’t have more ability; it’s just that they have more experience. I can use this time (in Triple A) to get more experience, too.”
For some, Toledo is the next big step in the developmental process.
Thad Weber, 26, a right-handed starting pitcher, talked about what it was like moving from college baseball to the professional ranks.
“As you play, and you move up from college to pro ball, and up the different levels, the hitters get better and better, and you have to try to get better and better.”
“Plus, in college, it’s more of a team game. I mean, it’s still a team game here, but everyone’s trying to do the same thing: get to the big leagues.”
Another difference, he said, is that in college, players go to class while playing ball.
“Here, playing ball is your job,” he said. “You have got to be good, because there’s always someone there, coming up behind you, to take your place.”
Robbie Weinhardt, 25, a relief pitcher known for his vicious sinkerball, had a recent, first-hand taste of the difference between the majors and the minors.
“The biggest difference between Detroit and here is the pressure,” he said. “Up there, you have to be ready to go every night. Down here, we all get our work in, and you can use the time to work on different things.”
Not only is there less emphasis on results, and more on getting better, but “the big difference is the hitters. Down here, you can get away with little mistakes usually, and up there you almost have to be pin-point.”
There are a few similarities, though.
“The atmosphere is pretty much the same,” Weinhardt said. “The fans down here are really great, and they come out and support us, so when you get up to Detroit, you’re used to the big crowds and the noise. Plus, they take care of us really well in both places. This organization does a really good job of getting us ready for the big leagues.”
Hulking first baseman Ryan Strieby, 25, said he’s using his Toledo experience to get reacquainted with his position.
“I was in left field last year, and I moved back to first base this year,” he said. “Obviously it’s nice to be back in my more natural position. I learned a lot in the outfield, but it feels good to be back in a position that feels more normal.”
Another change he’s going through is trying to be a healthy, productive player.
“I broke my wrist in ’09, and it’s been hurting on and off ever since. It feels good right now, so I’m trying to focus on staying healthy.”
“You know, I’ve been hurt for the past two years, so I haven’t even been able to think about (getting to the big leagues),” he said. “If can keep myself on the field, maybe I can think about that.”
See the Mud Hens, meet chicks?
CHUCK DENTON THE WASHTENAW VOICE
The Toledo Mud Hens are not complete without their mascots.
David Schmenck takes his 5-year-old son to at least one game every season, and Bryant Johnson just took his little brother for the first time. Tomas Moctezuma, on the other hand, goes to meet girls.
Whether it’s for family time or making time, Toledo Mud Hens games are a fun and inexpensive alternative for fans needing a fix at the old ballpark.
Co-workers Schmenck and Marisa Morrin, both from Toledo, spoke about why they love to go to Mud Hens games at Fifth Third Field — less than an hour’s drive from Washtenaw’s campus.
“I used to come here all the time,” said Morrin. “Now that my kids are older, I’m going to start coming again.”
“It’s so much cheaper than going to Detroit,” said Schmenck. “(Aidan) and I both get in for $15. You get so much closer to the players. And there’s an event at almost every game.”
“You get to watch guys who are going to be Tigers. I used to watch Brandon Inge down here when he was a catcher, and now he’s one of their star players,” said Morrin.
Both iterated that it was a great place to spend time with their kids.
Johnson, 18, brought his 10-year-old brother, Garret Hosick, to the game for the first time. “I usually come here with my family,” said Johnson. “Sometimes it’s fun to come down here after school. It’s fun just to do things a little different, not go to the mall or be at home or whatever.”
“But it’s also fun to come hang out here with friends,” said Nathaniel Short, 18.
“Detroit is for party time.” Moctezuma, 18, piped up, but Fifth Third isn’t too bad in that department either. He laughingly admitted that he comes to Toledo games “to meet girls.”
Whether it’s hanging with friends, enjoying family time or looking for love, all four Toledo natives agree that coming to Mud Hens games is a good way to mix up a routine. Each of them said he comes to as many as five games a season.
“It’s good to get out of the house, do something different,” said Johnson.
“If I weren’t here, I’d probably be at home, playing Black Ops,” said Moctezuma.
But young Hosick is still in the single-minded pursuit of his biggest reason for coming to the games.
“He’s here to try to catch a ball,” Short said.
Tigers should contend for playoffs this year
To try and figure out what exactly is going to happen in the American League is an exercise in insanity. Since 2004, only one team — the Boston Red Sox — has made more than one World Series appearance. While the traditional favorites will certainly contend for a title, others will not.
Boston Red Sox
— Easily the favorites to make it deep into October, the Red Sox added two all stars to an already stacked lineup. After signing Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, the depth on their roster makes them a tough team to bet against. The only thing that can hold them back is a questionable pitching staff.
New York Yankees
— Their offense cannot be denied, but when Freddy Garcia is the fifth starter, the pinstripes have to be worried. After missing out on free agent pitcher Cliff Lee, the Yankees will be looking for a top pitcher via trade. Questions about Derek Jeter and his ability to rebound from his worst season and Alex Rodriguez and his ability to play a full season surround the everyday lineup.
Chicago White Sox —Adding Adam Dunn improves a deadly offense that plays in a hitter-friendly park. The Sox pitching staff has shown the signs of being great, but needs its defense to help out. The Sox lost their closer, Bobby Jenks, so Matt Thornton steps into that role.
— The big question surrounding the reigning Central Division champs is: Can former MVP Justin Morneau overcome his post-concussion symptoms? If Morneau is on the field, the Twins are the favorites to win their division. If not, the pitching staff led by Cy Young candidate Fransisco Liriano will need to be stellar to support an average offense.
— If the lineup stays healthy, they should contend for a playoff spot. Miguel Cabrera seems to have already worked past his off-field issues, and leads a potentially potent offense. Starting pitching will once again be the telling issue. Ace pitcher Justin Verlander leads a starting rotation, while Phil Coke and Brad Penny will be counted on to stabilize the back end of the rotation, which has been a mess in years past.
— The defending American League champions lost a couple key players in pitcher Cliff Lee and outfielder Vladimir Guerrero. However, they still have a talented young pitching staff and plenty of pop in their bats. Reigning AL MVP Josh Hamilton leads a group on offense that gives even the elite pitchers nightmares.
Los Angeles Angels
— On paper, the Angels look like a playoff contender every year. Last year, a host of injuries and a struggling pitching staff ended their streak of playoff berths. Vernon Wells joins the lineup and first baseman Kendrys Morales returns from a broken leg that cost him most of last season. The pitching staff is tough at the top, but loses its steam toward the back end.
If things really go their way, Oakland, or Tampa Bay may compete for a playoff spot. But fans of Kansas City, Seattle, Baltimore, Cleveland or Toronto shouldn’t plan for much excitement this season.
More than just a number
April 15 is a day that is all about numbers. Tax day in our country, and whether you’re paying in or getting back, it’s all about the numbers. But for me, April 15 is about one number: 42.
That’s the number that Jackie Robinson wore on April 15, 1947 when he famously broke baseball’s color barrier as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
As a child learning the history of baseball, Robinson’s feat, to me, felt like it happened ages ago. And even though it was 64 years ago, looking back at old black-and-white footage of the historic day, it feels as if it were shot in 1847.
In sports, 64 years can seem like an eternity, but in reality, it is not as long as we think.
Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland is just one of a handful of managers older than 64. Imagine when he was first being introduced to baseball: Black athletes were not allowed to play in the majors. That is a shocking and very disturbing thought to me.
42 is the only number officially retired from every Major League Baseball team.
On the 50th anniversary of his breaking the color barrier, the MLB announced that no one will ever wear Robinson’s number again. Those who wore the number at the time were allowed to finish their careers with that number if they chose. Only Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera still wears it.
It can be safely assumed that if not Robinson, another black player would have broken the barrier, but no one would have done so with Robinson’s poise and dignity, courage and strength.
From the death threats he and his wife faced to not being able to sleep in the same hotels as his teammates, Robinson never let the struggles get to him. In a time when athletes like Adrian Peterson make millions of dollars and complain they’re treated like slaves, Robinson’s strength is even more impressive.
42 is the number that every player, in every game played, wears each year on April 15, as a tribute to Robinson.
Not only was Robinson a part of the team, he was a key component in leading the Dodgers to the World Series in 1947. That same year he won the National League rookie of the Year award. And in 1955, Robinson led the Brooklyn Dodgers to their only World Series championship.
How good was Jackie Robinson? In his 10 seasons with the Dodgers, the team made six World Series appearances. Robinson was a six-time All-Star and won the 1949 NL MVP award. Before baseball, he lettered in four varsity sports at UCLA. Oh, and he spent two years in the military before giving baseball a try.
In 1962, Robinson was the first African-American player elected into baseball’s Hall of Fame.
42 is a number that was worn during a game, but still inspires people more than six decades later.
As a white male who has never dealt with racism or discrimination, I cannot even imagine how it feels to deal with those issues. But Robinson inspires me and many others to not let people hold us down for things that don’t matter. Things like skin color, social status, sexual orientation or any other pointless reason to dislike someone.
42 is a number that is exactly that — a number.
But for those of us who know the story, it doesn’t matter if the number was 42 or 24 or 84. The meaning and legacy behind it is what matters. And even though April 15 is Jackie Robinson Day, whenever I see the number 42, I think of courage, strength and determination.
And it makes my day.
Can anyone stop the Phillies? Marlins, Reds, anyone?
Just how competitive is the National League? Even though the San Francisco Giants won the World Series last year and had no major departures, many “experts” feel they won’t even make the playoffs this season. One team does stand out on paper, but as any sports fan can tell you “that’s why they make them play the game.”
— The Phillies just may have the best starting pitching staff in the last 20 years. Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee have both won Cy Young awards. Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt could easily be the ace of most Major League Baseball staffs, but in this group they are third and fourth options. The offense will be supplied by slugger Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and all-around threat Jimmy Rollins. If there is one weakness, it’s the inconsistency of closer Brad Lidge.
— Can they do it again? With a payroll that is a fraction of division rivals New York and Philadelphia, the Marlins could once again make a run into October with a team of young, hungry players. Josh Johnson is a bona fide stud as a starting pitcher and Hanley Ramirez is one of the top five players in baseball. Coupled with a roster that is only getting better, the Marlins are a sleeper pick to win it all.
— The defending NL Central champions are back and hoping to take last season’s lessons and put them to use. MVP Joey Votto leads a potent offense that includes second baseman Brandon Phillips and outfielder Jay Bruce. The pitching staff needs to continue to make strides in order to hold off the competition in the division. A quick exit from last year’s playoffs should be the catalyst to keep this team hungry.
St. Louis Cardinals
— Questions about superstar first baseman Albert Pujols will surround this team all year. Pujols may test the free-agent market next year and that could be a big distraction this season. Coupled with the loss of ace pitcher Adam Wainwright for the season, the Cardinals may be in for a long season. However, the talent is there and manager Tony La Russa gets the best out of his players. Look for this team to at least contend for the playoffs into September, and possibly a deeper run.
— Former Cy Young winner Zack Greinke joined the Brewers via trade in the offseason and bolstered their pitching staff immediately. Unfortunately Greinke starts the season on the disabled list. Still the Brewers are a sleeper pick to win their division or the wild card. Slugger Prince Fielder is in the last year of his contract and should be motivated to lead this team to the postseason. Outfielders Ryan Braun and Cory Hart are coming off all-star seasons, while Yovani Gallardo will help stabilize the pitching staff.
San Francisco Giants
— The defending world champs return to defend their title with the majority of their roster returning. If not for the Phillies, this pitching staff would be the best in baseball. Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain lead the staff that is young and very, very talented. Buster Posey, Aubrey Huff and Pat Burrell will drive in a majority of the runs, which will come at a premium for this offense. Odds of repeating are not great, but the pitching is good enough to get it done again.
— This is another young team that can get it done in a variety of ways. Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez are two of baseball’s most exciting players and play in a ballpark made for offense. That stadium can work against them at times, as pitching at home can be a challenge. Ubaldo Jimenez is a Cy Young candidate who may have the best stuff in the league.
The Atlanta Braves and New York Mets both have lineups that can compete for a playoff spot, but their division might be too tough. The Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Diego Padres are capable of winning, but have struggled to be consistent. The Chicago Cubs have more than 100 years of history working against them, and that history is likely to repeat itself. Washington, Houston, Arizona, and Pittsburgh are all rebuilding and will not contend.
NEW PIECES HELP FILL TIGERS PUZZLE
But did they really cover all their bases?
Julian H. Gonzalez/Detroit Free Press/MCT courtesy photo
Detroit Tigers pitcher Joaquin Benoit throws in the bullpen on the first day of workouts for pitchers and catchers at spring training in Lakeland, Fla., on Feb. 14.
By taking a look outside, it’s hard to imagine that baseball season is right around the corner. But for the Detroit Tigers, players have begun reporting to spring training in preparation for the 2011 season.
The boys of summer started their training at the team’s spring facilities in Lakeland, Fla. on Feb. 14.
There will be a few new faces around the diamond when the Tigers start working towards an American League Central Division title.
Catcher Victor Martinez was the prize free agent signing in the offseason, the Tigers inking him to a four-year, $50-million-dollar contract. Martinez will be splitting time at catcher and as the designated hitter.
Manager Jim Leyland has projected to have Martinez batting fifth, behind slugger Miguel Cabrera.
Pitchers Brad Penny and Joaquin Benoit signed deals to come pitch at Comerica Park this season. Penny will be a key component in the starting rotation after arriving from the St. Louis Cardinals. Benoit comes to Detroit to shore up a bullpen that struggled in the second half last season. Benoit will be the set-up man for closer Jose Valverde.
While the new faces will no doubt be counted on to contribute to the team, the returning faces will be the real measure of how the team performs in the regular season.
Cabrera was an MVP candidate last season, and while a repeat performance from last season isn’t probable, he will be counted on to anchor the lineup offensively. While his defense at first base continues to improve, his true value will remain what he does with is bat, hitting cleanup.
Outfielder Magglio Ordonez returns after missing most of the second half of last season with an ankle injury.
Ordonez turned 37 last month, and coming off of a leg injury is cause for concern. He will bat in front of Cabrera in the number three spot, where he has excelled in the past.
Fellow outfielder Austin Jackson is coming off a stellar rookie campaign in which he was nearly named AL Rookie of the Year honors. Jackson will play center field and bat leadoff. Jackson is still a work in progress, and must cut down on his strikeouts while improving his on-base percentage. The Tigers cannot afford for Jackson to have a “sophomore slump.”
Brandon Inge and Jhonny Peralta will return at third base and shortstop, respectively. Neither will be expected to put up All-Star-type seasons, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be able to add something to the lineup, especially on defense. Inge is a Gold Glove-caliber third baseman, and Peralta had a solid run with the Tigers last year after being acquired from Cleveland.
Pitching will be a huge factor as to whether or not the Tigers reach the postseason. Ace Justin Verlander will lead a starting rotation that features Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello, Phil Coke and Penny.
The big question will be whether or not Scherzer and Porcello can return to form. Both have shown signs of being a dominant pitcher, but have lacked the consistency needed in the big leagues.
While the Tigers have yet to play an inning, they’ve already created a buzz in Detroit. This is a baseball town, and if this team can get everything together, it may be playing well into the cold months of October.
Tigers look to fill gaps
JULIAN H. GONZALEZ COURTESY PHOTO
Detroit Tigers prized rookie right fielder Brennan Boesch made a diving catch to get out Tampa Bay Rays Jason Bartlett and then threw to second base to double off the runner Matt Joyce to end the inning in Detroit in August. The Tigers won, 3-2.
Who’s coming in, and who’s headed out? Those are the big questions for the Detroit Tigers heading into the offseason.
The Tigers finished the 2010 season with an 81-81 record and missed the playoffs for the fourth straight season. The season gave fans reasons to believe that with the right off-season moves, the Tigers can once again become a force to be reckoned with in the American League.
First baseman Miguel Cabrera had an MVP-type season. Cabrera finished the season ranked second in the AL in batting average (.326), third in home runs (38) and led all of baseball in runs batted in.
Some new faces made big contributions for the boys of summer. Rookies Austin Jackson and Brennan Boesch supplied much excitement throughout the season. Boesch was named the AL Rookie of the Month in of May and June. Jackson won the award in April, and is a strong contender for Rookie of the Year honors.
Relievers Jose Valverde and Phil Coke helped solidify the bullpen, with Valverde being named an AL All-Star. Max Scherzer also contributed with a solid season as the No. 2 pitcher in the rotation.
Injuries held the team back from pushing hard towards the playoffs. Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen, Brandon Inge and Joel Zumaya all missed significant stretches of time throughout the year.
General Manager Dave Dombrowski is now faced with the task of adding and subtracting players in order to improve the young team.
Tiger mainstays Inge, Ordonez and Bonderman are all scheduled to become free agents, with Bonderman not likely to return to Detroit. Inge and Ordonez are expected to be back, but only if they are willing take a pay cut.
Improving up the middle must be the top priority for Dombrowski. The Tigers need an upgrade at catcher and shortstop to be sure. Dombrowski has stated publicly that Alex Avila will be the catcher next year. And Jhonny Peralta may return to fill the gap at shortstop if the team picks up his $7-million option.
The bullpen is also in need of help. While Valverde and Coke were solid, the rest of the bullpen was shaky at best. Holding a lead was a big problem that needs to be addressed in order to ensure an improvement next season.
Big names that should be available include Carl Crawford, Cliff Lee, Adam Dunn and Victor Martinez. All will come with big price tags, but would instantly improve the lineup.
Lesser-known players such as Alex Gonzalez and John Buck could provide relief at a very affordable price.
Ownership has stated the team will continue to spend money generated by the nearly 2.5 million fans who visited Comerica Park this season. The Tigers finished the year ranked 15th overall in attendance, a number that would surely improve with a better roster.
It’s now up to Dombrowski to spend wisely and shape the 2011 roster to win. Otherwise, he and Manager Jim Leyland may not see what the 2012 team looks like.
Opening Day in Detroit is about so much more than baseball
The Detroit Tigers played host to the Cleveland Indians on April 9, and won 5-2. Rick Porcello earned the win, pitching five innings, and Magglio Ordonez was the offensive star.
But Opening Day for the second-largest crowd in Comerica Park history was about so much more than a baseball game for those who gathered in downtown Detroit.
Fans arrived early, skipping work to celebrate on what for generations has been an unofficial but widely recognized holiday in Detroit. Before 10 a.m., parking lots were filled with tailgaters, while bars and restaurants were overflowing.
The streets came alive with laughter and screams of excitement. Inside, the stadium was more of the same.
Howard, 63, from Detroit, was attending his first Opening Day. Dressed warm, with a Tiger jacket that resembled the 1984 logo, gloves and classic Tiger ball cap, he was soaking in atmosphere.
The elderly black man was there by himself, but he quickly made friends. Before the end of the first inning, he was striking up conversation with a Michigan State student sitting beside him.
“(Austin) Jackson is going to be good this year,” Howard leaned over to explain to the young college student.
It didn’t take long for Howard to learn the bathroom problem that comes with Opening Day. With people hitting bars prior to the game and purchasing $7 beers at Comerica, many find themselves jockeying for position at the urinals.
“You have to wait at least 15 minutes. People were getting violent in there, ‘hurry up and piss,’ they were hollering,” Howard said with a laugh.
Back in his seat in the upper bowl down the third baseline, Howard was making more friends. After meeting a younger white woman, the woman jokingly explained to a Hispanic family sitting a few rows back how Howard and she were cousins.
Meanwhile, a group of young men met and joked around with the Hispanic family. After the long game and several attempts to get them to pay for last call, the young men said their good-byes to their new Hispanic friends and left.
“It was a pleasure,” Howard said to his new friends following the game.
All this wonderful, impromptu camaraderie would never have been possible without Opening Day, when Howard and the rest of Section 342 were able to connect through conversation.
Baseball talk. Smiles. Laughter. And invitation to friendship in downtown Detroit. The Tigers had a good day on the field, but for many of us it was even better in the grandstands.
Tigers Opening Day: Fun off the field
By the calendar, March 20 was the first official day of spring. But for many people in southeastern Michigan, spring does not begin until April 9 — the Opening Day for the Detroit Tigers this season.
This year, it’s on a Friday, and as usual fans are expected to turn out en masse to enjoy the festivities.
While going to the actual game is part of the fun, it is the party that surrounds Comerica Park that many look forward to. Whether it is a yearly tradition or your first time, finding that perfect place to watch the game can be difficult.
Here are a few tips to help make your Tigers tailgating experience enjoyable.
- Arrive early. Most bars and restaurants open at 7am so get to the D before then.
- Know where different parking is available. The casino parking garages are a nice place to start
- If you’re under 21, find out which places allow all ages.
Some possibilities for a little pre-game warm-up:
349 Monroe St.
Open at 7 a.m. to everyone 21 & over
Three floors with big screen TVs; outdoor canopy with hot dogs, burgers, fries ; full menu inside bar
(313) 964-0007; http://oldshillelagh.com
DETROIT BEER COMPANY
1529 Broadway St.
Open at 8 a.m.; all ages welcome
Three floors, first two floors have regular seating and the third floor is standing-room only; full menu inside restaurant and hot dogs and burgers on the third floor.
(313) 962-1529; http://detroitbeerco.com
THE ELWOOD BAR AND GRILL
300 East Adams Ave.
Open at 7 a.m. to everyone 21 & over
Wrist bands required to get in. First come, first serve for wrist bands; full bar and menu; live band; full security and bathrooms provided on-site.
(313) 962-2337; http://elwoodgrill.com
1326 Brush St.
Open at 8 a.m. to everyone 21 & over
Offers a full bar and menu.
(313) 963-3500; http://detpub.com
2233 Park Ave.
Open at 7 a.m. to everyone 21 & over $5 cover; bands and DJs; limited food and a full bar are available.
(313) 963-4040; http://centaurbar.com
TOWN PUMP TAVERN
100 West Montcalm St.
Open at 7 a.m., all ages welcome
Cover starting at 9 a.m.; hamburgers, hot dogs, fries, pizza and a full bar are offered.
(313) 961-1929; http://thetownpumptavern.com
Unforgettable trip to spring training a distant memory
Warm Florida sun shines down through palm trees as you’re enjoying Detroit Tigers baseball. There’s something about seeing the boys with the Olde English D on their caps, eating some seeds, catching a sun tan and enjoying watching some major-league baseball players tune up in preparation for a long, enjoyable summer at Comerica Park.
There’s something about spring training baseball.
Two years ago, I blew off a week of my senior year in high school to go on my brother’s college Spring Break. Loving the game of baseball, we went to Lakeland, Fla. to watch our Tigers. Leaving at midnight during the middle of a snowstorm maybe wasn’t our best decision, but we did. After doing a 360 on Southbound US-23 — thanks, black ice — it dawned on us that we had forgotten the tickets we had bought online. About 20 minutes into our trip, we turned around.
Our fabulous mother met us halfway with the tickets in the middle of the night, even though she had to work the next day. That also meant she saw for herself how bad the roads were – but after some pleading and fast-talking, promising we’d get there and back in one piece, she let us go.
And after about 20 hours of driving, we escaped the Michigan winter and entered the world of palm trees, orange juice and sunshine. Staying in a cheap hotel, my brother Brad and I were ready for some Tiger baseball, and we weren’t the only ones. Thousands of fellow snowbirds came south to see them, too. It was like being in Michigan with all the Tigers following.
Brad and I finally made it to Joker Marchant Stadium, winter home of the Detroit Tigers.
We saw Miguel Cabrera’s first at-bat as a Detroit Tiger and Todd Jones throwing in what would be his last spring training. This kind of baseball was unlike any game I’d ever been to, including the Mud Hens. Pitchers would get done throwing and run around the warning track — in the middle of the game!
We even helped Jacque Jones warm up in left field before an inning, throwing back and forth over the fence. Before the game, we found ourselves running into Tigers General Manager Dave Dombroski. After games, we ran into Curtis Granderson. During games, we could play catch just beyond the outfield in the grass.
Although most of the trip we had to be frugal, dining from fast-food menus, when we splurged we did it right. Unable to find a Buffalo Wild Wings in a 30-mile radius, we stumbled into Hooters across the street. When we sat down for some wings, Tigers closer Fernando Rodney noticed our apparel and said hi.
After taking pictures and telling him he has to be healthy for Opening Day, Rodney began to make fun of two drunks about to fight. Who would have thought? Rodney sipping on wine at Hooters and cutting it up with us about some drunks.
After watching the Tigers play two meaningless games (though memorable for us), we went on to visit family (and free beds) for the rest of the week-long trip.
We got an autographed baseball, but that was worn out from playing catch before we even got back to Michigan. We didn’t care about a signature on a baseball, but getting time to meet some of our Tigers and enjoying a couple days of Michigan-like summer in the middle of a Florida winter was priceless.
Today, I look back clothed in jealousy of that trip. Now, strapped for cash and stressed with college and work, I’ll be lucky to even visit my brother, Brad, during Spring Break. He’s living in Virginia now.
For a few days, we had lived like kings playing catch with Tigers, eating and laughing with them. Right now, I’d settle for just playing catch with my brother and sharing some of our memories of our amazing trip.