Unforgettable trip to spring training a distant memory
Sports EditorWarm 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.