In something of a tune-up for spring training, which is right around the corner, the Detroit Tigers sent manager Jim Leyland and seven other players and coaches to Fifth Third Field as part of the team's 2013 Fandemonium Tour.
For two-and-a-half hours Wednesday, Tigers and Toledo Mud Hens fans got to experience a behind-the-scenes look at Fifth-Third Field and its history, take a picture with the 2012 American League championship trophy and engaged in a question and answer session with eight members of the Tigers organization.
Leyland first addressed the media and then spoke to the fans, recapping last season and talking about what he hopes for in 2013.
“Each season brings a new hope for a championship,” Leyland said in front of roughly 250 spectators. “Certainly, we'd like to take it one step further this year. We were close last year, but no cigar. I think you just have to remember just how difficult it is to win games at the Major League level. You can't take anything for granted.”
The Tigers, who squeaked into the playoffs with an 88-74 record, defeated Oakland, 3 games to 2 in the American League Division Series before sweeping the New York Yankees in four games to advance to the World Series for the second time in seven seasons. Unfortunately, Detroit was swept by San Francisco, losing the World Series in four games.
In addition to Leyland, third base coach Gene LaMont, pitching coach Jeff Jones and hitting coach Lloyd McClendon made an appearance, as did utility man Danny Worth, catcher Bryan Holaday and pitchers Casey Crosby and Darin Downs. The Tigers are hopeful that those four players, well-known Mud Hens players who saw limited action in the Major Leagues last season, can continue to make strides and become assets for the mother club.
Leyland, a Perrysburg native who spent seven seasons (1964-70) as a minor league player in the Tigers organization, had high praise for the fans.
“I've said all along the two best baseball cities were St. Louis and Detroit,” Leyland said. “The fans are pretty knowledgeable; they stay with their teams through thick and thin. There's tremendous support (here). To play at 1 p.m. in front of 40,000 people is incredible. We appreciate that.
“(The fans) are down to earth, hard-working people. People only have so much money and if you want them to spend it with you, you've got to give them a good product. I'm confident that we can continue to provide you with a good product. We really appreciate (your support), and I mean that sincerely.”
This offseason, the Tigers made two key moves in the hopes of improving their roster, resigning starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez and inking free agent outfielder Torii Hunter to a deal. Hunter, who hit .313 with 16 HR and 92 RBI last season, will join an outfield that includes Austin Jackson (.300 BA, .479 SLG, 29 2B) and Andy Dirks (.322 BA, .487 SLG, 18 2B).
Despite the fact that Opening Day isn't until April 1, there is plenty of reason for Tigers fans to be excited. On paper, Detroit is better than they were last season. The question comes down to whether or not they can put it together on the field.
One of their key returning players is designated hitter Victor Martinez, who hit .330 with 103 RBI in 2011 but missed all of last season with a knee injury. Martinez will rejoin the lineup and help to complement Triple Crown Winner and AL MVP Miguel Cabrera (.330 BA, 44 HR, 139 RBI) and Prince Fielder (.313 BA, 30 HR, 108 RBI) in the middle of the lineup.
Towards the end of his speech, Leyland talked about what he expects out of his club for the upcoming season and made a point to note just how difficult it is to win at the Major League level.
“You can't take anything for granted (in baseball),” Leyland said. “We're good. I'll be the first to tell you that. We're a good team. If we play the way we're capable of, we should give you a very exciting season. It doesn't mean we'll win anything, but we should give you a very, very exciting season.”
Projected Starting Lineup (with 2012 stats) — CF Austin Jackson (.300 BA, 16 HR, 66 RBI); RF Torii Hunter (.313, 16 HR, 92 RBI); 3B Miguel Cabrera (.330, 44 HR, 139 RBI); 1B Prince Fielder (.313, 30 HR, 108 RBI); C Victor Martinez (.330, 12 HR, 103 RBI in '11); LF Andy Dirks (.322 BA, .370 OBP, 18 2B); SS Jhonny Peralta (.239, 13 HR, 63 RBI); C Alex Avila (.243 BA, 48 RBI, .352 OBP); 2B Omar Infante (.274, 30 2B, 53 RBI).
Projected Starting Rotation (with 2012 stats) — RH Justin Verlander (17-8, 2.64 ERA, 239 K); RH Doug Fister (10-10, 3.45 ERA, 137 K); RH Max Scherzer (16-7, 3.74 ERA, 231 K); RH Anibal Sanchez (9-13, 3.86 ERA, 167 K); RH Rick Porcello (10-12, 4.59 ERA, 107 K).