By: Holly Horning
I saw so much in my travels to last week’s spring training games that I’m having a hard time narrowing down the most important topics to report with only 2 days left. If you missed the first two installments, catch them here at:
Time to switch gears again and move back to the more serious topics. Let’s talk about The Boss, Brad, baserunning, ballplayers and bombs.
At my first game, I looked up and Al Avila was standing 4 feet away from me. He was chatting with employees and posed for some pics with fans. I watched him move to his seat which was not too far away from me. It became apparent as he moved through the crowd, that he is a popular figure. He knew employees’ names and greeted each one with a handshake or hug. A smile was always on his face.
He spent the game watching, taking notes and receiving regular visitors – Tram, his top 4 lieutenants including David Chadd, and scouts. I even saw his son, Alan, who now works on the legal side for the Tigers. He looks just like Alex.
Couldn’t help but see that Avila is nothing like Dave Dombrowski. As we recently learned, Dave rarely allowed any of his top personnel to make decisions or weigh in on a significant basis. Avila’s Front Office was front and center with him and he came across as very user-friendly.
At most games, I was within spitting distance (sorry, yes, I had to go there) of sitting behind Brad. And I watched him a lot. I’m surprised that he didn’t feel two holes burning into his backside from my stare.
I noticed that he talks to Gene Lamont all the time and is the initiator of conversations, not Gene. He also intercepts the catcher at the end of every inning to get a gauge on how the pitcher is doing.
But his body language is not that of a confident man. Brad comes across as a very mellow guy with a low and steady energy level. Like most, he doesn’t have peaks of energy – or lows for that matter. He moves slowly – there’s nothing rushed and there’s never a sense of urgency. Great for keeping a team even-keeled but not for motivating.
His face does not display emotion and you can’t tell if he’s happy or mad. He does use his hands to express himself, but keeps them close to his body which is indicative of a guy who is cautious and guarded.
At one point, I saw Gene Lamont in conversation with someone near me. I was surprised to see a man with a twinkle in his eye and a sense of humor. Great laugh.
The two coaches who impressed me most with their body language were Omar Vizquel and Rich Dubee. Both moved with energy and determination. More on Omar tomorrow.
Dubee is certainly not Jeff Jones. He sprints to the mound to talk to the pitcher – and sprints back. He’s very much on top of things in the dugout and is often the first to greet and chat with the pitcher at the end of the inning. I liked what I saw. This is a guy who preaches pitching inside and being aggressive. His physical behavior certainly matches his philosophy.
I wish I had better news to report but base running is still a mess. I saw a number of runners being doubled off of first (and not just the minor-leaguers), runners too far off base and being picked off and a runner on third who could not score despite a fly ball hit all the way to the fence.
There was one runner who stayed on second base despite an errant throw that went halfway into centerfield with no one to field it. The entire fan base was screaming at him to run to third and after he sat for what seemed an eternity, he got up and ran. Barely got there, too.
Brad recently said he liked the progress being made and mentioned a certain play to which I was witness. I will say the play was a horrific train wreck that accidentally scored the run. After a ball was put into play, a runner on third came off the base too soon and too far. Let the rundown commence. A bad throw and a good slide (not good base running) allowed him to score.
And as long as we’re talking about sloppy, I’ll add two plays, both in the outfield, committed by experienced players. One of them resulted in the injury to Justin Upton. As a breeze carried the ball further towards left field, both Upton and Gose converged. Fans were cringing because we knew what would happen. Neither player called for the ball and Gose ended up stepping on Upton’s ankle and knocking him down. A similar incident but narrowly missing a collision happened between the CF and RF.
As I watched the players coming off a practice field en masse, there he was. Easy to pick out in the crowd. Not to wax poetic, but Cabrera appeared to have an aura emanating from him. He’s the first one you notice. There is something about his build that is different than the other players. And when I saw him up close, the man is in shape. Don’t believe anyone who tells you he needs to lose weight.
Victor takes striking out very badly. Don’t sit small children near home plate or at least cover their ears. He swears up a storm – and in English. But I saw him at every single game take a couple bats after each at-bat and run off to the batting cage to get more swings in. The man has an incredible work ethic.
Other than his height, the next thing you may notice about Moya is his unique batting stance. All the fans were buzzing about it. His front leg is not firmly planted and rests on the ball of the foot and toes.
But what really impressed me about him was what he did after the game. As all the players drove out of the parking lot, they drive past the fans – not stopping. Moya however, did. He opened his car window and said he’s sign for all the kids – and just the kids.
He does not speak English very well and it made me wonder how the Tigers handle coaching him if Spanish is his primary language.
On a side note, as I waited at the players’ parking lot, I did an inventory on their cars. It really did look like a typical parking lot, albeit the cars appeared newer and shinier than the average lot. But the cars they were driving were really not flashy at all. Most of them drive sedans. The only car that stood out was an orange Range Rover. Maybe that belonged to Paws.
Ok, we’re talking about the good ones. Those that clear the outfield fences. The Tigers are hitting tons of them which is a good thing. But what’s not being reported is that the past couple weeks have been particularly breezy in Florida. The winds have been taking everyone’s hats and anything that isn’t nailed down.
Most of the winds blow out to the fences so it’s not unusual that the HRs have been getting some help.
Tomorrow, I’ll wrap up my Spring Training experience with insights on the team culture and attitude this spring. And a collection of funny stories, style notes and fan observations.