By:  Holly Horning

For the last installment of my Spring Training report, let’s cover the funny, frivolous and the furry, shall we?  Afterall, it’s Spring Training which has a completely different vibe and mindset than the regular season. Hopefully, I won’t have too many of these stories to share when the team finally heads north.

If you haven’t read the first three blogs covering the Tigers, catch them here at:



I take my job as an image consultant seriously which is why a security guard jokingly called me out on my opera glasses at a game.  It was not my intent to bring opera to the outfield – I was just being practical.  You see, I hate lugging those heavy binoculars around, especially when traveling.  But I love to zoom in on what players are saying and other details of the game so I pack the smaller and lighter but-just-as-potent pair.  When I let the guard look through them, he responded “Genius!”  Maybe I’ll start a trend.


Please, Mr. I, you need a branding consultant.  Whoever designed and approved the orange caps with a single line of navy thread to outline the Old English D should be forced to clean the gum off the seat bottoms at the stadium.  The logo completely disappeared!  And the team has lost branding value and recognition.  That “D” is the most important part of the uniform.


God knows I love Miggy but he needs a hairstylist who will say “no” to him.  Unfortunately, many of his teammates have decided to copy him this year.  The hairstyle consists of shaved sides and back with long hair on top – reminiscent of a certain German dictator with a mustache.  In the meantime, those players should preserve their dignity and keep those batting helmets on.


I saw him up close and it wasn’t pretty.  Jayson Werth and his 40-lbs.of head and facial hair.  His beard arrives 5 minutes before he does.  Part ZZ Top, part Duck Dynasty – and he bares an uncanny resemblance to the Geico caveman.



At my first game, I was excited to hear they were giving out free posters of Tiger players.  I got mine and as I unrolled it, I wondered if it would be Miggy, JV or VMart.  It was…………..Brad Ausmus.  Someone up there is punishing me.


Clearwater is the home of Hooters restaurants and the Phillies have 2 ballgirls from the company at each game.  I marveled that the company actually had so many athletic waitresses.  That is, until one of them finally managed to retrieve an errant ball and in her attempt to toss it into the stands, threw it directly upwards and almost beaned herself as it came down.


I think my straight-laced husband has been with me for too long.  As we waited at the players’ parking lot, he suggested that the crowd rush the gate because the elderly attendant would only be able to take out 1 or 2 fans at the most.


Remember my earlier story about the vast number of elderly and mobility-challenged fans at Lakeland?  Halfway through the game, the announcer asked everyone to get up out of their seats and do the infamous YMCA dance routine.  Really?  And unbelievably, and horrifically, they did.  I will never be able to “unsee” this event as long as I live.


I spent part of a game seriously plotting how to successfully meet and talk with Al Avila.  He was right there with an empty seat next to him.  But I figured it couldn’t be that easy.  I even texted Kurt and asked him if he would post bail if things went terribly wrong.  But then I saw there was an elderly usher standing guard by his row.  However, later on, the usher was fast asleep in his chair.  I decided against it as I didn’t want to get him in trouble for literally sleeping on the job.


Yes, I just have to dedicate a whole section to the mascot known as the Phillie Phanatic.  God knows I love Paws, but sometimes you just have to have a dose of good-hearted wickedness and pranks.  Age has not spoiled this fuzzy green character and his antics.  The entire stadium was riveted upon his every move.

He speeds around the field in an ATV.  He stops at the Tiki Bar and does an impression of fans getting loaded.  He French-kisses one of the national anthem singers and undresses the other three.  He chases the bat boys in his ATV.  He paces the players doing sprints and gooses the security personnel and umpires as he drives by, making each one jump in the air.

And my personal favorite – he puts the pedal to the metal and aims it for a group of opposing players on the field.  Then PP puts his big, furry green hands over his eyes as he sails along.  Somehow, he manages to avoid them.

But he met his match in Omar Vizquel who appears out of nowhere to grab his backside as he rides by.  A melee ensues and each side taunts each other.  The Phanatic challenges Omar to a fight – and Omar doesn’t disappoint.

When the Phanatic invites the entire Tiger team to rumble, Omar yells to the players “Let’s go!”.  But then PP runs to the safety of the Phillies dugout.  But not before he beseeches a police officer to arrest Vizquel.  As he leaves, the Phanatic sticks out that party-favor-for-a-tongue at Omar and offers the Tigers’ dugout a few rude gestures.  It was priceless.


So what were some of the other important themes I took away from these spring training games?

** I loved the intimacy of watching the players and listening to their conversations. You’re so close to the action in Florida.  It brought back similar memories of being in Tiger Stadium.

** As someone who works out daily (with a personal trainer’s guidance) at a serious level for decades, I was very surprised at the Tigers’ approach to on-the-field conditioning: warm-ups and stretching.  Many seemed to be going through the motions.  I saw some bad form (which can lead to injury) and no one there to correct it.  And a number of players had a hard time touching their toes.  Granted that this is a professional sports team and my knowledge about their actual routine is very limited, but I expected to see better.

** Many of the fans have huge expectations of players given their huge salaries. One of my neighbors believed that Miggy was obligated to get a hit at every at bat in order to earn his salary.  When he didn’t, she became upset.  And she wasn’t a rookie fan, either.

** It was amazing to see the wide range of fan knowledge and orientation of their beliefs about baseball and the Tigers. Some enjoy it merely for the play.  Others follow it for specific players, some live and breathe it.  And there are at least 5 other levels of fandom inbetween.  All with different perspectives and levels of information and history.  They all love the sport in different ways.

The most significant take-away from the game is not always about how well the team performs in a game.  There are so many other factors to consider and sadly, most times it is not reported.  Sometimes, it’s not so much about the line score, but it’s about the story in-between the lines.




11 thoughts on “GREETINGS FROM LAKELAND! (part 4.)

  1. What about the remodeling of JMS and the Tigers remaining in Lakeland? I have great memories there for attending 5 Fantasy Camps and playing against former Tigers, but I read that many teams are moving to the coast. Lakeland is in the middle of Florida which means in a few years there will be more and longer bus rides, which I guess the team will not benefit from.


    • Hi, Frankie – The renovations will include more shade, a restaurant, and new concourse, clubhouse and offices. The county and state are picking up the majority of the expense with the Tigers contributing only $500,000 per year. As well, the stadium will be renamed with the Tigers reaping the $ from naming rights. But they signed a 20-year contract, so they are staying put. FL and AZ are aggressively lobbying all teams to move to their states//towns and I imagine Mr. I will give one of his planes so the team can travel from Lakeland (Tampa) to areas such as West Palm Beach. Thanks for your thoughts! -Holly


  2. Holly, if you did get that empty seat next to Al, what would you have said? If I were you, I would’ve taken the chance to sit next to him. How many fans would ever have the opportunity to have an experience like that? Did that seat stay empty or did a club employee come and sit next to him?


    • Hi, Chuck – Great questions! I think I would have gone for the long-term results and wanted to establish rapport rather than ask him questions. A variety of Front Office people did come and go and sit next to him, including Tram and Chadd. Next time I think I’ll bring a radar gun and pretend to be a scout so I can sit next to him. 😉 Thanks for your questions! – Holly


  3. Renovations include tripling the number of restrooms, adding 2 more elavators to new shaded handicap seating, and a new HD scoreboard with a running ribbon scoreboard along the party deck.


  4. Last time I went to Lakeland (2013) for about 6 games DD and AA always sat near each other behind home-plate without any security. DD was always accessible to fans and I chatted briefly with him a couple times. I don’t recall AA mingling with fans, but maybe because I wasn’t looking for him back then.


  5. As a “veteran” fan that lives and breathes baseball, has experienced ST up close and personal around the grapefruit circuit, I want to thank Holly for giving readers this past week’s wonderful inside look at the pre season culture. If you love BB, it’s a MUST. Nothing like it in all of sports!

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  6. Holly: Did anyone know that the Tigers were the first Spring Training team in AZ back in the ’20’s? I didn’t either until I looked it up – crazy – wish they were here now. The brand new stadiums out here are unbelievable – so is the weather!!!! Looking forward to a focused effort and commitment from the “Bengals” this season!! Tom in AZ 🙂


  7. As a life long Tiger fan I really enjoy reading the Totally Tigers article every day !!! Thanks so much for the insights and stories. Keep up the good work!

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