The Ron Gardenhire era opened Wednesday and Detroit Tigers players and spring training roster hopefuls won’t have to worry about hearing it through the grapevine, the new manager wants the Motown sound piped right across the practice fields behind Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium.
LAKELAND — The Ron Gardenhire era opened Wednesday and Detroit Tigers players and spring training non-roster invitees won’t have to worry about hearing it through the grapevine, the new manager wants the Motown sound piped right across the practice fields behind Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium.
There were no missing players on the first day of pitchers and catchers practice but midway through fundamental drills, Gardenhire spotted Tigers General Manager Al Avila and inquired about a promised sound system that was quietly missing.
“Absolutely, wasn’t it dead out there? The birds were flying by and they are not even talking,” said Gardenhire, who took a hands- and glove-on approach to drills. “We are Detroit, we need some Motown. So we are going to get a little music out there, under-control music, with a lot of my choices rather than other people’s choices. I asked (Avila) for it. I know the ground crew was really excited about it.”
Tigers’ position players are due to report Saturday and will conduct their first-full workout on Sunday. The Tigers will play their annual spring opener at Joker Marchant against Florida Southern on Feb. 22 and then open the Grapefruit League schedule Feb. 23 in Tampa against the New York Yankees. The Tigers will open at home against the Toronto Blue Jays on Feb. 24.
Gardenhire said after the pitchers and catchers, who reported Tuesday, spent the past few days running, it was just fun to get out on the playing field where he promises to create a fun but get-the-work done atmosphere during this rebuilding season.
“We have a lot of things planned for this spring training and what we will try to do and accomplish, but most of it is enjoy baseball and let these guys get after it,” said Gardenhire, who is the winningest manager in Minnesota Twins history and guided the club to six postseason appearances. He accepted the Tigers’ managerial position on Oct. 20.
“We are going to play it like a game and we are going to have fun," Gardenhire said. "I am going to laugh at some of these guys. I don’t know if I will yell at anybody, I don’t do that in spring training too much.”
Gardenhire, who was the 2010 American League Manager of the Year, said he will take player requests but they won’t be touching the iPad or iPod. He wants music to keep the players on their toes but it has to be clean music.
“I have kids so I can go a lot of different ways," he said. "There are certain types of music I can take a little bit of and certain types I just can’t take. I can listen to about anything these guys can listen to. I can rock ‘n roll it, I can do it all. Language, it has to be good language. This is a family baseball game."
Tigers’ second-year outfielder JaCoby Jones, who hit .170 with three home runs in 141 at-bats in 2017, was excited about the rocking idea.
“It’s always good to play music out there and get the vibes going good," Jones said. "Music keeps everybody loose. It is something different than the sound hitting baseballs. It gives a little pep in the step."
Tigers’ now-ace pitcher Michael Fulmer, who was the 2016 American League Rookie of the Year, said he really liked working pitcher-covering-first-base drills with Gardenhire and the fact he was right in the mix fielding ground balls.
“He can move around a little bit. I didn’t expect that. I think he yelled out Oklahoma Shuffle one time when he was throwing the ball to me. His energy, we love it so far,” said Fulmer, who likes the music idea but not the Motown sound. “I have zero requests from the 60s and 70s.”
Gardenhire said the main goal for the first week of drills is escape healthy and then press forward with a spring training filled with competition for pitching and position spots.
“No one is going to make a baseball team the first-few days so let’s just get out there and get into our routine," he said. "Health is important these first-few days. Guys get a little sore even though they have been working out on their own and doing all kinds of stuff. Still, once you get out here, it is just different.”
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the 1968 Tigers World Series championship, and Gardenhire said he is fully aware and remembers the famed Series from his childhood in Okmulgee, Okla., where he listened to the Series on a transistor radio as a fourth-grader.
“Bob Gibson (and) the Cardinals, we got all the Cardinals’ games in the Tulsa area," Gardenhire said. "So we were listening to that World Series. My brother was a Tigers fan and Mickey Lolich was his favorite person, and he loved Al Kaline. So that was my history, knowing what my brother loved.
“The history of this team will never go away. I’ve seen all the greats and I talk to them still. This is going to be a big year, a lot of fun and a lot of celebrations."
- Bill Kemp can be reached at Bill.Kemp@newschief.com; follow him on Twitter @BillKempSports