Slowly but surely the Detroit Tigers position players trickled into Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Fla. to begin one of the most anticipated Spring Training sessions in recent memory. The Tigers were preparing for a quiet off season, signing Octavio Dotel and making a minor trade for Collin Balester from the Nationals. But following a devastating knee injury to Victor Martinez the Tigers went out and laid down $214 million for Prince Fielder.
With the Fielder signing any hope of a quiet spring training went out the window, fans were sent scrambling and Fielder became an instant hit because many in Detroit remember him from his youth when his father played in the Olde English "D." Ticket sales exploded and interest in the Tigers peaked in a time generally reserved for the Red Wings in the city of Detroit.
During his press conference Fielder showed that he was still a Detroiter at heart and his children captured the fans attention much like "Little Victor" had the year before as he tagged along with his father Victor Martinez. As the weeks progressed perhaps the Tigers thought the fervor would die down, they were wrong, Joker Marchant was packed with Tigers fans wanting to experience the club first hand.
In the video to the right, provided by Steve St. Germain, the Tigers make their way out onto the practice fields for the first time on Monday to the delight of the crowd that had massed near the clubhouse.
Now the players on the active roster weren't the only ones in Lakeland this week, World Series Champion Manager Tony LaRussa took in the Tigers training sessions, but not with his friend Jim Leyland. LaRussa stuck close to Detroit General Manager Dave Dombrowski to get an idea of how the front office works in baseball. LaRussa hopes to break into the front office, but did not want to interfere with the Tigers camp, to which Leyland told him that he would gladly have him in camp, if only to pick his brain for some ideas to use for this season.
While many focused on the attendance of LaRussa, not many noticed the presence of "The Gambler" in TigerTown. It is the first time since 2008 that Kenny Rogers has been in Tigers spring training, while he isn't in camp to become a coach he is trying his hand at instruction. He will be working with the Tigers left-handed pitchers on holding base runners on and working with their pick off moves.
Other than the usual buzz surrounding Fielder many in the baseball world are looking to who the Tigers will tap to be the No. 5 starter for the season and the names have varied. From Jacob Turner or Andy Wilk to Duane Below or Drew Smyly. No one is quite sure who will come out of Lakeland with the job, but that's what they go down to Florida for isn't it?
As the spring progresses names will float to the top and those names just might be the ones you see emblazoned on the new 6000 sq. ft. scoreboard at Comerica Park this year. Keep your eyes on Smyly, Wilk, Andy Dirks and Danny Worth.