Highlights from MLB Network’s visit to Detroit Tigers spring training

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As it has done in the past, MLB Network’s “30 Clubs in 30 Days” program spends a day with each major-league team during spring training. They spent Monday with the Detroit Tigers in Lakeland, Florida. Here are the highlights:

  • Miguel Cabrera was guarded in discussing his health coming into the season after injuries limited him to 130 games and a career-worst 91 wRC+ in 2017. He admitted it was tough to find enjoyment in the game last year, but he expects to be back to having fun in 2018.
  • Ron Gardenhire, the Tigers’ new manager, said that his time outside of the game gave him perspective on the special nature of the opportunity he and his players have to make a living in baseball. While he avoided specifics, it sounds like he has fairly modest expectations for the season. It also looks like he wishes his baseball pants had pockets.
  • Likely number-one starting pitcher Michael Fulmer called Gardenhire “awesome” and described him as a “very positive guy.” Fulmer also said he “had a little setback with the elbow earlier in camp, but we’re all good now.”
  • On High Heat, General Manager Al Avila emphasized the youth of the 2018 roster. He confirmed that Fulmer is “one-hundred percent” healthy, indicated that second-year player Jeimer Candelario would be the opening-day third baseman, and described Cabrera as “much stronger” following an offseason physical therapy regimen. Avila believes that Cabrera can maintain a reasonably high level of production if he sticks to his offseason training plan, comparing him to other late-career success stories like Ivan Rodriguez and Vladimir Guerrero. He dodged a question about whether the obviously rebuilding team would shift its approach if it somehow found itself in a contending position midway through this season, but he did allude to the comparatively positive perception of Detroit’s current rebuilding process as compared to the actions of other teams that have drawn accusations of anticompetitive behavior. Avila also referred to “millions of dollars” the team had invested in “new technology,” which apparently includes biomechanical-oriented technology and an analytics department that now boasts a staff of twelve. Finally, he said that “nothing has changed” in his “great” relationship with ownership, which has transitioned to the late Mike Ilitch’s son Chris, who, Avila said, “has backed me one-hundred percent.”
  • Hopeful starting pitcher Daniel Norris reports that he is feeling healthy and, while he wants to compete for a rotation spot, he’s trying not to ramp up too fast in spring training in order to maintain that health.
  • The consensus among surveyed players is that presumptive closer Shane Greene has the worst taste in music, while Jose Iglesias, despite his own strong opinion to the contrary, has the worst singing voice.
  • Iglesias did get the opportunity to speak for himself and answer the Harold Reynolds question “What’s funner, snatching a hit from somebody or getting a big hit?” While Iglesias, a native of Cuba, wasn’t able to watch much major-league baseball growing up, it’s clear he’s picked up on Crash Davis’ tutelage from his answer: “Both.”
  • Nick “Nicholas” Castellanos, who’s moving from third base to right field on a full-time basis in 2018 said that he was not mentally present for much of last season because his father was ill, but, now that his dad is healthy, he will be able to reunite mind and body and is approaching this season with a seize-the-day attitude.
  • New arrival Mike Fiers praised the team’s new pitching coach, Chris Bosio, and says he feels he’s getting back on track under Bosio’s guidance. The two previously worked together during Fiers’ rookie season in 2011, when both were employed in the Milwaukee Brewers organization. Fiers, who spent the first five years of his career in Milwaukee before shifting to Houston for the past three seasons, arguably had his best performances as a Brewer.
  • Alan Trammell, fresh off his election into the baseball hall of fame, is working with players on infield fundamentals.

I didn’t think this year’s edition of this feature was as entertaining as it has been in past years, but there are a lot of new faces on this team and a new strategic approach that Tigers fans haven’t seen in some time, and I thought the profile was, on the whole, serviceable.

Stay tuned for a more thorough Detroit Tigers 2018 season preview, which will appear soon over at Banished to the Pen.

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“The passion I have for this game I can’t hide.” – Legendary sports broadcaster Dick Enberg, 1935-2017

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Legendary sports broadcaster Dick Enberg died yesterday at the age of eighty-two. The Michigan native grew up dreaming of playing right field for the Detroit Tigers, a job, he always acknowledged, went to his contemporary Al Kaline. Many people have been sharing many special memories of Enberg, who broadcast baseball, tennis, and nearly every other sport in a career that spanned five decades and earned him many awards and accolades. In addition, Enberg may be the most prominent graduate of Central Michigan University, although Jeff Daniels may give him a run for his money. An off-the-cuff ranking of the most famous Chips:

  1. Jeff Daniels
  2. Dick Enberg
  3. Clark Howard
  4. Dan Majerle
  5. Tom Crean
  6. Chris Kaman
  7. Dan LeFevour
  8. Alveda King
  9. Ray Bentley

(Opening up the list to non-graduating attendees would add Antonio Brown and J. J. Watt.)

Just in time for the end of the MLB season, the best baseball TV show is live on the internet

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To be fair, there isn’t a large volume of competition in the daily live MLB television show category. By my count, the established programs are MLB Network’s “MLB Tonight,” FS1’s “MLB Whiparound,” and ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight,” all of which essentially compete to be the first choice in baseball wallpaper.

Enter “Starting 9,” a Barstool Sports production that debuted last week and already has surpassed all of its major-network competitors in every facet. None of those shows sniffs the “appointment-viewing” descriptor, which applies to “Starting 9.” It’s the perfect show for baseball fans in both content and delivery. The show airs live Sunday through Thursday at just the right time– 11:00 pm on weeknights, right after East-Coast games have ended, and 6:00 pm on Sunday, between the end of the afternoon games and the start of the primetime ESPN game– and runs for just the right length of time, about twenty minutes per episode. Adding to the convenience is the fact that “Starting 9” streams on Facebook Live and Periscope, allowing the audience an easy second-screen viewing setup.

Although it’s a web-based show, “Starting 9” looks like a show you’d see on a big sports television network thanks to shiny graphics (the 1990s Donruss baseball card visual reference is a particularly nice touch) and a license to air MLB game highlights. “Starting 9” isn’t on a big sports television network, though, which means its hosts– Jared Carrabis; former Oakland Athletic and ESPN broadcaster Dallas Braden; and, at least for the first week, former San Francisco Giant Brian Wilson– are uncensored and unfiltered, leading to a much more natural conversation. It’s everything PTI is supposed to be but never can be.

The hosts have an easy rapport that flows from the homonymous podcast Carrabis and Braden began hosting a month ago, which featured the not-shy Wilson as its first guest. Carrabis has been writing about the Boston Red Sox and baseball generally at Barstool for years, and the site hired Braden (who once pitched a perfect game, in case you hadn’t heard) after ESPN cut him loose in their big round of layoffs this spring.

The show’s first week demonstrated an impressive ability to synthesize the day’s baseball stories, some of which happened just moments before the show went live, into a well-rounded blend of on-field highlights, fan interactions, and other news and happenings that ranges from the serious to the silly.

The benefits a live show were on display during last night’s episode, in which Carrabis and Braden were able to discuss J.D. Martinez’s four-homer game, which was happening during the show.

Last night’s episode also was the first without Wilson, whose absence was noted at the opening. It will be a small disappointment if he is not a regular part of the show going forward, as appears to be the case, since he provides a good compliment to Braden, who can be a little too bombastic at times.

One thing that does not seem to be a problem for “Starting 9” is audience size. Facebook Live viewership during the first week hovered between eight hundred and 1,200 at a given moment, and the Periscope numbers were bigger: I saw anywhere 50,000 to over 100,000. The episodes remain archived on Facebook and the Barstool site itself as well, convenient for those who aren’t able to watch live.

Although the 2017 regular season is nearly over, I suspect that “Starting 9” will continue in some capacity during the playoffs, and I look forward to having it as a part of my baseball routine in the future.

Jim Leyland still isn’t buying media narratives

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If you’ve missed hearing Jim Leyland’s gravely voice churning up prefabricated media narratives like rocks in a cement mixer, then do not miss the MLB Network special on Leyland, which airs tonight at 9:00 Eastern.

In advance of the program, Leyland appeared today on MLB Network’s High Heat, refusing to take the bait as host Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo persistently and loudly (as expected) ran Leyland through some of the tougher moments in his more than twenty years as a major-league manager.

For me, Leyland, with his lovable disdain for the media, memorable battles with umpires, smoking of Marlboro Reds, and the mutual affection between him and his players and assistant coaches, is an essential part of the recent stretch of Detroit Tigers success, and he means a lot to the Marlins and Pirates communities too. The mere mention of a Jim Leyland special probably is enough to send most baseball fans to their televisions or DVRs, but if you’re on the fence, here’s the preview video, which includes this shot:

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Plus this guy(!):

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This is going to be a good show no matter what, but I will be a little disappointed if we don’t get to see Leyland singing (or not singing) or talking about his sweet pre-game ritual or post-game dancing.

Highlights from MLB Network’s visit to Detroit Tigers spring training

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As it has done in the past, MLB Network’s “30 Clubs in 30 Days” feature spends a day with each major-league team during spring training. They spent St. Patrick’s Day with the Detroit Tigers in Lakeland, Florida. Here are the highlights:   Continue reading

Mike Ilitch’s baseball bona fides

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Everyone knows Mike Ilitch as the wealthy pizza baron who owns the Detroit Tigers and Red Wings, but when new Tigers General Manager Al Avila appeared on Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo’s television show today, he revealed something about Mr. I that most folks probably don’t know: Ilitch is a former professional baseball player.

Ilitch played four seasons of minor-league ball in the mid-1950s. He split the 1952 season between the Jamestown, NY Falcons, a Tigers affiliate, as chance would have it, and the unaffiliated Hot Springs, AR Bathers. He spent the entirety of the 1953 season with the unaffiliated Tampa, FL Smokers, where he was the starting second baseman and his .310 batting average was second-best on the team. In 1954, Ilitch divided his time between the Smokers and the unaffiliated Miami Beach/Greater Miami Flamingos in what would prove to be the Flamingos’ final season of existence. He continued to demonstrate an ability to hit for average, if not power (his sole home run of the season was just the second of his career to that point), finishing 1954 with a .324/.375/.400 line, the best of his career. 1955 was Ilitch’s final year as a professional baseball player. He appeared in just sixty-two games while playing for three different teams: the unaffiliated St. Petersburg, FL Saints, the Norfolk, VA Tars (Yankees), and the Charlotte, NC Hornets (Senators). Ilitch’s offense slipped in his final season, in which he hit his third career home run and batted .255/.328/.273 for the Tars (incomplete records from the other teams suggest this line is representative of his performance for the Saints and Hornets as well).

The knee injury that ended Ilitch’s playing career in 1955 probably explains the decline in his offensive production. Four years later, he and his wife opened the first Little Caesars Pizza restaurant. They bought the Red Wings in 1982 and the Tigers– from Domino’s Pizza founder Tom Monaghan– in 1992.