It was cold. Beyond that, the weather thought it would be funny to play a joke on fans with blizzard-like conditions. But it was the fans who had the last laugh. Whether inside or out in the blowing snow, the fans were in great spirits; not even extensive lines could deter them from enjoying themselves. They patiently waited to meet players, take photos, and acquire autographs; essentially be part of the unofficial countdown to Opening Day for Detroit.
Kids made full use of the Detroit Tigers Video Arcade, face painting, and book readings by the new Tigers Manager Brad Ausmus, and players such as Drew Smyly, and Alex Avila. In addition, hitting and fielding clinics were hosted by Torii Hunter, Omar Vizquel, and Jose Iglesias; for those who have an affinity for pitching, Jeff Jones, Evan Reed and Kyle Lobstein hosted a pitching clinic.
Fans were able to tour the home and visiting dugouts as well as the players' clubhouse, and view the MLB batting cages, among other locations. For those who were taking in their first TigerFest, it was an ongoing buzz. It was equally thrilling for first year attendee, shortstop Jose Iglesias. "An amazing experience; cold by the way, but you know, been great." Iglesias said. "Being right next to the fans and seeing how much they want us to win and how much they support us all year long; I’m just blessed to part of this beautiful event."
When asked if his arm was tired from signing autographs all day, he said, "I feel good" moving his arm around, joking, "it's not too tired; not too bad."
For catcher Alex Avila, the fan turnout is nothing new, but that doesn't make it any less special for him. The five year veteran to TigerFest said "It's still incredible every year that they come, especially in weather like this. I had to walk through to get to one of the autograph sessions going outside, I was freezing; and people were standing in line in that for hours, and it's just incredible."
One thing Alex Avila has on his mind going into the next season is realizing his importance long term for the team, his health, and for fans. "I've had to put down my stubbornness a little bit, especially the last year."
"I've learned enough about it [concussions] now that I have to say something, and maybe it would be the best thing to sit out ... depending on the circumstances."
This year's sold out event looked very different than the one from last year. Fresh faces, new leadership, a very different team in many ways created an atmosphere of curiosity and questions. However, fans are smart; and they know who manager Brad Ausmus is. "The fans have actually treated me great," he said. "One thing I get a lot is ‘welcome back;' they knew I was a Tiger at one point."
Those who listen to general manager Dave Dombrowski with any regularity know he is accomplished in how he says just about everything; we now have another member to add to that group. Not only is Ausmus is very well spoken, he employs the use of an expanded vocabulary; with great liberty.
Just don't ask Ausmus to think about Opening Day; he got to the point on that subject. "I've thought about it and every time I think about it, I imagine it being cold, so I, I immediately go somewhere else."
Somewhere else is where Victor Martinez goes when he steps onto the plate. "As soon as I step onto the field, it just, turn the switch. Bye Victor, here come[s] the other Victor; you want to win." For Martinez, winning means The World Series. It's never happened for him; something that is in his mind more often the longer he plays.
One question that has been asked often, is how Victor Martinez plans to take on the job once again as Miguel Cabrera's protection. He had a perfect answer. "It doesn't matter who you put behind Miggy, it just doesn't matter who you put. I mean, he's his own protection; I don't really worry about protecting Miggy. I just gotta go to the plate and do my job."
Good to know.
Ask reliever Joba Chamberlain, who signed with the team this offseason, how he feels about that. "I'm really excited I don't have to face Miggy and Victor anymore," he said. He's understandably thrilled that he doesn't have to play against the pitching staff either, recalling when he would say "Hey can you guys not pitch so good so we can have a chance? But I mean, It's unbelievable watching them; alright we gotta face Max, OK we gotta face Justin. Oh yeah don't forget we got, Anibal's got like a 2.00 ERA."
One thing fans will be happy to hear is Detroit was actually Chamberlain's first choice. I guess the weather wasn't a point of contention for him.
Another good point is he knows what he needs to do. On the subject of what he wanted to improve on, he said, "improve on being in the strike zone; I walked too many people last year." [He walked 5.6 per nine innings, by far a career-worst.] "New consistency with my fastball, getting better with my command, and just have fun."
Fun might be a little more than just on the field. Justin Verlander, who was unable to make this year's TigerFest as he is still recovering from surgery, may have some competition in the prank department. Chamberlain was informed of Verlander's pranking, and he had something to say about that: "He better bring his A-game; Justin I hope you're reading this or wherever you're at, I'm ready."
He didn't stop there.
"I'm probably gonna get something, I'm expecting it; but I've been around long enough that I can get ya back. I've heard some of the things that he's tried to pull and I will be ready; I got ideas in my head already about what I'm gonna do."
A little something to look forward to.
Editor's note: A version of this story appeared at Catherine's blog: Cat's Blog.