DETROIT--A light breeze was blowing in Sunday morning as Comerica Park staff bustled about below the press box. Out on the field a player was getting some running time in, but from the press box it was too far away to make out who it was. Groundsmen carefully raked and watered down the infield dirt in preparation of Opening Day. Every seat was cleaned off with pressure hoses while camera crews practiced their takes over and over.
The Old English D behind home plate and Opening Day painted banners down the first and third base lines are guarded by yellow rope. The batting practice cage is put up and tarp is laid out to protect fresh grass planted only a week ago. It's quiet, peaceful even. A hush of anticipation in the park, waiting for the doors to be opened and welcome fans to another year of America's pastime.
It's hard to believe we are here again, it almost seems like only last month the 2013 season ended and a cold took over the streets of Detroit, not only from the weather but the loss of a battle to make a second consecutive World Series appearance.
Walking out onto the expansive field, the first thing which is noticeably different is how beautiful the grass is. Seems like a silly thing but when you have been shut in like a hermit from days forgotten it is a welcome sight. The warm sun made field level warmer than the press box even though the temperature had not yet broken 40 degrees. The view is infinitely better too and there isn't a cloud in the sky.
Leaning against the home dugout bars, a careful span of the environment displayed a quiet calm before the storm as Tigers players began to emerge, taking the field for morning warm-up. First among them was Bryan Holaday followed closely by pitching coach Jeff Jones.
The dugout seats are more comfortable than one would initially expect. Maybe they're new. Members of the press briefly gather around the visiting dugout while in the background a Kansas City Royals player loaded a cart with squeaky clean baseballs.
Max Scherzer wandered to left field and Nick Castellanos greeted a Royals player behind the batting cage at home plate. Tigers manager Dave Dombrowski walked onto the field with a hot beverage wearing a maroon polo but no stripes under his coat. Correction, it was a turtleneck. He walked over to shake my hand and introduced himself like he is just another guy.
Time on the field was brief. Brad Ausmus was giving a press briefing and he was all smiles as he sat down, joking that there wasn't any advertising in the background where he sat. When asked about how spring went Ausmus said "It was good, wasn't a lot of surprises. Got our work done, had a little fun and I think the guys are ready to go." Maybe the whirlwind changes in spring didn't affect him like it did for fans.
The obvious question regarding the lineup was finally addressed. "I brought it here for you today because I know you've been waiting. I'll give it to you right now," Ausmus said. The yellow scrap of paper was opened and the Tigers lineup was at long last revealed.
The starting lineup will be ordered as such: Kinsler, Hunter, Cabrera, Martinez, Jackson, Avila, Castellanos, Gonzalez and Davis. The lower half of the lineup was what Ausmus had a harder time setting up and he said he hasn't decided on a definite reliever for the seventh and eighth innings. "I don't think anything's locked in there. We are going to have to see how it goes as we start playing games" Ausmus said.
"I have an idea going into each game, how it stands, but it could be a little bit of a flux unless someone grabs the roll and runs with it. Or any of the roles I should say." The Tigers went through such a busy spring that most questions had already been addressed. But when asked how Ausmus feels about Opening Day there is one particular day he remembers more than others.
"The one Opening Day that probably stands out more than any Opening Day was the last season in Tigers Stadium. I think there must have been six or eight people jump on the field during the course of the game." he said. "I know it's, akin to the Super Bowl here, Opening Day for the Tigers. There's a lot of energy."
As batting practice got underway the temperature was nearly 50 degrees. Players who began with the usual warm-up drills soon moved to the batting cages and took up positions on the field. The bullpen began to come alive.
Miguel Cabrera emerged from the dugout partially through the hour long workout and spent about half of the hour getting a few hits in. He took his pitches in groups of two or three and after warming up by nearly hitting nearly every pitch out of the park he hit his tune and nailed the next several consecutive pitches out of the park.
The deepest-hit pitch landed in the shrubbery located in dead center field. Any animals once hibernating in the safety of those bushes have now vacated the premise. The owner has officially kicked them out.
In all reality the entire lineup was rather home run happy and they utilized the entire field to bid a proper goodbye to several baseballs. Tigers manager Brad Ausmus who is always active on the field during practice, pitched to hitters for roughly 30 minutes until another member of the staff took over for him.
When practice ended for position players the pitchers took the mound. First up was Anibal Sanchez whose nonchalant way of winding up a pitch is unmistakable even from the press box. No identifying number was needed. Porcello was up next to pitch in this simulated game because the weather in Washington D.C refused to cooperate for a final tune-up. The pitchers chose to alternate with each other because Porcello said he prefers it more.
Then, just like that it was all over. Equipment was hauled off the field, players and coaches vacated the field to rest up for game 1-of-162 and the long journey to October. The yellow ropes come off, the grass has been mowed one last time, videos on the big screen begin to play and the roar of a Tiger echoes throughout the empty seats in the stadium.
As this is being typed, Cinderella Man by Eminem is playing in my headphones. Tigers players are done for the day, time has passed too quickly and I feel the need to call for an infinite loop of today's events. The only thing better than today is the fact that I am reassured tomorrow will be infinitely better.
I find myself overwhelmingly blessed to cover not only the game of baseball that I love but the baseball team I fell in love with. Rest up Detroit, it's going to be an epic season. We'll see you tomorrow at Comerica Park on Opening Day.