No one is taking credit for hanging it, but there is a new sign outside the Detroit Tigers spring training clubhouse in Lakeland, Fla. It shows a picture of the Commissioner’s Trophy, and says “Believe this is going to be US!! Don’t walk through this door until you do!”
Manager Ron Gardenhire insists it wasn’t him. In fact, when he was initially asked about it by reporters, he said he hadn’t even seen it yet.
Later, Gardenhire seemed to have bought into the aspirational message whole hog. He told MLB.com’s Jason Beck, “We’ve heard the rebuild, but the rebuild is from the front office. Inside the clubhouse and the coaching staff, we believe we’re going to win. We’re coming to the ballpark to put together a baseball team that’s going to win baseball games.”
You might be inclined to scoff as such a lofty goal, but it represents a very important kind of disconnect between the team and the front office. General manager Al Avila recently indicated the Tigers were unlikely to be competitive for two or three more years. It was his way of shrugging off any expectations as the team continues to amass young talent in its farm system.
It’s also something we’re seeing across baseball, as rebuilding teams seem to show a disinterest in even attempting to field a winning team, while hoarding prospects the way Smaug stockpiles his gold.
Though Avila implied that the team won’t be competitive, the Tigers have another idea, and their idealism is... well, it’s infectious.
For a team that no one is predicting to be very good, the Tigers — the players and coaches — seem blithely unaware of what baseball higher ups see in their immediate future. They are a team of men who want to get out on the field and win games. They are players in the prime of their lives who couldn’t give a hoot what baseball experts predict. A 90 or 100 loss season? The 2019 Tigers don’t think so.
They think they’re going to the World Series.
And I kind of want to believe them.
It defies logic, and appeals to an animal-brained part of my fandom, but the enthusiasm and positivity the Tigers are demonstrating right out of the gate this year is catching. Almost the entire pitching staff was in Lakeland a week early, ready to get started. Many of the full squad are already present working out.
This team wants to win.
They aren’t willing to bide their time and accept a mandate from up above that says losing is beneficial. This isn’t a team that’s planning to tank. This is a team that wants to exceed expectation the way the 2017 Minnesota Twins did. Everyone predicted that the Twins, who had a 59-103 record in 2016, would return to the bottom of the division in 2017. Instead they faced the Yankees in the AL Wild Card game.
Weird baseball miracles happen. They could happen for Detroit.
The Tigers front office hasn’t made any moves to improve the team, but don’t tell the players that. New Tigers shortstop Jordy Mercer rolled into TigerFest last month eager to join the team (and his well-spoken approach to interviews is going to make him a popular target for sound bites this season). Nicholas Castellanos was featured in a recent MLB hype video, and the team is definitely feeding off that hype.
These guys always deliver at the right time. pic.twitter.com/jBA0Rpo3hy— MLB (@MLB) February 12, 2019
There are a hundred reasons to count the Tigers out, but they don’t care.
The Detroit Tigers think they’re going to win.
Let’s believe them. Even if they don’t make it to the postseason, they are hoping to field a fun and exciting squad. A team that wants to be out there winning games is infinitely more enjoyable to watch that a team that accepts failure before they’re even at Opening Day.
Whatever their record ends up being, seeing the Tigers lean into winning is making this spring training infinitely more interesting.