Camp officially opens for Tigers
Early reportees greet arrival of pitchers and catchers
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Fu-Te Ni made the 20-hour flight for just his second trip to the United States. His first introduction was to new pitching coach Rick Knapp, who tried to gauge how much English the left-hander speaks.
They didn't get far, but they were able to say hello. On a day like Friday, it was a pretty good start.
"It feels great," Leyland said. "I've been a little antsy lately, ready to get going. I'm really ready to go."
So, obviously, have many of his players.
By Thursday, the vast majority of Tigers pitchers had filed into the clubhouse, as had more than a handful of position players, including Marcus Thames, Curtis Granderson, Ryan Raburn, Michael Hollimon, Clete Thomas and Donnie Kelly. So, too, had Leyland and many of his coaches.
Miguel Cabrera arrived Friday morning with a big smile, gave his manager a big hug and said hello to many of his teammates. It wasn't long before hitting coach Lloyd McClendon was standing at his locker, ready to get in some batting work.
Hitters won't begin their formal workouts until Tuesday. Until then, it'll be pitchers on the back fields, starting a steady diet of fielding and fundamental drills in the morning, such as pickoff throws, holding baserunners, coming off the mound to take a ground ball and firing to first for the out.
"You work on these drills," Leyland said, "and it's different when 50,000 people get in the seats."
It'll be the Tigers' first fielding sessions in four years without Gold Glove winner Kenny Rogers, who remains unsigned and appears ready to retire.
"If you watch close, you can watch our pitchers take ground balls around the infield, and you can pretty much tell who's a pretty good fielder. It's repetition."
With no games scheduled for nearly two weeks, they'll have plenty of repetitions.
For catchers Gerald Laird and Matt Treanor, the early days of Spring Training will be a learning process to get accustomed to Tigers pitchers. Both came from other organizations in December -- Laird in a trade from Texas, Treanor as a free-agent signing from Florida -- and both arrived early to start catching mound sessions from some of the Tigers starters.
With so many pitchers in camp, however, they've only gotten started.
The start of camp also sets up Leyland's annual speech to his players, broken up into smaller groups. Saturday will be for pitchers and catchers after physicals for those who weren't in Detroit with the team for the winter caravan and TigerFest. Leyland already knows what he plans to emphasize when he addresses the club and how he wants his players thinking as the weeks wind down toward Opening Day on April 6 at Toronto.
The Tigers struggled out of the gate last season, losing their first seven games on their way to a last-place finish. Part of the reasons given was the transition to cold weather and its effect on several Tigers hitters. Leyland doesn't want his players caught by surprise this year.
"I'm going to talk about a lot of things," Leyland said. "I want to be ahead of the curve this year. We've got to start preparing ourselves from Day 1. You might as well get it in your mind right now. Don't wait until we get off the bus in Toronto. It's going to be cold for a while. Let's not go through that like we did last year, where everybody said to wait until it gets warm. If you get a strong will for that, I believe you can guard some of it off."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.