TigerFest a hit for fans and players
Fans relish opportunity to meet revamped lineup
DETROIT -- If there was any question in the back of Rick Porcello's mind about how Tigers fans would receive this new-look team, he had his answer when he arrived at Comerica Park on Saturday morning ahead of TigerFest.
"I was here at about 9:15," he said, "and there was a line of fans wrapped around the corner."
By about 10:30, that line essentially wrapped around one of the parking lots between the ballpark and Woodward Avenue, filled with fans waiting to get in. Once the doors opened to the public a half-hour later, those fans filled the walkways and corners of the park to see familiar faces again and get a look at some of the new ones.
Attendance was never going to be a question; tickets for TigerFest sold out within days after they went on sale in December. The mood of the fans and their support was going to be interesting to see.
The reception was overwhelmingly positive.
"They're treating me like I've been here three or four years already," said Austin Jackson, the rookie center fielder who came over from the Yankees in the Curtis Granderson trade. "I'm happy the way everybody's welcoming me."
From Jackson to Max Scherzer to Phil Coke, and even homegrown prospects such as Scott Sizemore, Casper Wells and Ryan Strieby, Detroit fans had plenty of new players to learn, enough that many had to work to attach names to faces. At the same time, though, many were accepted for who they are, not who they're following.
Others received the warm greeting of familiar veterans.
"Detroit Tigers fans are Detroit Tigers fans," reliever Bobby Seay said. "They accept the business aspect of the game. We have some guys who aren't proven, but everyone's got to start somewhere. That's where we're at, and I think the reception's been very good. It seems the same as any other year in the past to me."
Team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said during his question-and-answer session with fans that this has been one of the more complicated offseasons he has had as a general manager anywhere, because of the "adjustments" he had to make. But he also reiterated what he said after last month's three-team trade with the Yankees and D-backs, that trading known talents for the unknown is never popular.
For most fans, TigerFest and the winter caravan that preceded it was their first chance to get to know some of these guys.
Jackson talked about how he came to choose a career in baseball a few years ago over a basketball scholarship that would've made him the next in a long line of renowned point guards at Georgia Tech, how he has been told often that he has big shoes to fill after Granderson, and how he hopes to make a name for himself in Detroit in time. But he also talked about how he'd like to follow Granderson's example of being active in the community and giving back, especially after getting to see the area and meet fans the last few days.
"I've already been thinking about that," Jackson said. "Just going around on the caravan and seeing how fun it is to interact with youth and giving back to them, that's fun to me. I remember when I was that age, I would see ballplayers come in and that would kind of inspire me to want to get where they were. So setting a good example for them is always good."
He could get a chance to do that while setting the table for the middle of the Tigers order. After getting peppered with questions about his leadoff spot for three days, manager Jim Leyland said he "assumes" that he'll bat Jackson leadoff once Spring Training games begin to see how he handles it.
"I don't know who's going to be the leadoff guy Opening Day," Leyland said. "I would like it to be him."
For that matter, fellow rookie Sizemore could bat second behind Jackson. It would be a big step to bat two rookies ahead of Miguel Cabrera, Leyland admitted, but if they show the talent, the Tigers are willing to give them a shot. Fans on Saturday appeared willing to give them a shot, too.
Other newcomers who aren't rookies were getting acclimated, too. Scherzer, the former D-backs starter with the impressive fastball, talked about the text messages he received after December's trade telling him he was a Tiger again -- a Detroit Tiger now, after being a Missouri Tiger in college. He talked about having the chance to watch Brandon Webb and Randy Johnson in Arizona, and now getting the chance to watch Justin Verlander at work.
He also talked about growing up in St. Louis and now playing in Detroit.
"This is a good organization, a great city to play in baseball in," Scherzer said. "This is a great thing for me, and a great opportunity."
Watching Verlander make his way around the ballpark on Saturday was clearly an example of that opportunity. Whether it was the long lines of fans asking for his autograph, the crowd that packed the seminar hall shoulder to shoulder to listen to him and Gerald Laird answer questions and make fans laughs -- it was a session Verlander volunteered to do on the spur of the moment -- or his photo on the cover of the TigerFest guide, Verlander clearly seemed to be the most popular figure and arguably the face of the franchise at age 26.
One fan asked him please not to leave, even though he's two years away from free agency.
Together, the collection of young talent seemed to draw the city's attention Saturday.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.