Tigers ready for first trip to Target Field
Club visits Minnesota for first time since '09 tiebreaker
DETROIT -- Six months after the heartbreak of the American League Central tiebreaker, the Tigers are heading back to Minnesota. They are not, however, heading back to the Metrodome.
Rest assured, they are not heartbroken about the latter.
"Am I glad we're not playing in the Metrodome anymore? Yeah, I am," manager Jim Leyland said Sunday. "But I don't think that's necessarily going to have anything to do with the outcome of games, whether you win or lose up there. I don't buy that."
If the Tigers needed any help moving on from memories of a division title lost, a game under the Minnesota sky at Target Field on Monday night should do it. Psychologically, the Tigers tried to move on back in Spring Training, a separation highlighted by the new-look roster.
Austin Jackson, Scott Sizemore and Max Scherzer, the scheduled starter for Monday's series opener, weren't anywhere near the Metrodome last October. They weren't in Tigers uniforms. Johnny Damon watched the tiebreaker game, but as an interested opponent waiting to see who would advance to face him and Phil Coke with the Yankees the next day.
Especially after taking two of three from the division-leading Twins at Comerica Park last week, it's more about moving on from the Metrodome than moving on from last season for many Tigers.
"It's obviously going to have a different feel. There's no question about that," shorstop Adam Everett said. "And it's going to be exciting playing in the new park and getting to see the surroundings and whatnot. It's going to be fun. I'm looking forward to it. It's going to exceptionally nice that it's not going to be a dome."
The funny thing was that different Tigers all seem to have different reasons why they disliked the Metrodome. Some hated the challenge of judging fly balls against the backdrop of the roof. Others hated the bounce of the artificial turf and the infield choppers that the Twins seemed to get out of it. Former Detroit pitcher Nate Robertson dreaded the impact the pressurized environment and ventilation system had on his sinuses. Former manager Alan Trammell dreaded the air conditioning system that they once thought Minnesota turned on when it was batting to help fly balls carry.
"It was an aggravating place," Leyland said, "but a lot of it was pregame. The narrow little place in there where all the coaches were stuffed in there -- the writers couldn't get in there. You couldn't talk to anybody. You're trying to get dressed and somebody's in your face. There were a lot of aggravating things."
Said Ryan Raburn: "There are some things about the Metrodome that I definitely won't miss, especially benches that aren't very comfortable when you're not playing."
For many of those same reasons, they're looking forward to checking out Target Field. With relatively warm weather forecast in Minneapolis for the next few days, they're especially looking forward to it.
"You have to learn the ballpark when you'll be playing there so much," Raburn said. "We have to find out the little quirks about that ballpark. We just have to figure out how that ballpark plays different."
But as Leyland pointed out, it could end up being as dreaded a place as the Metrodome. That doesn't say anything about the ballpark, but the team playing there.
"I think a lot of it's a state of mind," Leyland said. "I always use the example: In the '60s, nobody liked to hit at Shea Stadium, but it had nothing to do with the park. [The Mets] had Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman and Nolan Ryan. That's why it was tough to hit in. It had nothing to do the surroundings of the park. They had great pitchers. That's why you didn't want to go there and hit."
This time around, the Tigers will miss out on Francisco Liriano, who gave hitters fits last week in Detroit. They'll open with Scott Baker, whom they hit well at Comerica Park last Wednesday.
But perhaps the biggest difference will be the potential absence of All-Star catcher Joe Mauer, who's day-to-day with a heel injury. He has played just once in Minnesota's past four games, and it's possible he'll miss the entire series.
When Dontrelle Willis and the Tigers' bullpen combined to shut out the Twins last Thursday, Minnesota had a lineup without Mauer and Justin Morneau for the first time since May 5, 2006, when former Detroit left-hander Kenny Rogers faced them. The Twins have Morneau back, but losing Mauer takes out a key aggravator of Tigers pitching.
Detroit held Mauer to a 1-for-11 performance in last week's series, but as Leyland put it, "That will never happen again."
Fortunately for the Tigers, neither will those Metrodome hops, those fly balls lost in the roof, or any number of Metrodome quirks.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.