LAKELAND, Fla. -- What would normally be the time for Tony La Russa to be running a camp will instead be the time for the three-time World Series champion manager to be learning. The former Cardinals manager is expected to join the Tigers on Tuesday for a two-week stretch learning front-office rules and mechanics from team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski.
La Russa, who was scheduled to arrive in town Monday night, will not be in uniform, and will not be paid by the Tigers. He'll spend his mornings with Dombrowski and other team officials at workouts before heading to the offices at Joker Marchant Stadium in the afternoon.
Dombrowski and La Russa go back to the 1980s, when they both were employed by the Chicago White Sox. Tigers manager Jim Leyland was on La Russa's coaching staff for much of that time.
As long as he's here and observing, Leyland plans on having some conversations about camps with his close friend.
"We're going to talk some baseball. That's what baseball people do," Leyland said. "But he's going to be with Dave after the workouts."
Leyland said La Russa was worried about being a distraction. Leyland told him he wouldn't be.
"I think it's absolutely tremendous," he said. "I'm going to pick his brain. It's a pretty good brain to pick."
Healthy Boesch flashes power early at camp
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Prince Fielder had the biggest entrance to Tigers camp on Monday. Brennan Boesch might have had the biggest home run -- on altitude, certainly.
The buzz that Fielder and Miguel Cabrera brought to batting practice on the back fields of the Tigertown complex Monday morning had quieted down once Boesch, Don Kelly and Austin Jackson stepped in. Boesch had a good view in right field when Fielder hit a mammoth home run that knocked a branch off one of the trees towering behind him.
Boesch, who slipped into camp quietly earlier in the morning while the rest of the players were stretching, stepped in and delivered one of his familiar high-arching blasts that cleared one of the highest trees behind right-center field. It didn't grab attention, but considering where Boesch stood at the end of last season, sidelined after September thumb surgery, it was worth noticing.
Boesch has been good for a while. He has been swinging a bat since December, early enough that he picked up his normal offseason routine. He didn't get the positive reinforcement of watching the ball fly, swinging mostly in a cage a couple times a week, but he was building strength.
Monday was the kind of positive reinforcement he'd been largely lacking. When his uppercut swing is on, he produces almost as much raw power as someone with a much bulkier frame, such as Cabrera and Fielder.
Boesch entered Aug. 3 last year batting .298 with 24 doubles, 16 home runs, 52 RBIs and an .841 OPS before ending the year with an 8-for-49 slump. Most of that stretch occurred after he tore a thumb ligament in Cleveland in early August. He's cleared to train as normal this spring and take over in right field, likely batting directly in front of Cabrera and Fielder in the lineup.
"It's definitely exciting to be back," he said. "The injury's in the past, and that's a good feeling, as if it never happened. There's no lingering effects or anything. I'm very pleased with everything."
Laird loose as ever at Spring Training
LAKELAND, Fla. -- The last time Gerald Laird was in Tigers camp, he was a starting catcher helping to mentor a youngster named Alex Avila. He was putting down pitching signs for Justin Verlander and trading NBA smack talk with anyone who would listen.
His role has changed vastly, but he hasn't. When he arrived Friday, he joked that he was wearing jersey No. 9 this year because he "raked with it in high school and college," and that he'd be picking up any loose change Prince Fielder dropped in the locker next to him.
On Monday, as Tigers pitchers and catchers opened camp, he joked with reporters about showing off the World Series ring he won with the Cardinals as soon as he gets it in April.
"I get it Opening Day," he said, "and trust me, everyone will see it here."
He's hoping to earn another one here, which is why he returned to Detroit in a backup role. Knowing two-thirds of the pitching staff by his count makes a difference, and playing behind Yadier Molina in St. Louis taught him about being ready to play whenever called upon.
"I think he's perfect for us," manager Jim Leyland said. "We know he can catch and throw, and if Alex needs three or four days [off] by chance for some reason, we know Gerald [can fill in]. And I think Gerald can get a base hit. We've always believed that. ...
"He knows our team. He knows our staff. He knows our coaches. He's comfortable with us. We're comfortable with him. He has a good rapport with Alex. I think it's a great fit. He knows that he's going to back up Alex. It's not like he's trying to beat Alex out."
Tigers camp filling up earlier than expected
LAKELAND, Fla. -- All of the Tigers pitchers and catchers reported to camp on time for workouts Monday. The only absence was Victor Martinez, who will be around from time to time but won't be participating while he recovers from his season-ending knee injury.
For that matter, many Tigers position players are already showing up. Prince Fielder, Brennan Boesch and Ryan Raburn arrived on Monday to join Miguel Cabrera, Jhonny Peralta, Austin Jackson, Don Kelly, Clete Thomas and Nick Castellanos, among others.
It isn't something that manager Jim Leyland can mandate, or even encourage. Unlike football, baseball doesn't have "voluntary workouts." Still, it's appreciated.
"It makes you happy," Leyland said. "Does it mean you're going to win more games? No. But it makes you happy that guys want to be down here, and it tells you basically that winter's over and they want to get down here and get back to work. [But] there's guys from every camp in baseball that are today doing the same thing that we're doing."
Leyland won't overpraise his young arms
LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Jim Leyland rave about a young Tigers pitcher in camp used to be a Spring Training ritual during the first days of workouts. It's a little tougher now.
Though he likes what he sees, Leyland is much more guarded with his praise of young arms from the farm system than he was during his first years managing the Tigers. For one, he realizes that many teams have similar young talents in their own camps. For another, he doesn't want to slight somebody else by leaving them out.
"I try not to get too excited about stuff like that," he said.
Leyland saw a young arm that stood out in the first day of workouts Monday, but having learned his lesson, he wasn't saying who.
"It was a pitcher," he said. "One guy looked like had a better breaking ball than I thought he might have, kind of caught my eye. But I truly try not to pay a whole lot of attention other than just watch them. Like I say, when they pull away the cage and the hitter steps in there in another uniform, then you know what you've got.
"And we're like every other camp: We've got a lot of good equipment out there, no question about it. Everybody's got good arms. We talk about it, and it's only natural, but everybody's got them. There's a lot of impressive arms."