LAKELAND, Fla. -- Spring Training clubhouses often are cramped, crowded and likely to create a few curmudgeon moments in the course of seven weeks. Imagine Florida heat and humidity and not enough space to sweat. The Tigers' facility here is as tight as Prince Fielder's uniform top -- just enough room for 64 men in uniforms, the attendants who serve them and a healthy portion of camaraderie.
By all indications, Tigers' player personnel routinely rub elbows with one another while not rubbing the next guy the wrong way. It's not the happiest place on earth; that's in nearby Orlando. But with all the good stuff happening with this collection of talent, happiness is living comfortably here in Central Florida.
A division championship and a quick ouster of the Yankees hardly are old memories for this team. Its members smile easily. And lockering in this smallish clubhouse are the 2011 American League MVP and Cy Young Award winner, the 2011 batting champion and a 27-year-old human boulder who led the other league in home runs five years ago.
The Tigers have the kind of high-profile, high-production personnel that George Steinbrenner liked to collect in his earlier -- and greedier -- days as the Prod of the Yankees. And for now they all seem to get along.
Fielder and his mighty swing locker on one wall, five stalls down from Miguel Cabrera and his .344 average. And around the corners are Justin Verlander and his 2011 hardware and Jose Valverde, the flawless -- for one season at least -- reliever. They are dominating players. More than that, they are engaging players. Veterans and kids. Pitchers and third basemen. Players of different ethnic backgrounds. In this clubhouse they speak the same language.
"And each one of us makes it easier on the other guy," Verlander said on Sunday. "Prince comes to us, and we have so much talent here, he doesn't feel like he has to be the best player in the world. The way we hit, I know I don't have to be perfect. I like to pitch deep into games, but with our bullpen, I don't have to. And we have that man over there [Cabrera]. He makes life easier for all of us."
When Verlander says "all of us," his sentence covers more than four players. To hear manager Jim Leyland tell it, the pitcher is speaking about at least four dozen men.
Leyland's lips formed the curl of a smile as he discussed what he believes is a critical component in the Tigers' equation.
"It all starts with talent, and you've got to play the game right," Leyland said. "But if you get along with each other, it helps. And I really think l we all do."
Tony La Russa, a man familiar with baseball success, is Leyland's close friend. La Russa is in Tigers' camp these days, observing and getting his March fix of the game that still stirs him. Retired, relaxed and dressed in civvies, La Russa is an unofficial and unpaid consultant with a quite flashy resume. Once Leyland was his apprentice, but no more. Now they are essentially equals, even if La Russa has more jewelry.
La Russa and Leyland discussed the importance of the philosophy "We all do" at length on Saturday both during and after the Tigers' workout. Each believes in making each person in camp an appreciated contributor.
"Some day, in the course of 162 games, everyone makes a contribution," La Russa said, omitting no one -- the trainer, the clubhouse attendant, the utility infielder, the no-hit starter and the burly first baseman.
"It's preferred with some teams," he said. "It's required with other teams." La Russa required it of his White Sox, A's and Cardinals teams. Leyland has demanded it of the Pirates, Marlins, Rockies and Tigers teams he has managed.
"You hear it all the time, getting 25 guys to pull together," La Russa said. "If you want to win, you have to have it."
But it's more than 25.
"You invoke cohesion," La Russa said with a serious expression. This is a man who breaks bread with Bobby Knight and Bill Parcells, a man who has the confidence of retired Lieutenant General Hal Moore. "You make sure to include everyone who's not a player. Anyone who impacts the team. You need everyone to have the sense that what he does matters so he can feel respected and part of the team.
"You promote the team concept at every turn, at every level. Not in a too subtle way. You make them believe that everybody is needed. And the reality is that everyone is needed. What you're trying to accomplish is not easy. But even if you win 82 games, it's the same principle. The environment isn't as strong if it's only two of three people doing it."
Leyland carried on from there, saying, "We're lucky now. We have [men of character]. Men with good faces. Obviously, I don't have a good face, but I think I have good relationships here. There's a feeling that I think comes from me and the staff that we respect the players. Our hearts are in the right place. I think that makes a difference when you're trying to have people believe in the thing and pull in the same direction.
"It starts with ability. At this level you can't win without it. But you won't win with it unless your people are together."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.