Tigers in Good Hands with Straight-Shooting Skip

Walking into Tiger Town at Merchant Stadium, the senses explode. The crisp crack of the bat and intoxicating waft of fresh cut grass and leather mitts couldn’t be any more delicious if you dribbled hot fudge all over it.
A large green field rests beyond the left field wall, reserved for families and the warm confines of a large blanket to lie on the grass. If this was April, the grass would be replaced by crude plastic seats and numeric ticket assignments. But this is March and the fans are all smiles.
As we walked down the first base line, watching the media mingle with the coaches and double play drills turned with precision, I see him leaning against the dugout fence. He holds a lit cigarette in one hand and blows out smoke beneath his dark sunglasses, fine white mustache, and baseball brim.
This is Jim Leyland’s team and everybody knows it.
At the center of a few huddled reporters, Leyland wields a baseball bat and talks about his players. There’s no jargon, no hidden meanings from the mouth of this manager. When asked about the visiting Pirates’ chances this season, his answer is simple. “You got good players, you‘re gonna do ok,” he said.
Standing amongst a ring of reporters, talking to Jim Leyland is almost like talking to an old poker buddy. The groups share laughs as Leyland admits he “can be real dumb” when it comes to the decision making process. Leyland is sure of one thing, his club has the right attitude, calling them “very cooperative” and a “very professional team”. As if the veteran coach would have things any other way entering his 45th year in professional baseball.
Sure, he has some help. Gary Sheffield and Ivan Rodriguez have been there before. They fought through injuries, battled cold streaks, and won World Championships. Now they hope to help their counterparts do the same.
Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera are among several new arrivals to Motown, which is no doubt a welcome change from the sea of empty, ugly, orange seats in Miami.
Cabrera appears to have also taken a shining to some of his teammates. Ivan Rodriguez was never far from Magglio Ordonez who was never far from Miguel Cabrera. The full circle of baseball life appears to be taking place at Comerica Park this season.
However, in addition to being known for MVP caliber numbers, Cabrera became just as known for clubhouse difficulties with players and managers alike. But if your business attire was stamped with a giant “Marlins” logo across the front, chances are you’d be grumpy sitting in obscurity as well.
None of that conflict looks like it will raise its ugly head in Detroit.
In this clubhouse, a guy who pushed a fan (Gary Sheffield) and a guy who pushed a cameraman (Kenny Rogers) co-exist without a reoccurrence of their past indiscretions.
Don’t expect Cabrera’s problems to resurface here.
Not in Detroit. Not with this manager.
Walking back to the right field clubhouse, the mustached manager stops alongside veteran reliever Todd Jones to sign autographs. Jones introduces Leyland and prompts the crowd to applaud for the skipper.
The fans, like Leyland’s players, respond, as the Tigers’ skipper smiles.
With Jim Leyland at the helm, there’s a lot to smile about in the Motor City.
-Dave Carty, LAKELAND

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